people have had questions regarding what it’s like for us to be
living in a hotel. If something like a Holiday Inn or Hampton Inn or
Quality Inn in the U.S. is pictured, the picture will be somewhat
Our "Backyard" View
guess that the hotel sits on four to five acres. Most of the open space
(what I would call the front yard, courtyard, and back yard) is planted
in flowers, flowering shrubs, and flowering trees. Yes, there are
colorful flowers everywhere. The view from our room is of the
“backyard”. Imbabura Volcano, 15,160 feet high can also be seen from
our window looming above the roof of another wing of the hotel.
Sometimes there are horses in the “back yard”, which are normally kept
on another piece of the property. As far as we can tell, they are used
to mow the grass. I can’t figure out why they don’t eat the flowers,
except that the grass tastes better.
renting an apartment and living here, we feel this is the better choice
from an immersion point of view. None of the hotel staff speaks
English, so we need to speak Spanish with them anytime we interact. We
have to interact a minimum of three times a day (mealtimes) but we
always do so more often than that. True, both apartments we looked at
had Spanish-speaking neighbors with whom we could have probably
practiced, but, because we would have prepared most meals in the
apartment, we wouldn’t have been forced to interact as much. Here, I
believe we interact even more than we did at our home stay at the
Spanish immersion class we attended in February in Cuernavaca, Mexico
(not counting the lessons themselves, of course). It’s a very good
having the staff to talk to, there have also been guests, many of whom
have been very interesting. We’ve met people who have spoken Spanish,
spoken French, and spoken English. One woman, who is indigenous, stays
here about every other weekend because it is then that she teaches
extension classes in Otavalo for the University of Ibarra. We met one
couple from Quebec Province in Canada volunteering for three weeks with
Rotary International. They had been working on water projects,
affordable housing, and childcare centers. Last weekend, we met a
family from Quito. He was from Chicago, but had been living in Quito
for eight years. She was from Ecuador. Their five-year-old daughter was
perfectly bi-lingual. They own a bookstore in Quito and sell English
language books. If you’re ever in Quito, look up Confederate Books.
at the Ally Micuy is not as good a situation economically as living in
an apartment, but it’s not beyond the overall budget we put together
before coming to Ecuador. We were able to negotiate a flat monthly
rate, which is only slightly higher than living in an apartment when
one considers the costs of groceries and utilities. In exchange for our
monthly rent, we get a pretty spacious room and bath, three meals a
day, cleaning twice a week, laundry privileges, and a safe place to
park our car.
Marilyn doesn’t have to prepare meals, it saves time. (Of course, not
cooking is a two-edged sword for someone like Marilyn, who enjoys
cooking. When there are large groups here on the weekends, she often
gets to fulfill her desire to cook by volunteering to help in the
kitchen, and that also helps her Spanish.) The menu here is pretty
varied, though the variety is not as high as it would be in our own
home. The food served is very good and tasty. They have experience
cooking for foreigners, so we don’t have to worry about what we should
or should not eat. In addition, if we tell them we’d like something
different (oatmeal at breakfast or more beans at dinner, for example),
we need only to ask in advance, and they will prepare it if possible.
staff here, eleven that I can think of, are all very nice to us, and go
the extra mile to help us. They have not minded talking to us in our
emerging Spanish. They have helped us find a car. They have helped us
get that car fixed. They have helped us open a bank account. They have
recommended a Spanish school for Marilyn. They have told us where to
find the lowest prices on things. They have helped me get a table made
to my specifications so I could write these blog posts in comfort. They
have given us personal cell numbers in case we have needed help or
gotten sick. In short, they’ve been a godsend, making our lives much
easier than they would have been if we had had to figure out all of
these things on our own.
Glenn with the Three Resident Perros
are few guests here during the week (most guests come on weekends), so
it does not feel like we’re the couple in Room 104 surrounded by people
who come and go. In fact, it feels like living with an extended family.
This feeling is intensified because there are two family groups (with
children) who live here as well as work here. That gives us a greater
sense of safety, lessens the sense of loneliness associated with being
away from our family and friends, and provides a neighborhood feeling.
There are even three dogs here for us to pet. We didn’t know exactly
what to expect when we came to Ecuador por un año (for one year),
but we feel
very fortunate not to have ended up in an impersonal and sterile
environment. Of course, having come to know the Ecuadorian people, even
on the surface, we felt there was little chance of that happening.
Marilyn sat with the madre of
Isabel, one of the staff here. Isabel’s
madre has cancer and she took
a turn for the worse over the weekend.
They tried to get her into the hospital, but there were no beds
available, so she remained at home. Isabel doesn’t like to leave her
alone, but she had to come to work. So Marilyn volunteered to sit for a
while. Marilyn was just doing what she would do for our own family and
friends – care, and offer help.
Our Room - The table on the right was custom made.
been a week filled with “car”: Looking for a car, finding a car, taking
the car to a mechanic to see if he thought it might be a good car,
finding out that it needed repairs (actually, we expected that), then
negotiating a price to buy it at the patio
de coches. After that it
went first to the general mechanic for a tune-up, then back again to
check the brakes, and then to the electrician who fixed it when it
wouldn’t start. In addition, the ANETA class of driving lessons started
for a month of driving and theory. Driving isn’t a problem for me, but
learning the laws in Spanish gives me a lot of homework.
mechanics here work for what seems like very little money to me. The
tune-up cost us $30 plus another $25 in parts (spark plugs, new belt,
gas filter). The mechanic worked for at least 2 to 3 hours. Here, the
car owner is responsible for getting the parts. Jairo and I walked to
two different parts stores for what we needed. We still need an odd
sized air filter that was put on order and should arrive this coming
week. The brakes were $40 (this I did on my own without Jairo’s
presence). The electrician cost $10 and Jairo took care of this.
to think I can make it on my own. But you can imagine how helpless I
felt when the car wouldn’t start and there was no AAA to call for a tow
job. The staff here at the hotel called Jairo and he came to my rescue.
He went to pick up the mechanic who tinkered with the car until he got
it running, then Jairo loaned his car to me while he took my car to the
this kept me very busy, but the really exciting news is that I now have
a job scheduled! Blanca came on Friday (which was when the car wouldn’t
start) and with Jairo’s car we drove to Huaycopungo (about 3 miles out
of Otavalo). This community is home to the church where I first worked
in Ecuador on a mission trip 10 years ago. The church has a forward
thinking pastor who has built this church from a small congregation
into a congregation that fills their large worship area and has a large
activity center that is kept busy with activities. The mission trip 10
years ago worked on the first floor of what is now the four story
activity center. They are hoping to expand their small kitchen to at
least double the size so the many times they feed people, there is
enough room to cook food for everyone more easily. The pastor has made
a big difference in organizing this community.
Blanca offered English lessons taught by someone who speaks the
language but who is not a foreign language instructor (that is, me),
and even when it was explained that learning a foreign language is a
poco a poco project for learners, not something that is going to happen
in a short span of time, he was for it. It was decided that I would
teach 3 hours a week for a total of 30 hours to begin with. FEDICE
would provide a “diploma” and me (and maybe a white board). So classes
will begin the Monday after my driving classes end, the middle of
fortunate to already have received some ideas from both Blanca and Jane
Perrine, who lives in Cedar Park, TX, about what to teach a class of 30
students, 13 year olds to young adult age, who want to learn some
English, but don’t have any experience with the language yet. At least
the students will all begin at the same level. And, I am hoping with
God’s help I can lead helpful and fun classes that will keep
this trip to Ecuador, I had learned that one cannot always be as
independent as we North Americans want to be. Utilizing others’ help
and asking for assistance is not a bad thing. I feel like the people
here have been more than willing to help me in my times of need. It is
a good feeling to be able to reciprocate in some small ways, or at
least to pass on, pass forward the love I’ve been given.
the reflection that I get from UCC everyday talked about forcing
oneself to move on and keep trying even in times of frustration,
depression, lack of success. This morning, I woke up feeling rather
overwhelmed by our need to get a car but our seeming inability to find
the right one. Of course, Glenn is always supportive, but it was hard
to get up for the day. Thinking about the reflection, I prayed for help
in keeping motivated and help for finding the right car within our
breakfast, out of the blue, Jairo (the hotel's manager) asked us how
things were going and I expressed frustration with our inability to
make a decision about the car I found two weeks ago that Victor said is
too old and too expensive. After going to Tocagón yesterday, I
was reminded how important good wheels are for the cobblestone and dirt
roads going up into the indigenous communities. And a four wheel drive
isn’t a bad thing to have either. So I was beginning to feel the VW
Venta sedan wasn’t necessarily a good choice for what we needed.
rearranged his schedule and took us along on an errand to Ibarra. On
the way back, he spent around 2 hours stopping at different patio de
coches (used car lots) so we could look at used cars. We found
cars we could afford
older than the Venta (it's a 1994) that looked like they were beginning
to fall apart; we found high clearance vehicles that had low enough
seats for Glenn, but were out of our price range; and then, nearly out
of time, we found a four wheel drive that is as old as the Venta with
fewer miles (still near 100,000 miles) but within our price range.
Jairo said the motor looked good and we’re taking it to a mechanic
felt humbled and thankful for the gift Jairo gave us of his time and
patience. AND, if we really do get the 4 x 4, Glenn may never want to
come back to the US. He has wanted a jeep for years so he could go on
the back roads. He may actually get his wish and there are definitely
lots of amazing mountains here that have unpaved roads!
being sick for nearly two days, we all felt well enough to travel, so
Victor, Hugo, Marilyn, and I left
for Otavalo at about 11:00 a.m. We took a scenic route part of the way
and saw some really beautiful country.
Ally Micuy Hotel
two hours later, we arrived in Otavalo and had lunch at the Ally Micuy
Hotel. We had stayed at this hotel when we participated in United
Christian Church’s mission trip in 2008. Until we found an apartment,
we’d stay here again. We met Isabel and Don Jairo, two of the principal
employees of the hotel, and were shown to our room. It was exciting to
see the many nice changes that had taken place since we had stayed at
the hotel in 2008.
looked at one possible apartment with Hugo Jacamba right after lunch.
Hugo was our bus driver on the 2008 mission trip and we all liked him
very much. It was his apartment to rent. The apartment was on the
outskirts of town, was new and very well decorated, had lots of storage
space, had a big, modern kitchen that Marilyn would have absolutely
loved, and the price was right. However, there were numerous steps,
both inside and out. I couldn’t have gotten out of the apartment if
there was a fire and I was alone. There was also no internet access in
that neighborhood. Sadly, we had to pass. We would have liked to rent
from Hugo and his wife.
picked up Isabel at the hotel, and she led us to someone else with an
apartment to rent. This one was 10 minutes out of town, and actually a
small house. It had a beautiful view of green-clad mountains, which I
absolutely loved. So did Marilyn. The furniture was a bit
uncomfortable, but we could buy new stuff if we had to. But I couldn’t
get into the bathroom. Again, there was no internet access in the
neighborhood. Again, the price was right. The view was so spectacular,
though, that I thought about going to town once or twice a week to do
looked at a few cars that afternoon, but found nothing suitable and
within our price range.
dinner, Victor told us Marilyn’s Spanish wasn’t advanced enough for her
to do the work he envisioned for her, which was primarily going into
various communities to learn about problems they had that FEDICE could
potentially help solve. Also, he hoped Marilyn could help to develop
some Christian education programs with local protestant churches. He
recommended she take a month and practice her Spanish with anyone she
both concerned. It wasn’t about the month. It was that we had doubts
for the first time about being able to truly contribute. Marilyn’s
español would improve – of that there was no doubt. But would it
improve enough for Marilyn to help do the work that needed to be done?
to our room a little stressed that night. We weren’t sure we’d be able
to contribute as much to FEDICE as we had envisioned. Our housing was
unresolved. We had no car. We knew we weren’t going back home. If we
stayed at the hotel all year, it would cost about twice as much as I
thought Victor had quoted me. We had decisions to make.
decided: 1) to buy the car we had looked at in Quito if it was still
available, 2) to take the house in the country only as a last resort
because of its isolation, 3) to try to negotiate a more affordable
price for staying full-time at the hotel for a year, and 4) to have
Marilyn attend Spanish lessons at one of the language schools in
to bed troubled, but slept well.
Martes, 2 de marzo, 2010
At breakfast, Victor explained a little more about what he and Blanca
envisioned as Marilyn’s job and it didn’t seem as daunting. Marilyn
would eventually go into indigenous communities and talk with leaders
about community problems and how FEDICE might help with those problems.
She would basically be gathering information – after her Spanish
improved. It was also hoped that she could help to develop a children’s
Sunday school program. Christian education is not available in local
indigenous churches at present.
to various places in the morning to gather maps and books about the
area to study. We also stopped at a cabina
(telephone booth) for two
reasons: 1) so Marilyn could call the man with the car for sale in
Quito, and 2) so she could learn to use the cabina if necessary. The
man accepted our offer, which was somewhat lower than his asking price.
before lunch, Victor arranged for us to stop at Isabel’s house (she had
the day off). We needed to try to negotiate a lower monthly price for
the hotel that would be more suitable to our budget. She was amenable
to our offer, but said she would have to check with her boss. We didn’t
really think she had the authority to make such a decision, but knew
she was a good person with whom to start negotiations. There were some
dates in July and August that the hotel was fully booked. It meant we’d
probably have to move somewhere else during those times. This was an
inconvenient, but workable problem.
lunch, Victor and Marilyn went to see about cell phones. They didn’t
get one, but gathered the necessary information for us to take care of
that chore on our own. They also checked on a driving school for
Marilyn. Victor then left for Quito.
went to sign up for driving lessons just before the school closed so
she could start this month. But she needed something called a censo (an
identification card), which we wouldn’t have until Marilyn could
register our visas with the government. They also said she needed to
first improve her español, as the driving classes were not in
behind sculpture of folk dancers.
a walk before cena (evening
meal) just to look around. It was nice to
finally be on our own schedule.
This was a day of rest and acclimatization. Such a time is important
when you fly from 60 feet above sea level to about 10,000 feet above
sea level in five hours. I did nap quite a bit, as well as beginning a
diary. Marilyn napped a little but also spent some time making friends
with Victor’s dog, Laddie. He’s pretty rambunctious, which is why he’s
on a chain. Also, he had a bad habit of trampling the flowerbeds when
allowed to roam free. Marilyn decided she wanted to take Laddie for a
walk around the yard, so she borrowed a thin leash from Maria (Victor’s
domestic helper) that Maria uses for her dog. Before he was even off
his chain, Laddie broke the leash Marilyn put on him. So, Laddie didn’t
get his walk, and Marilyn owes Maria a leash. Probably just as well.
Laddie would probably have dragged her down the hill! I must say,
though, there were times when Marilyn exerted a surprisingly calming
influence on him. He’s smart, listens, and could be well trained if
someone had time to work with him.
Viernes, 26 de febrero, 2010
The main event planned for today was a two year Memorial Service for
Violet Vaca (Victor’s deceased wife). Tragically, she entered the
hospital with a relatively minor ailment, caught a virulent infection
there, and died within a few days. Victor has been very lonely without
his wife of 43 years.
Anita, Aldo, and Maria Helena (Victor’s sister-in-law), who were all
board members of FEDICE. Blanca and Marlene (who works at FEDICE) were
breakfast, Victor mentioned we’d be leaving for Otavalo tomorrow, and
he would return alone. We were taken aback. I mean, we came down here
to live by ourselves in Otavalo, but we somehow figured we’d be staying
with Victor a few more days to get used to things and learn more about
how FEDICE operates, since they are based in Quito. To be honest, we
felt a little abandoned. But, we knew coming down to expect the
unexpected. And this was one of those unexpected things.
Sábado, 27 de febrero, 2010
Marilyn felt sicker and sicker throughout the morning. She threw up
just before we were to leave for Otavalo at 3:00 p.m., so we had to
postpone our move. I was a little smug because I’m usually the one who
gets sick when we travel south of the border. My smugness didn’t last
long, though. I started getting sick about 10:00 p.m. – at both ends.
Domingo, 28 de febrero, 2010
I was sick all day, while Marilyn felt much better. Victor felt bad,
too, so whatever it was did not only affect gringos.
and Luis came and spent some time with all of us sickos. They brought
over more medicine besides that which Victor had gotten for us.
Maria knew brought over a small blue van he wanted to sell, which meant
I had to rise from my sickbed to look at it with Marilyn. (It was
probably good for me, but I didn't think so at time.) Marilyn liked the
van, but I wasn’t convinced it
was what we needed, so I made a very low offer. Consequently, we didn’t
come to terms.
up a few hours, but then went back to bed. Oh, that felt good.
up at 6:00 a.m. and Marilyn had some last-minute cleaning and
packing to do. Glenn didn’t think it was necessary, because he figured
the Laurences wouldn’t mind doing any cleaning that she hadn’t gotten
done. But he figured out that Marilyn was “paying it forward”, so we
could return to a clean house in a year or so.
called Linda Zeccola, our ride to the airport, to make sure the
previous day’s rare Pflugerville snowfall hadn’t adversely affected
her. The number didn’t work, which made me somewhat uneasy. But, all
along, our mantra had been, “What will be, will be,” or as Marilyn
sometimes succinctly puts it, “Let go, and let God.” So, I really had
no choice but to sit back and see what would happen.
happened was that Linda Zeccola showed up about 10:00 a.m., just as
planned. As we drove by the farms, fields, and woods along Texas 130, I
couldn’t help thinking it would be at least eight months before we saw
them again. They were all brown and gray now, with green splashes
provided by the cedars, but would soon be arrayed in wildflowers and
their own particular shades of green. I knew I would miss that, though
Ecuador is a beautiful country. At the airport, we unloaded our
considerable “stuff”, bid “Hasta luego”
to Linda, and got a skycap to
help us check in.
the long packing process over the past six weeks or so, we kept asking
each other if we would be laughed at (or at least smiled upon) for
thinking we had to bring so many of our “home comforts”. After all, we
were supposed to be volunteering, not vacationing for a year in cushy
comfort. We ended up with two duffel bags, a largish suitcase, a
carry-on bordering on the line between checked and carry-on, my
backpack stuffed to the gills, portable ramps, and a bag full of
toiletries. We’d never traveled with that much before.
We’re really doing this, right?
were two fairly unique reasons contributing to what we took. First,
Marilyn is fairly tall at 5’ 10”, while the majority of women we had
seen in the area where we’d be working were fairly short. Thus, unless
Marilyn went to a major city like Quito to shop, she was afraid she
wouldn’t find clothes to fit, especially pants. Second, we decided to
take my portable ramps, which constitute a “bag” all by themselves.
From previous experience, we knew that building entrances often have
two to four steps and figured the portable ramps could come in handy.
checking in and going through security at the Austin airport (including
the most thorough security check I’ve ever had), we had time to get
something to eat, since we’d had a pretty skimpy breakfast. While
eating, Marilyn called Linda Laurence to find out how her day was
going. She and Darrell had taken the day off to start moving things
into our house. They were already there - had gotten there before Linda
Zeccola had gotten our van back - and were busily moving things in. We
are very glad to have the Laurences staying in our house while we’re
gone for a year. I, in particular, did not relish leaving our home
empty for a year. Still, it felt strange to me to know they were moving
in before our flight had even left Austin - kind of like having a party
right after a friend had died. We wondered if they’d be sleeping there
Flight Boarding Information
Last chance to abort the mission!
Houston, before boarding the flight to Quito, I told Marilyn this was
our last chance to back out. She just smiled and slightly shook her
head. We had both worked hard to make this moment possible. The
adventure had begun, and no one was backing out now.
flight to Quito was just under five hours long. By the time we landed,
I was almost begging to get out of that airplane seat. The plane didn’t
park at a jetway, but rather wide steps mounted on a truck were pulled
up to the plane. Several people merely carried me, in an aisle chair,
down to the tarmac where my wheelchair awaited. One person was assigned
to guide us through customs and baggage collection, cutting to the
front of lines. I heard one man say, “We’ve been cut off!” ¡Lo siento!
Vaca and Blanca Puma (founder and Executive Director of FEDICE,
respectively) were there to welcome us with hugs, along with Luis
(Blanca’s novio, or
boyfriend) and Hugo (a son of Victor’s caretaker,
Maria). Our luggage and my wheelchair pretty much filled the back of
Victor’s pickup. Good thing he had two rows of seats for the rest of
ensconced in our basement apartment at Victor’s, we all talked until
midnight. It was fun catching up. Though we’ve been staying in touch
via email, it just wasn’t the same. During the course of our
conversation, we learned that we’d be going to Otavalo on Saturday to
look at a couple of apartment options. Later, in bed, we turned to each
other and said, “Well, we’re finally here. Now, what?”
we going to Ecuador? For those of you who have heard this story, guess
what? You get to hear it again! We were driving back from a visit to CA
and talking about things we’d still like to do, when Marilyn said she’d
always wanted to do some sort of overseas missionary work. Then she
casually added, “But I guess I’ll have to wait till you die.”
This didn’t sound right to me. A wife already making plans for when her
husband kicked off? Just as casually, I replied, “Why wait till I die?”
Well, we already had a relationship with an organization in Ecuador
called FEDICE because of previous mission trips. We also knew that,
with my disability, we couldn’t be placed just anywhere. Since FEDICE
was familiar with us and many of our needs, it seemed logical to
inquire there first. They didn’t give us the nod. Instead, they
enthusiastically asked, “When are you coming?!”
the past few months, we have steadily put things into place for our
year’s stay in Ecuador. Mail, bill payments, insurance, shots, visas,
plant sitters, packing away part of the house for the people who will
live here in our absence, buying what we think we can’t get there,
stockpiling enough medications, etc., etc., ETC. It’s the most work
we’ve done since retiring! A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders
when friends from church said they would stay here. It was perfect
because they were looking for a new house anyway. (Just hope they’ll go
quietly when we’re ready to return!)
crazy? I have asked myself that more than once. So far, the answer
keeps coming back negative. We’re in good health. We love the
Ecuadorian people. We can afford it. We’re both adventurous. If we’re
ever going to do something like this, now seems like a very good time
to do it. In preparation, Marilyn has taken (and aced) two semesters of
Spanish at Austin Community College. Marilyn is the volunteer, here. I
have made it clear that I'm going along to support her, though I'm
aware I could get roped into some computer work. We also figure that I
may be a decent role model for Ecuadorians with disabilities,
especially since they don’t know what a real beast I am.
not entirely sure how Marilyn will help FEDICE at this point. It could
be that she teaches rudimentary English. It could be that she helps
with FEDICE’s community work. It could be that she helps organize a
Sunday School program in various local churches. It could be she helps
with groups who come down on mission trips. It could be some of all of
the above. We’ll let you know as time goes on.