Monday, September 18, 2017

Baby Llama at the Inca Ruins

"Mama Llama's always near, even if she's not right here."
-- Anna Dewdney, Llama Lama Red Pajama

Llamas and Inca Ruins

A baby llama (a cria) running around Inca ruins adds lively entertainment to a leisurely stroll through history.

Cria at the Inca Ruins

The terraces in Cuenca's Pumapungo Inca ruins (which I wrote about here) are filled in with grass. Llamas tethered to the ground are moved around the grounds to keep the grass short. Like most baby animals, crias stay close to their mother so they are not tethered. They are able to run and bounce around, learning about the world around them and making friends. On this day, llamas mowed the grass on a large terrace above the gardens.

Llama lawn mowers among the Inca Ruins

Seeing Red

At first, we did not notice the baby llama but she was watching everyone. Some people garnered more of her attention than others. People walked around wearing purple, blue, and white. Cria* paid no attention. Until she saw a man in red.

Cria sees Jorge

Jorge Wants a Nap

Jorge, in his amazing bright red outfit, laid down for a nap. Cria saw in him a new friend! She approached slowly. Jorge sensed something and looked up.

Cria hopes Jorge will be her new friend

For a bit, Jorge lay watching Cria inch closer, then he jumped up. A startled Cria spun to race back to her mom as Jorge departed for a new relaxation location.

Jorge and Cria part, not on amicable terms

Scott Wearing Grey and Blue

After a few minutes of motherly reassurance, Cria returned to Jorge's spot. Scott approached, seeing if she might be interested in his friendship. Her interest was not piqued. Scott was not wearing red.

Cria is not interested in Scott's grey and blue clothing

Break Time

Exhausted from bounding about, she settled in for a break near her mom.

Cria taking a break

Cria Follows David

A few minutes into the break, she leaped up and looked over yonder where she spotted David, wearing red! Prancing to the terrace corner, she watched closely while David wandered around the garden, then climbed the terraces until he was one below hers.

Cria watches David

As David walked the lower terrace, Cria followed on the upper one.

Cria following David

She wanted to be David's new friend but the direct approach had not worked so well with Jorge. Maybe she could win David over by showing her playful side. It was time to climb around on one of her llama friends.

David photographing Cria playing on an adult

Alas, David departed after taking a photograph, leaving Cria to search for a new red-clad human.

Next time, I will wear red. Perhaps you should, too.

* Each name in this post except Scott (my husband) is a product of my imagination.

Why do you think young llamas like red?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Puerto Lopez Boat Maintenance

Spring tides result in high waters that are higher than average, low waters that are lower than average, 'slack water' time that is shorter than average, and stronger tidal currents than average.


I am not a boater nor do play one on TV. My father lives on a boat in California's San Francisco Bay. When I lived there, he wanted to teach me boating but I was never interested in more than riding along. To any boaters reading this, please bear with me as I may use terms incorrectly. Perhaps you will get a nice laugh while you read how a layperson writes about boats.

Puerto Lopez, Ecuador boat maintenance

Puerto Lopez fishermen and tour boat operators perform minor hull maintenance during extreme low tides in a shallow area on the south end of the beach. Spring tides, when the low tide is lowest just after a full or new moon, provide the best time to do this maintenance. That ensures the most possible time for maintenance before the water rises again. The first days after full or new moons are when we see the most boat maintenance.

Painting a shrimp boat hull

Southern Puerto Lopez 

I spent a few days after the last full moon watching the tides and the boat maintenance at the south end of the Puerto Lopez bay. It was interesting to see the dry docking process during the receding tide, then the subsequent float while the tide returned.

High tide

The entire section is bordered by a rocky sea ledge and is shallow, making it an ideal area for low tide dry docking. In fact, tidal pools created during normal low tides are popular family swimming areas. I wrote about them here. During spring tides, the tide pools are dry, as you can see below.

Low tide


A few observations that I had while watching are expanded on below.
  • Boats dock on sand, avoiding rocks
  • Boats are anchored to boulders during maintenance
  • Boats with long enough keels spend multiple tide cycles to paint the entire keel
  • Workers do not have the luxury of a lunch break

Docking on sand

The sea floor where the boats dock is hard sand. Scott and I walk around at low tide, having to be careful of rocks and bits of broken coral from nearby reefs. With experience, the boat captains know right where to dock to avoid the rocky sea floor.

Rocky sea floor further from shore than the sand where the boats are docked

Anchoring to boulders

Operators anchor their boats using long ropes tied to huge boulders.

One of the ropes anchoring the shrimp boat

As the tide comes in once maintenance is complete, people position themselves near each boulder to untie the rope once the entire boat is floating and ready to move out.

Painting both sides of the hull

The keel is used to lean the boat in one direction so they can paint half of the boat hull.

Day 1: Maintenance begins before the tide completely recedes

During the next daytime low tide, they lean the boat in the other direction to paint the other half.

Day 2: Boat leaned the opposite direction to complete maintenance

No time for lunch break

With the clock ticking before the tide comes back in, there is no time to leave for lunch so it is eaten onsite. I have seen families with small grills to cook food, takeout delivered, and food bought off of mobile food carts.

Food vendor selling from his tricycle cart

Fortunately for boat owners, if they run out of time to complete all required maintenance, another spring tide will return with the new moon.

Did you notice any incorrect terminology? Please tell me in the comments section below.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Liebster Award

Wow! I received a blog award! What an honor to be nominated by author and editor Nick Wilford from Speculative Author - Making the impossible reality. Thank you Nick! I enjoy his blog, where he shares thoughts and information for authors and potential authors as well as his own writing journey. Nick is a professionally trained freelance editor and proofreader with a background in journalism. You can find more information about these services here.

Liebster Award

"Liebster" is a German word meaning beloved or dearest. It is an online recognition in form of virtual award which started in 2011 passed on by bloggers to fellow bloggers for enjoying and valuing their work. The idea is to recognize the effort and give credit.

The Liebster Award is interesting in that anyone nominated for it receives it by writing an acceptance post. That is what I am doing now. The rules for accepting the award are straightforward:
  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Answer the 11 questions you were asked. Nick asked them in this post.
  • Nominate 11 people and ask them 11 questions.
  • Notify each of the nominees on their blog.

My answers to Nick's questions

Note that since my blog focuses on my life in Ecuador, many of my answers are regarding my Ecuador experience.

If you were to write a historical novel, which time period would you pick and why?

I would probably pick the Roaring 20's or the Jim Crow years, both in the USA. What a perfect reason to spend hours upon hours researching the times and events. I think it would be a disturbing but useful learning experience to attempt to put myself inside the mind of someone who believes one race is superior to another. Actually, these time periods overlap so I suppose I should just say the Jim Crow years.

Have you ever taken a creative writing class and what did you learn? If not, would you consider it?

No, but I think it would be a great learning experience if I did.

Describe one thing from your everyday life that inspires you.

The women, also known as the Mamitas, who run the Olon Orphanage are an inspiration with the way they live their lives and help others. They have dedicated their lives completely to the children they are raising. The Mamitas live onsite and are there for the children around the clock. They do not "go home" for days off or vacations because their home is the orphanage. If a child awakens at 2 AM from a nightmare, a Mamita is nearby to hold them and provide soothing words. They have my deepest admiration and respect and they inspire me to give more of myself to others.

Emily with Fatima, who lives at the orphanage
She is in charge of the Mamitas as well as all of the orphans

What's your social media outlet of choice and why do you enjoy it?

Facebook is where I keep up on what is happening in the lives of my friends and family. I enjoy seeing photos and vacation updates of people I rarely have an opportunity to see in person. I also use Facebook for Ecuador related news. 

What's the maddest thing you've done when researching a story?

Well since I only write publicly about my life in Ecuador, I suppose it was to sell almost everything I own and move to another continent.

Pick a favourite book character and give one question you'd like to ask them.

I would like to ask George RR Martin what his plans had been for Jon Snow if he had continued writing books for the series. (Oops, I was supposed to ask the character a question, not the author...)

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

When I took my first high school computer class, I knew I wanted to work in IT. I also liked statistics, mathematics, and accounting so I majored in Management Information Systems, which was a mix of Computer Science and Business Administration. I spent my IT career in ERP systems, IT management and project management.

Describe one ambition you would still like to achieve.

Much of the world knows about the Galapagos and the Amazon but not much else about Ecuador. I would like to publish a book that brings other parts of Ecuador into their conscience. Perhaps some of them might visit this beautiful country because of something they read in my book.

What was the last book to make a big impression on you?

100 Points to Consider Before Moving or Retiring in Ecuador by Nicholas Crowder was released the month after I moved to Ecuador. I read it immediately and obtained invaluable insight into customs and security. 

One everyday custom example: In the United States, when we indicate a person's height, we hold our hand open with the palm down and say "He is about this high." In Ecuadorian culture, you only hold your palm down when showing how high an animal is. If you are indicating a person's height, your palm is perpendicular to the ground, with the side of your hand that the little finger is on at the appropriate height. To indicate a person's height with the palm down is an insult, implying that they are an animal. I cannot tell you how many times I have begun to tell a child how much taller they have gotten since I last saw them when I find myself changing my hand position mid-arm raise.

Name one musical artist that inspires you and say why.

Ecuadorian musician and friend, Abdullah Arellano, writes and sings from his heart. He has a relaxed calmness about him and it comes across beautifully in his songs. You can buy his CD in Puerto Lopez after listening to a few of his songs by clicking on these links: Yasuni, Mujeres de Acero and  Inmensidad (Abdullah is the one with a hat on in the videos). He enjoys teaching music to children who otherwise would not have an opportunity to learn it.

Have you ever been lost and what was the outcome of the situation?

Quite a few times but one stands out. The second time Scott and I visited Ecuador, we rented a car with a GPS, as we had the first time. Leaving the Guayaquil airport, a bridge was closed due to construction. We wanted the GPS to select an alternate route but had no idea how to tell it that. The darn thing kept talking to us in Spanish, which we did not understand back then. We passed the same sports field over and over and over again as we kept unintentionally going in circles. After about an hour I finally turned the GPS off and pulled out our paper map.

These were our tools while trying to exit Guayaquil during road construction

We drove around Guayaquil for hours until we found a sign for a city we needed to go through. When we reached our hotel that night, I spent some quality time with the GPS getting to know it's functions.

One more quick story - we weren't exactly lost and unrelated to Ecuador but... When my husband and I booked our honeymoon in 1996, we were very focused on the wedding and asked a travel agent to book us at a resort in Acapulco. While we were on the flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City, we looked at the boarding pass for our next flight. We were going to Huatulco, not Acapulco. We laughed so hard at our mistake in not verifying where we were honeymooning. We loved Huatulco and visited again five years later. 

Congratulations! You have been nominated for a Liebster Award!

  1. Donna B. McNicol at Romance and mystery... writing my life
  2. Heidi Lovato at DecibelMemos, Perspectives Absent of Sound
  3. Judy Rinehimer at CoolRVers On the Road
  4. Arti Jain at My Ordinary Moments
  5. Moon at Life as it happens
  6. Nancy Thornton at Lightheaded, New life after retirement at 8,300 feet
  7. Bob and Roxanne at BobnRox In Ecuador
  8. Jack Abercrombie at Journeyman Jack in Ecuador
  9. Lisa at Musings of a Middle-Aged Mom
  10. Molly at MOLLY'S CANOPY - Growing family trees one leaf (and road trip) at a time
  11. DeeDee at Mrs. Dash Says...

Nominees, should you choose to accept your award, here are your questions:
  1. What prompted you to begin blogging?
  2. Which language would you like to learn?
  3. What was your favorite experience in the past six months?
  4. What one location in the world you would like to visit? Why?
  5. Do you have pets? If yes, please introduce them.
  6. What is the strangest food you have ever eaten?
  7. What is your biggest struggle while writing?
  8. Who would you like to receive a week of training / mentorship from?
  9. What is the first thing you drink in the morning?
  10. How many books do you read per month?
  11. What was your favorite time of year when you were growing up? 

Well, I am off to notify each of the above nominees! Thank you again to Nick! 

Monday, August 28, 2017

River Laundry

It turns out that a husband who does the laundry, it's very romantic when you're older. And it's hard to believe when you're younger. But it's absolutely true. 

Machine or River

Do you wash your laundry in a machine or a nearby river? If I were a betting woman, I would bet you use a washing machine. I do, too, as do most people in Ecuador. Some, though, wash laundry the old fashioned way - in a river.

Washing laundry in the Tomebamba River
Cuenca, Ecuador

Whiter Whites

Someone once observed that people who wash their laundry in the river seemed to have whiter whites than they themselves have. They assumed that the technologically advanced washing machine they used at home should produce better results than hand washing in a river but that was not the case.

I think the explanation is quite simple. One by one, pieces of laundry washed in the river get personal attention. Each is reviewed prior to being laid on the riverbank grass to dry. The washing machine laundry is all one big collective bunch of cloth, thrown around together in a metal cylinder. No wonder the whites are not as white.

Washing laundry in the Tomebamba River
Cuenca, Ecuador

Cold, Fast Flowing Water

Lest anyone think this looks like a fun way to spend an afternoon, I should mention this water is freezing cold and flowing quickly. Some people are wearing thin rubber boots that keep their feet dry, others are barefoot. Even those with boots surely splash some water into them. Then they have cold, wet feet stuck inside cold, wet rubber boots while standing in fast moving water.

Their hands spend a lot of time in the cold water, too. They need to hold tight to the clothing item they are washing or the item will float downstream and out of sight before they even realize they let go.

Gender Equality

I am impressed that the washers in the river seem to be a fairly equal mix of men and women. Since doing the laundry this way seems old fashioned to me, I thought gender roles might be, also. If we apply Sheryl Sandberg's quote, perhaps some husbands are hoping for a romantic evening with their wife later.

Does anyone in your area wash laundry in a river?

Friday, August 25, 2017

DoMinga - Volunteers Cleaning Beaches #WATWB

Welcome to August's installment of the We Are The World Blogfest, when we share positive news on the last Friday of each month. Thank you to this month's WATWB co-hosts: Simon FalkRoshan RadhakrishnanInderpreet Uppal, Lynn HallbrooksEric Lahti, and Mary J Giese

This month I am writing about a weekly Puerto Lopez, Ecuador beach cleanup effort. I have no article to link to so I will just tell you about it.

Where plastic bags thrown on the ground go

Dead or dying whales, dolphins and sea turtles periodically wash up on shore, stomachs full of plastic. A plastic bag tossed out a car window miles from shore flows into the ocean, carried by rivers and wind. That plastic bag, along with other garbage, threatens to become a death sentence when sea creatures eat it.

There are already an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Containing the plastic before it makes it to the ocean is the best way to prevent that number from growing.

DoMinga in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

Environmentally minded Kelley Budding owns Puerto Lopez based Tentáculo to offer exhilarating, educational experiences that encourage positive interaction and facilitate a deeper understanding of global culture. She also partnered with a national group, Mingas por el Mar, to help keep Puerto Lopez beach litter free.

A minga is a volunteer project to achieve a shared goal for the betterment of a community. They are a part of the fabric in Ecuador and most residents have participated in at least one (for example building a home or repairing a road). Since the Puerto Lopez beach cleanup group meets on Sundays (Domingo in Spanish), the gathering is called a doMinga.


Every Sunday at 5:30 PM, volunteers gather at Tentáculo or their doMinga partner, Punta Piedrero Ecolodge for a Puerto Lopez beach clean up. Anyone with one hour available scours the beach, armed with donated gloves and bags, picking up trash before it goes into the ocean and possibly into the stomachs of sea turtles or fish.

I recently joined the effort. In less than one hour walking the beach, I found two unrelated shoes, plastic bags, candy wrappers, a dirty diaper (glad they give us gloves!), a bathing suit, countless bottle caps, and a tire. All together, the other volunteers and I collected 4.5 kilos of trash.

Volunteer team from the south end of Puerto Lopez beach clean up
August 20, 2017

Once a week, one person at a time, Kelley's volunteer team and others like hers on beaches throughout Ecuador work to remove trash. These efforts can be done on every beach and inland in every country around the globe with volunteers collecting garbage before it reaches the ocean.

What are you waiting for? Put on some gloves, grab a bag and pick up some trash. You just may save an endangered sea turtle's life. I will be doing the same each Sunday during our doMinga.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Rice Fields - Beauty, Predators and Allies

Planting rice is not a joke
Just bending all day long
You can't even stand still
You can't even sit down.
-- Traditional Filipino Folk Song

Rice is a staple in Ecuadorian meals. It is generally served with your main meal regardless of what the entree is. A typical meal might include soup, chicken, rice, green salad, potato salad, and juice. The other side dishes vary but rice is always included. On separate occasions, I have served chili and spaghetti to guests and been asked if there was any rice (I had not made any). When eating out, I have been served a side of rice with my spaghetti so I suppose I should have known.

Since so much rice is eaten, a lot is grown. People in rice growing areas sell huge bags on the side of the road so you do not have travel to a market to make a purchase, just pull over for a few moments.

Rice for sale along the side of the road - prices in US dollars

The weather and soil conditions northeast of Guayaquil are ideal for growing rice. When driving between the mountain city of Cuenca and the coastal city of Puerto Lopez, we pass through a beautiful stretch of rice country.

The shaded area is the portion of rice country that we see

The dry season (June-December) is peak rice production time. A system of aqueducts is used to deliver water to and control water levels in fields. Cattle will walk through aqueducts even when water levels are higher than their legs are long.

Steer walking through an aqueduct

Once each field is filled with just the correct level of water, the soil is prepared then rice planted.

Plowing a rice field

Fields next to each other are planted at different times to allow for varying harvest times. This system is called stepped rice and the result for the casual viewer is a landscape rich in various levels of growth.

Stepped rice fields (easier to see the individual fields if you click on the photo to enlarge)

Driving through on a cloudy day, the fields are mood brighteners. Next to a bright green mid-growth field is a newly planted field, full of green sprouts. Everything looks so peaceful and tranquil.

Newly planted field in front of mid-growth field

Inside the fields, a predator lurks, unseen by travelers. In 2005, apple snail damage was first detected in Ecuadorian rice fields, threatening the rice ecosystem. Apple snails are the size of - you guessed it - apples and do major damage as they eat rice stalks. They have a natural predator in the area, the snail kite bird.

Male Snail Kite, 36 to 48 cm (14 to 19 in) long
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Snail kites were a threatened species in 2005 when apple snails began their damage. With the arrival of natural food for them, the snail kite numbers increased rapidly. They did not increase fast enough, though, to eliminate the snails.

Rice production was taking a beating as the snails took over fields. Desperate farmers first poisoned the snails through the insecticide endosulfan but soon discovered that also killed their ally, the snail kite bird. Millions were spent in search of a better solution. In 2011, the government banned endosulfan and recommended the molluscicide, methaldehyde instead.

The snail kite population is doing better and apple snail populations are down but still doing severe damage. The rice sector lost more than an estimated $56 million from apple snails in 2013 alone. It is an ongoing battle for farmers and scientists to find the best long term solution.

If you drive through, you are not likely to see the apple snail but will see the snail kite bird as well as many egrets.

Egrets and snail kite birds in rice fields
Most of the dark snail kite birds are on the far right side of the photo

Stilted homes are built on berms between fields, protecting them from floods.

Stilted home in rice fields
See the bamboo bridge on the right side of the photo? It is the walkway to the house

It is a beautiful drive made interesting by understanding a little of what is happening on the surface of the fields. While passing through, I watch for snail kite birds and root them on as they work on apple snail population control. I admire the farmers, who as the folk song says, can't even stand still and can't even sit down.

Farmer working in a rice field

Do you battle predators in your gardens or fields?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Imagination, Moats And Drawbridges

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. 
--Albert Einstein

When you were young did you dream of living in a castle with a moat and a drawbridge? Maybe you imagined you were a prince or a princess and your dog was your pet dragon, guarding your drawbridge.

Some kids in Ecuador's rice country have bridges over aqueducts leading to their homes. Parents build the bridge to get from A to B.

Imagination turns the bamboo walkway into a drawbridge (albeit one that does not raise) over a moat protecting the family castle.

I imagine kids who live here playing on the bridge, calling out "Who goes there?" or whatever it is royalty calls out to visitors. Perhaps they send their dragon over to determine if it is a friend or foe.

I hope that their imagination takes them on all kinds of adventures with their bridges over moats.

What would your favorite game be if you had your own bridge and moat?