Goodbye Ecuador; Hello USA beauracracy.

Our last week in Ecuador was a flurry of activity! We were invited to Marcia and Gustavo’s house for Alex’s cousin, Valeria’s birthday; we were invited to both Gladys and Patty’s respective houses for both lunch and “cafe y pancito” (coffee and bread, which is a tradition over there and happens at around 4 or 5pm, after lunch, but before dinner). We were also taken out for dinner by Bolivar and Lily my brother-in-law, Christian’s parents. Prior to this last week, we had also been to Christian’s parents’ house to celebrate Jonathan (Chris’s brother’s) birthday. Everyone had been so open, warm and welcoming. In my last few days, I could feel the walls closing in on me!

Oh, and the list goes on…I caught up with my friend, Manuela and her mum Ana, whom I actually had not seen in years. It was great to be able to pick up where we left off. We were also invited to Alex’s Tia Norma’s apartment (actually his mum’s auntie), with sweeping views of Quito. And of course, no visit to Ecuador would be complete without a visit to CEIB primary school (now called St Patrick School) where I used to tech English to Grade 3 children. All the kids I used to teach have now long gone, but the highlight of my visit there is always catching up with Don Carlitos. Don Carlitos used to be the gatekeeper of the school, and now he is the handy man. Each and every time I return to Ecuador and visit the school, he greets me with a “Hola Teacher Ombi” and gives me a big hug. He holds a special place in my heart!

We had had so many great times over the last few weeks, and now they were coming to an end, all too quickly. Denisse, more beautiful than ever, was a young lady now, at 15 years of age, and 11 year old “Axelin” was no longer a baby. I thought about all the time that has passed in which I had not seen them grow, and it made me feel sad. But what is the solution? This is the story of a love that straddles two cultures and two hemispheres. Regardless of where we live, we miss out on something. The most difficult thing for me this time would be having to leave behind little Thomas. So cute and so small. He seemed to laugh as he recognised my voice, but would he even remember me in a year’s time? This made me feel the saddest of all, and every time I thought about this my stomach would sink to my toes.

Our week was also “made” shorter than we thought, as on the Tuesday morning before flying out, we realised that we were flying out to New York on the Wednesday morning not on the Thursday. In effect, we were chatting to Alex’s mum in New York, who insisted that we were coming tomorrow, on Wednesday! Well, talk about flip out! Karen had stepped out for a bit (as she is home on maternity leave), and when she got back at around 11.00am, we hit her with, “OMG, we are leaving tomorrow”. Despite the initial shock (but believe me, she couldn’t have been more shocked than we were), we got ourselves organised and did what we had to do the day before flying out! We packed our bags, and then thankfully for Karen, we used her as our taxi service over the next few hours, as there is no other way we would have been able to do all the last minute things we needed to do. We quickly went to the Mercado Artesanal (Artisans market) where we bought a few things we still wanted, and also caught up with Maria Antonieta briefly to say goodbye.

Our last night at Karen’s was lots of fun, with many relatives popping in to say goodbye. We got some pretty snazzy t-shirts from Christian and Karen, but I am afraid I cannot translate their meaning on this blog. Here is the picture, but you need to ask me personally for the translation. Karen and Jesus, you will SOOOOO get this! After everyone had left, Alex and I, stayed up talking with Piero and Karen. We got to bed at 2.00pm. Normally, that wouldn’t be brutally late, but we had to get up at 3.00am. Blink! We were up and ready in a flash. We were exhausted! We slithered into all of the rooms and kissed Piero, Karen, Denisse and Axel goodbye. I said my own little farewell to Thomas, but did not touch him, as I did not want to wake him up.Fortunately, we were too tired to feel sad. Christian dropped us off at the airport, and we hugged him goodbye. It was all starting to feel so final. Just before we went through the main doors, Alex’s Dad showed up, so we were also able to bid our last farewells. Then we were inside; very tired and very sad! To make matters worse, it felt like we were lined up for ever! I have never been so glad to plonk my tired little butt onto a seat. In fact, I was so tired, that I slept through take off! Now THAT is hardcore!

I should also mention that Byron and Alex came to visit us briefly on our last night, and gave us a beautiful gift each. Alex’s was a necklace and mine a pair of earrings with a beautiful sun/ moon representation. I know that it’s the thought that counts, but they know us so well; I couldn’t have picked something more appropriate out myself!

Our flight back to New York, would see us pass through Miami, and I only woke up before touch down. Now, it seemed that despite only having 24 hours here, before then going back to Australia, the authorities were going to give us a run for our money! We passed through passport control as a couple, Alex going first. Yep, all good! Ombi’s turn? Nah, something’s a “mismatch” I was told. My passport was promptly handed to a Passport Control Officer, who then placed it into a plastic sleeve, and I was told to politely, “Stand over there!” Luckily Alex was able to come with me. We finally got shuttled off into a room, full of what appeared to be anyone and everyone other than caucasians. OK, it’s a full house, but I’m still not panicking. It’s almost 1.00pm though and we have a flight to New York to catch at 3.00pm. I ask someone if we’re going to miss the flight. She’s not sure. Great! We need this like a bullet in the head. I see some officer holding up a Mexican Passport, and tell another officer that it looks dodgy and like it’s been tampered with. It’s getting worse! Another guy tells me that he’s been waiting for over two hours. It’s going to be a long wait! To my surprise, I am called up after some 45 minutes. Do I live in Australia? Yes. What’s the weather like there? I tell him it’s winter. But it’s hot in the north, right? Yes, I tell him, we only have a “real”winter in the south-east and Tasmania. He seems satisfied with my answers, and then tells me I can go! Go figure! Can’t say that I understood what that was all about, but we did manage to catch our flight to New York. Anybody have any idea? (Harry……OIFA!)

We landed in La Guardia, where Alex’s mum and sister were waiting for us. Our last night together was great, and we filled her in on our time in Ecuador. In a few weeks time, Angie would be going to Ecuador by herself, and staying with Karen. What can you do in 24 hours? The next day we chatted some more, whilst having breakfast, and then lunch. In no time at all, it was time to go to the JFK airport. We thought we’d check ourselves in, before going downstairs for a coffee.

As we went through the usual, check-in rigmarole, “Frances” informed us that we would not be able to sit next to each other on the LA to Sydney sector. (Remember, our flight path was New York – LA – Sydney – Melbourne). Now, WHY would I want to sit next to my partner for the longest portion of the trip, which would take approximately 13 and a half hours? Face, body language…….she was clearly not interested. Frances was clearly having a bad day, but nonplussed, I figured I’d fix it up in LA. I mean, it was our last half an hour or so with Alex’s mum and little sister. I have to admit though, I had not appreciated her attitude! Once downstairs, and having coffee, both Alex’s mum and Alex reiterated my sentiments; “That gal had a baaaaaaaaad attitude!”

Alex was keen to “fix it up”, so back we go to the counter. Now Frances was in luck, and I was feeling rather tranquil. Just thought I would go over and explain the situation, no names involved. So, I went to the counter and simply asked the woman if she could change the tickets so that Alex and I could sit next to each other. At that precise moment, Frances comes along, and utters to the woman helping us, “I’ve already told them that there are no seats together!”. Well, something snapped! You know, poor Frances at the Qantas counter picked the “wrong chick at the wrong time”. After what had happened in Miami, I was over it! I whipped around faster than a flash of lightning, eye-balled her and hissed, “Why don’t you just do a Harry Houdini and disappear! You are clearly useless, so let me continue speaking to someone who’s not!” I’m not sure who was more stunned, Frances or me! She then sat down and smirked at me! Have I ever told you how much I loathe smirking? On a roll, I now couldn’t help or stop myself. Next I blurted out, “That smirk on your face makes we want slap you!!!!!”……….Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! Alarm bells! We ARE in the USA? Did I just “threaten” her? Is she going to sue me? The lady helping me was very pleasant, if not a little thrown back by my outburst, and she listened patiently as I continued to explain that whilst I did not need or require any red carpet treatment, was asking Frances to do her job THAT difficult? The lady helping us made it clear that the changes actually could be made. Despite the fact that I was not raising my voice, the lady behind the counter could see how irate I was. I suggested that Frances may benefit from being locked up in an office away from people, or perhaps they should enrol her is a customer services course, as she clearly had no skills in this department. Well, we were offered two passes into the British Airways/ Qantas lounge. I will reserve my judgement on this for another time, but I really must mention one of the many magazines that were on “offer” (free, of course!! ); “The Private Jet Lifestyle Magazine – Elite Traveller”. Pages and pages and pages of expensive, consumerist, advertising dribble! I mean, one of the ads was for a Private Honda Jet, with the caption, “Is it possible to find a more efficient alternative?” No, but certainly a more stupid, energy-wasting one! Give me a bucket!!!!! Heaven forbid, that one would have to sit in a bigger plane, with the masses! Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease! What is this world coming to?

Once in the plane, we settled down comfortably. We felt a bit sad, as we always do saying goodbye to family. Alex’s mum was OK, but Angie looked sad. That’s always a tough one. The flight to LA was fine, as was the flight to Sydney. Due to our connections, we missed our flight from Sydney to Melbourne. Whilst it was no big deal, we were tired and just wanted to get home. We finally made it to Melbourne by 11.30am on the morning of Saturday, 20th June. As usual, we were picked up by Dino’s Taxi Service. We chatted as we drove home, and all had lunch together, but I was feeling tired. Jet lag? Not sure, as I do not normally suffer from this, but….I did manage to sleep on the couch from 12.45pm until about 11.00pm that night!

I woke up, and went straight to bed. We had missed two functions: Di Baini’s 21st ( a really special friend of ours) and an Inti Raymi (“Festival of the Sun”) celebration at Mick’s house in Croydon. Just a little bit of information for those of you who way not know too much about Incan culture; Inti Raymi marks the winter solstice, and was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire, in honour of the god, Inti. Whilst I was disappointed at having missed both, I was also way too tired to give it much thought!


Dedication (English): There are two parts to this dedication. The first part is for my brother-in-law, Christian. You are a wonderful person! I saw you be a wonderful husband, father, son, brother and friend….and of course, brother-in-law! You showed how loving and warm you are, and I would like to above all thank you for the amazing way you treat Axel and Denisse. Respect does not just happen it is earned. Despite the fact that we live far away, you will always hold a special place in our hearts. The second part is for our sister and sister-in-law, Karen. Finally, you got what you truly deserve. You are an exceptional mother and person, and we love you with all of our hearts.Christian and Karen, we wish you the best in life, and never forget that we will always be here for you and your family.

Dedicacion (Espanol): Hay dos partes de este dedicacion. La primer parte es para nuestro cunado, Christian. Eres una persona maravillosa! Pudimos ver que eres un buen esposo, padre, hijo, hermano y amigo….y tambien cunado! Nos demostraste lo carinoso y amable que eres, y sobre todo, quiero agradecerte en la forma fabulosa que tratas a Axel, Denisse y Thomasito. El respeto no ocurre simplemente, el respeto es ganado. No importa que vivimos lejos, siempre vas a tener un lugar especial en nuestros corazones. La segunda parte es para nuestra hermana y cunada, Karen. Finalmente ganaste lo que verdaderamente mereces. Eres una persona y madre excepcional y te amamos con todo nuestros corazones. Christian y Karen, te deseamos todo lo mejor de la vida, y nunca se olviden que siempre estaremos aqui para ustedes.

“There is no calamity greater than lavish desires. There is no greater guilt than discontentment. And there is no greater disaster than greed”. Lao-tzu (604 BC – 531 BC)

(Photos: 1.- Valeria’s birthday. L to R: Sara, Denisse, Valeria, Junior and Volney, in front, Quito. 2.-L to R: Ana Miranda and Manuela. 3.- Alex, baby Thomas and his brother Jean Pierre. 4.- Alex with his aunt, uncle and cousins. L to R: Alex, Israel, Valeria, Gustavo, Ombi , Gustavo Jr and Marcia. 5.-Ombi and Alex, with imprinted obscenities! Karen’s house, Quito. 6.- Ombi and Alex with “La Tia Loca” (the crazy auntie), Gladys. 7.- Alex with his cousins. L t R: Andres, Alex and Ruben (Junior). 8.- With my brother-in-law Christian’s family at Jonathan’s birthday. L to R: Bolivar, Lily (parents), Christian, Thomas, Jean Pierre, Jonathan (Chris’ brother), Naty (girlfriend), Ombi and Karen. In the front, Denisse and Axel (neice and nephew) and Alex. 9.- Locals at the Otavalo Market. 10.- Dad and the boys! . L to R: Alex’s Dad (Hugo), Jean Pierre, Rodrigo and Alex. 11.- This time with Rocio’s (my mother-in-law’s) sisters. Lt R: Gladys, Ombi, Patty and Marcia. 12.- BBQ time! Alex with his sister Karen, outside her apartment in Quito. 13.- Happy family! Karen, Christian and Thomas. 14.- Alex and Karen enjoying an espresso…with Italian coffee machine and ground coffee brought from Australia. When I lived in Ecuador, I left my legacy….a good coffee! 15.- Alex and his mum in New York. 16.- Alex and Angie at JFK Airport, on our way back to Australia…with Aussie paraphenalia. 17.- Christian at home with his family; Thomas, Denisse and Axel. 18.- Alex and his brother Rodrigo). 19.- Diego and Christina (their mother Deisy works in Karen’s house).

Still more to do and see in Ecuador

So, we had spent time with family, caught up with some of our friends, and done a whole lot of other stuff, but there was still so much more to do! So many friends still wanted to catch up with us, but time was a tickin’!

Now, we couldn’t possibly leave Quito without going for a boogie. So, one Saturday night we got a little group together and off we went to Flashback. As the name suggests, the music played was from the 70s and 80s. Our little group was Alex and I, Jean Pierre, Karen and Christian, Jonathan (Christian’s brother) and his girlfriend Naty, and Andrea (his cousin) and her husband Paul. Oh what a night! Oops, no pun intended! It was lots of fun, and we had a great time dancing. In my usual fashion, I was on that dance floor and goin’ for it in no time at all! And Christian was my partner in crime. What took a bit of (more like a lot actually) getting used to was the cigarette smoke! Apart from gross and repulsive, it seems oh so very yesterday to smoke in a confined space! So, here we are almost 3 kilometres above sea level, dancing in a pool of smoke…….at times I thought I was going to go into cardiac arrest. Apart from the smoke, we survived (of course, again, no pun intended), and didn’t leave until almost 3.00am. On the way home we stopped for some hot dogs with the lot (it’s what you do in Ecuador, after a big night out). Whilst it was no thanks for me, all the others went for it! Vegetarian or not, I don’t do mystery bags!

The next day was rather peaceful, and we all relaxed at home, only stepping out to buy some ice-cream.

Whilst we were in Quito, Andrea (Santy’s wife) gave birth to little Samuel. She chose a water birth, which is not so common in Ecuador. Alex, Karen and I went with his aunties Gladys and Patty, and were amongst the first to see the little baby. He was only hours old when we saw him. Santy was at the hospital too, as were several others. The baby, tiny as he was, was being passed around. They seem to have a much more laid back attitude to pregnancy and giving birth in Ecuador. As Alex’s aunt Patty told me some seven years ago when she gave birth to Samantha, “Pregnancy and child birth are not an illness, they are a way of life”. She’s right, and sometimes we can be a bit precious about it all in the western world.

Now, we all know that the world is a small place, but……..after we visited Andrea and little Samuel in hospital, we stopped by a small set of shops close to the hospital …I noticed a little girl in a wheelchair, and I was sure I had met her before. Now, whilst I am hopeless with numbers, I never forget a face, and almost never a name. Memory bank, memory bank! I looked at her father…yes I knew him, and I thought his daughter’s name was Eva….it all came back to me. I had met “Eva” in a shop her father owned on the Galapagos Islands, when we were there three and a half years ago. I went straight up to the father and asked him if his daughter’s name was Eva, to which he replied , “Yes, Evaluna!”. He looked at me as if to say, “How do you know her?” I then jogged his memory, and we chatted about our meeting in his shop in the Galapagos. I reminded Pato that I had met him and his wife Katy, and their gorgeous daughter. We had given her a little toy koala, and had played with her for a while. They now have another little girl called Sol. I went up to Evaluna and gave her a big hug, and reminded her too of how and when we had met. She have me a big hug and even bigger smile! I told Pato how I had often wondered about them all, and especially Evaluna! We swapped e-mails and vowed to stay in touch. Destiny!

We managed to catch up with Edison and Belen too, which was wonderful. Eddy used to work with Alex at El Comercio, Quito’s leading newspaper, when I met him 10 years ago. He is still there and works as a graphic designer. And Belen, who actually also works there now, used to be one of Alex’s students at the Journalism Club in which he used to teach and be involved in. They picked us up fro Patty’s house and we went to La Ronda, in the old part of Quito. It is in the colonial part of the old town, and is one of the oldest and most historic parts of Quito. As it was during the week, it was not that crowded, but there were still plenty of places selling canelazo, a traditional hot drink (with or without alcohol, but usually with), empanadas, and souvenirs. In addition, there were lots of restaurants and cafes. We stopped at one of them, and I had one of the best hot chocolates ever!

There was no way that we were leaving Quito without a meal at his Tia Bebita’s restaurant. Not only is she a wonderful cook but she is also a lovely woman. Every day her father (Alex’s grandfather) Jacinto, goes there for lunch. We surprised him by just rocking up one day without saying anything. You should have seen his face when Alex said, “Excuse me, do you mind if I sit down next to you?” More hugs all around! After lunch we caught the taxi with “Papa Jacinto” (as he is fondly referred to) back to his place, and caught up with some more members of Alex’s extended family. Again, never enough time!

We also managed to catch up with our special friend Aidee, who is still working at Hostal Centro del Mundo in Gringolandia. It’s where I stayed when I first came to Quito. I met her before I met Alex! We truly surprised her when we popped into the hostel. On that same day we also caught up with Ely from Moggely Travel (who run various tours all over Ecuador) and met her cousin Marco who is also working there now. Another friend I was able to see was Iliana; I used to work with both her and her mum (also called Iliana, and who now lives in Chicago). We went to a place called La Tortilla, where we were able to sit down and catch up on 10 years! Iliana’s mum found me on Facebook several months ago and we re-connected. She then she gave me her daughter’s e-mail. I had not been in touch with either since I stopped living in Ecuador 10 years ago. It was great, and like no time had passed at all. Unfortunately, we were neither able to catch up with Alex’s friend Raul, or my Colombian friend, Maria Pia……time just ran out!

I did, however, catch up with Maria Antonieta and her partner Chula. Maria Antonieta was one of my very closest friends when I lived in Ecuador. It was so great to see her once again, and it really felt like no time had passed at all. I went to hers and Chula’s place for dinner, and we chewed the fat for hours! It’s amazing how with good friendships, upon reconnecting, it actually feels like no time has passed at all. I only wish we had have had the chance to spend more time together, but as I have mentioned before, time is not always our best friend!

Now, there was no way that I was coming home from Ecuador not having visited the famous indigenous market of Otavalo. Alex and I took the two hour bus ride north, with Denisse on a Saturday morning, which is market day. Without a doubt, the beauty of the market lies in the indigenous people of the area, who always look spectacular in their traditional garb. The women with long, dark braided hair, colourfully embroidered shirts, and rows upon rows of gold beads around their necks, and the men, with their hats and their ponchos. Think Otavalo, think South America! As soon as we arrived we went straight to Mama Rosita’s for our humita fix (humitas are a type of roll, made from corn and can be sweet or savoury). I first met Dona Rosita (Mrs Rosita) when I was living in Ecuador, as I would go to Otavalo regularly. Unfortunately, it started to rain early on in the piece, and it got to the point where it was no longer enjoyable to walk around. We stopped in a cafe for a hot drink and a snack, after which we bought very little (but did include a couple of really cute woollen jumpers for Thomas), before proceeding to go home. We did manage to see both Don Pedro (Byron’s dad) and Norma (his sister) who have separate stalls there.

For me, Otavalo is like a life line. It epitomises all that I love about South America, and is a fascinating place to people watch. It reminds me of the culture that I love, and for me, no trip to my second homeland would be complete without a visit here. Unfortunately, due to the rain (it was hammering!), I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I usually do.

Mindo, the last bastion. I was determined to see it! Mindo is an area of low lying rain forest just a few hours north of Quito. It’s a bird lovers paradise, as it has one of the highest concentrations of birds in the world, with more than 350 bird species. I just wanted to relax and get away for a few days. We left on a Wednesday and came back on a Friday. We went by bus, and only half an hour out of Quito, the scenery changed and we were presented with undulating hills, covered with lush green trees. So many memories came flashing back to me, and this trip reminded me of what it is about South America that I had fallen deeply in love with in the first place! Indescribable sentiments, lodged deeply in my heart! I would do a backpacking trip again with Alex in South America in a heartbeat. I will… day! As we arrived in Mindo, it was raining heavily, but Byron had given us a contact of a place to stay. We ended up calling Elizabeth of Mindo Real, and she promptly came to pick us up with her daughter. If you click here, you will see the picture of the beautiful little cabin in which we stayed for 2 nights. It was only a 7 minute walk from the small town centre, but it was just far enough that the only noise we could hear was the sound of the river which ran through the property.

Each morning we were treated to a sumptuous home-made breakfast, compliments of Ely. Everything was fresh, and everything tasted fantastic! We were in no rush to wake up early on either of our days there, as it was so relaxing. On one of the days, we went on a really long walk, past the Mariposario (butterfly enclosure) and on a little mountain trail, ending up at some waterfalls. There were plenty of beautifully coloured butterflies flying around, and we both felt very serene. It was like having the place to ourselves as we only came across a person or two. Our walk through the mountain trail, was lovely, if not steep, and at one point we literally got attacked by a type of ant that, whilst not poisonous, bites with voracity. Their pincers were closing in all over my feet, and as I was wearing sandals and not shoes, I was jumping around like a grasshopper. I was also screaming expletives, whilst trying to swat them. Yes, I DID freak out! Luckily, no one was around, because I was screaming like someone who was being attacked! Well I was, wasn’t I? After the attack, and with my ankles and legs covered in bites, I slathered them in even more insect repellent, and we continued walking. Insect repellent? All too little too late?!

Soon, we reached a place where there were some waterfalls. We had to walk a little more inland, but the views were worth the walk. Again, we were alone. We had a dip in a pool which was what I would describe as natural, but somewhat enhanced by man. The water was bloody freezing! Just as we were getting ready to leave, the heavens opened and there was an alluvial downpour! We tried to wait until it passed, but this natural phenomena was not going to come to the party! So, we pulled out our ponchos and rain jackets, and walked back in the rain!

We had found a great little street stall on the first night where we bought our dinner, and went back the second night as it was so good. Grilled plantains (savoury bananas), were served with mayonnaise and grated fresh cheese (trust me, if Gino had tried it, he would have said, “‘fully sick!”). Then there was menestra (a type of stew, in this case with lentils) served with rice, salad, and aji (a chilli sauce which I just love). Add to that grilled meat and chicken, which Alex tells me was also great!

No sooner had we arrived, than it was time to go back to Quito. As we caught the bus back, and I once again admired the fantastic scenery, I was brutally reminded that we had less than a week to go! Where had the time gone? We wound our way back to Quito as I continued to both ponder and admire!

Yet another adventure was coming to an end!


Next: Saying goodbye!

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” – George Orwell (1903 1950)

(Photos: 1.- Ombi and Alex boogie-ing on the dance floor, “Flashback”, Quito, Ecuador. 2.- The “family gang” at Flashback. Lto R: Naty, Jonathan, Christian, Karen, Andrea, Jean Pierre, and Paul in the front. 3.- Andrea, Santiago and baby Samuel only hours after his birth. 4.- A surprise reunion – Ombi, Evaluna and Pato. 5.- Belen, Edison and Ombi at La Ronda, in the Old Town (historical centre), Quito. 6.- Alex’s family on his dad’s side: Papa Jacinto (grandpa), Alex, Salome, Jacinto (behind), Esteban, Monica (behind), Simona, Soraya, Sandy and Alexandra. 7.- Ombi and Aidee at Centro del Mundo. 8.- Maria Antonieta (front) and Chula at their place in Quito. 9.- Mama Rosita, Ombi and Denisse eating humitas at the Otavalo Market, Ecuador. 10.- Fancy a bit of pork, or a ham sanga? Fare of the porcine kind, Otavalo Market. 11.- Spools of thread, Otavalo Market. 12.- Mindo – loy lying cloud forest. 13.- The beautiful flowers of Mindo. 14.- River running through Mindo. 15.- Ombi and Alex; on our way back from a walk. It was only the poncho that saved me from the wet t-shirt competition! 16.- Eating out at the “local”, Mindo. 17.- (Left): Alex and Ely, of Moggely Travel. 18.- (Right): Ombi and Iliana at “La Tortilla” – reunion after 10 years.)

Home is where the heart is.

We had a great flight over to Quito, with a stopover in Miami. As we checked in, we were told that we would not be able to be seated together on the New York to Miami sector. I was not particularly fussed, as I figured that I would be able to swap with someone, although Alex and I were several rows apart. As it worked out however, I ended up sitting down next to a lovely lady called Louise. After chatting briefly, she asked if I would like her to swap with Alex, so that we could sit together. She seemed like such an interesting person, that I declined the offer and we ended up chatting all the way to Miami. As we parted company, I had a new friend, whom had already asked me to visit next time we were in Miami. I told her to beware, as I often took people up on these kinds of offers!

As we we approached Quito, I began to feel anxious………with excitement! It’s always an amazing feeling flying into Quito, but quite frankly, it’s not the safest! Mariscal Sucre Airport is nestled in the heart of Quito, surrounded by mountains, and only the most skilled of pilots are able to fly into it (having said that, the odd crash occurs all the same, which is why a new airport, well away from these mountains is currently being built). As we neared touch down, a knot formed in my throat, as I recognised familiar landmarks, peaks, parks and many other spots I had come to know and love when I had lived there 10 years ago. Ecuador, and particularly Quito, holds a very special place in my heart, and indeed it is my second home. A little piece of my heart always remains there!

Touch down! It was just on 6pm on the 28th of May. Alex and I looked at each other, nervously grinning from ear to ear. It had been almost three and a half years since we had been here, and if I was excited about seeing everybody once again, imagine Alex! This time, we would be meeting our brother-in-law, Christian, for the first time, as well as our new little nephew Thomas, who was not yet two months old. We were both feeling a wave of emotions…….how would we find everyone? Had Quito changed? The line to get through passport control was extremely long and it seemed to go on for ages. At one point I looked up, and behind the glass panelling I could see Karen (Alex’s sister), Jean Pierre and Rodrigo (Alex’s brothers), Samantha (his little cousin) and his aunties Patty and Gladys waving furiously. I was totally overcome with emotion, and I started to cry as I waved back. Finally, we got through customs and picked up our luggage.

We were surprised to find that before exiting the airport, every single person was being screened by a doctor with some kind of heat-gauging machine……yes, to see if they had pig flu! That was a bit of a surprise, especially as no similar such thing had been done in the USA. Also, everyone here was wearing a mask! After all the hoo-ha of leaving Australia in the middle of the pig flu crisis in late May, we hadn’t seen anyone wearing masks anywhere….up until now! We were virtually the last ones in the line, but once through, I noticed that Alex was not behind me. I turned around to see where he was, and could not see him. Finally, I saw him step out of the toilet, as he had splashed water on his face. I gave him this quizzical, “What the f#$@k look”, and he proceeded to yell out, “Te dijo, soy caliente!” (I told you, I’m hot!). I looked away in this “Gee, I don’t know this guy” kind of way. As it works out, Alex who (seriously) gets hot quite easily, went through the scanners, which detected a high body temperature, and he had to cool down just to rule out pig flu! What a laugh!

Finally out, there were hugs all around, and everyone had a laugh, especially with Alex’s pig flu debacle! (Karen Ivanyi, I know you will love this one!) As Karen (Alex’s sister) lives close to the airport, we were there in no time at all. As we came through the doors both Axel and Denisse (our niece and nephew) came running towards us. More hugs all around, as I adore them both. Then, we met Christian, whom we liked instantaneously (we had already “met” and chatted on skype) and saw little Thomas, although he was sleeping. Alex and I would be staying with Karen and her family. As Jean Pierre (or Piero as he is also referred to) is currently living there at the moment, it really was like one big happy family. That first night there was lots of chatting, hugs, and reconnecting. We also saw Daisy, who works in Karen’s house and her children Christina, now 8 and Diego, 4. Daisy started working with Karen in 1999, just months before I moved in to live with them. I have a soft spot for Daisy. We did not see Alex’s Dad until a couple of days later, as he often travels for work.

Three weeks seems like a long time, but sadly it went way, way too quickly! I met little Thomas the next day and was immediately besotted with him. He became the new love-of-my life in a nano second. Despite his tender age, we bonded immediately, and by the end of our stay he was giggling and laughing every time I went near or talked to him. What a gorgeous looking, nice natured little baby! You can clearly see that I am not at all biased.

There were so many things that we wanted to do, but time just did not allow it. Alex was, however, able to spend some real quality time with his family, which is what it was all about. I am very fortunate in as far as Alex’s family loves me as much as mine loves Alex here in Australia. I am never made to feel like I am holding the candle, but also understand the importance of Alex having time out with his siblings. It was great to see; as Alex is my great love, my happiness is also derived from his. He both laughed and cried with his siblings, and his profound love, especially for Piero and Karen, is touching. It’s moments like these, that I feel very humble and recognise the huge sacrifice that Alex had made to be here in Australia with me. He did it of his own free will, and loves me as well as Australia, but a huge chunk of his heart still lies in his birth country, where all of his loved ones live.

The weekend after we arrived, the aunties and uncles (on his mum’s side) organised a big get together, at his Tia (aunty) Marisela and Tio (uncle) Ruben (Chucha’s), house. They have a large property north of Quito. Here we caught up with everyone, as well as meeting Andrea, his cousin Santiago’s new wife. She was due any day now, and we already knew that the baby was a boy and would be called Samuel. What a day! The boys played table soccer, and a whole heap of us played ping-pong. There was also a spa and swimming pool (too cold to swim though). Lots of music, food and alcohol saw the festivities go on into the early hours of the next morning. Mind you, we had gotten there at midday!

A few days after we arrived, we also opened up two huge suitcases of gifts we’d brought here from Australia. What a pleasure to see their faces. It’s such a delight to be able to give and see the joy on people’s faces. Alex’s family is so big that we never send gifts across, but when we go, we certainly make up for it, with all the things we take across. OK, so I went a bit berserk with Thomas’ things……baby’s clothes are just so cute!

We had planned a family outing the day after the get together, but the best we could organise was a brunch,when everybody got up close to midday. Our weekends were spent with the family, going out for lunches, including Alex’s favourite ceviche (a citrus marinated seafood dish) and ice-cream, which in Ecuador seems to taste so much more natural, than back here. Indeed, their produce and food generally seems to taste fresher and definitely has less preservatives.

But, my how Quito had changed! The area around Amazonas St, or Gringolandia, which is basically where the foreigners hang out, caters to everyone and has everything. Ten years ago, I could barely find a cafe to save my life, and now it’s teeming with them…with foreigner prices to match. The number of bars, restaurants and up market souvenir shops has also increased multi-fold. Where had my “little Quito” disappeared to? The prices of the food in the supermarkets were astounding, and I struggled to grasp how one litre of milk could cost AUD $1.50, when fixing up a pair of shoes and a back pack were only $1.00. Sadly, this is still a country where manual labour is very poorly paid.

The old part of Quito has also really changed. The Plaza de San Francisco is one of Quito’s oldest and most beautiful sights, and is the place where our very dear friends Byron Ushina and Alexandra Aguirre have opened up, “Ari Gallery – Ancestral Jewellery and Art”. ( From humble beginnings, with a table at the Otavalo indigenous market, where I met Byron 10 years ago, to an upmarket gallery in one of Quito’s most well known areas……..I was blown away! As we entered the huge plaza, my eyes searched eagerly for the gallery. It wasn’t long before I saw the sign, “Ari Gallery”. I was overcome with emotion, and tears started to well up in my eyes. I started to cry! As we entered the gallery we saw Alexa, who was expecting us, yet I could not talk. I was all choked up as I continued to cry. As I hugged her, the words finally came out, and I told her how proud and happy I was for her and Byron. I was overwhelmed by their perseverance and desire to obtain their goal, which they had worked at for so long. What a most brilliant example that achievements can often be obtained with sheer determination and passion. They never floundered, they knew that one day their dream would become their reality! And there we were, standing in the middle of that very much achieved dream. What an inspiration!

Byron met us at the gallery later in the day, whereby I repeated my behaviour. When I saw him walk in, I was once again, overcome with emotion, and I hugged him whilst I cried and told him how proud I was of him. After some chatting, we closed the gallery and all went to a place called, “Vista Hermosa“, a cafe/restaurant offering spectacular 360% views of Quito. Vista Hermosa means beautiful view……the views were indeed impressive, but the prices ridiculous. Alex coined the cafe, “Beautiful views, ridiculous prices!” So, we all just had a cup of coffee, took in the breathtaking views, and caught up on the last few years.

We also went to visit Byron and Alexa in Sangolqui, only 35 kilometres east of Quito, where they live. My, my how that has changed too! Although nestled in a beautiful valley, the traffic is horrendous. Indeed, Alex and I have noticed how many more cars there are compared to only three and a half years ago. Many of these cars are (expensive) four wheel drives, prompting us to ask, “How do they do it”? That’s another story, but without a doubt, many are spending way beyond their means. It was wonderful to see the children again, Mishell, Amy and Dylan. Such good natured and polite children, and an absolute pleasure to be around. We got them a little gift too, and needless to say, they were very happy and all thanked up profusely. At Byron’s we had fresh cheese, fresh bread and a great home-cooked meal, including the famous “aji de mani” (chili peanut salsa), which Alexa knows I love. The house had grown bigger since we last saw it too, as they had extended. We love coming out here, and the air is so fresh. Having said that, so fresh, that it often puts us to sleep. By midnight I was spent and had to go off to bed. It was an early rise the next morning, and after a quick shower we had another wonderful home-cooked breakfast, before hitching a ride back to Quito with Byron.

We seemed to have done so much, yet we still hadn’t seen many of our friends, nor gone dancing, nor gone to Mindo, which I had never been to and had been wanting to see for years. I want to do it all…some things never change! All of this in the next blog.



(English): To our special friends, Byron Ushina and Alexandra Aguirre. We feel honoured to have you in our lives and to call you our friends. We are so proud of you. You relentlessly pursued your dream, which finally became your reality. We feel privileged to have been part of that journey. With humility, we thank you!

(Spanish): Para nuestros amigos especiales, Byron Ushina y Alexandra Aguirre. Nos sentimos honrados en tenerles en nuestras vidas, y llamarles nuestros amigos. Estamos muy orgullosos de ustedes. Persiguieron su sueno, lo cual llego a ser su realidad. Nos sentimos honrados para haber podido ser parte de este viaje. Humildemente, les agredecemos!

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters to what lies within us” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

(Photos: 1.- Quito Airport, smack bang in the middle of the city, surrounded by mountains. 2.- A woman with her children, Old Town, Quito. 3.- The new “love of my life, Thomas – or Thomasito as we affectionately refer to him. 4.- Alex and Thomas, in Karen’s house, Quito. 5.- The whole family having icecream at Heidi’s Ice-creamery. L to R: Jean Pierre, Axel, Christian, Karen, Rodrigo, Denisse and Alex. 6.- Ombi and Spider Man, aka Diego, Daisy’s son. 7.- L to R” Denisse, Karen and Ombi with Thomas in the middle. 8.- Denisse and Alex at our family reunion at Maricela and Ruben’s place, Quito. 9.- Axel, in his bedroom. 10.- Plaza San Francisco, Old Town, Quito. 11.- “Ari Jewellery Gallery; Byron and Alexa’s gallery, Old Town, Quito. 12.- Ombi and Byron at Vista Hermosa Cafe in the Old Town, with resplendent views of the Old Town. 13.- Back in Sangolqui with Byron’s family. L to R: Alex, Mishell, Alexa, Byron, Dylan, Ombi and Amy. 14.- Ombi and Thomas with his new “Melbourne designed” kangaroo. 15.- Alexa, Ombi and Byron at their house, Sangolqui. 16.- Alex having a bad hair day! Family get together, Maricela and Ruben’s house, Quito).

The Apple’s getting bigger!

The time had come; for once in our lives we weren’t rushing around like chooks with our heads cut off, and we were able to get to bed at a reasonable time on the eve before we set of…..well, before the usual 3am, anyway! The days before were certainly a mad scramble (yes, that was the same as usual!) as we finished packing, buying odds and ends as well as buying presents for our family overseas. Time has never been my best friend, and this “enemy” always seems to rear its ugly head just as we get ready to go overseas. Yet, with this whole time love-hate relationship going on, we still managed to pull it all together, and early on the morning of Saturday May 16th, we were off! Ride to the airport, compliments of “Dino’s Taxi Service” (my Dad) – nope, some things never change! Saying goodbye to Dad was easy, as such trips for us are a common occurrence!

We had purchased the Melbourne – New York sector of our flights using our Qantas frequent flyer points, and the routing was: Melbourne – Sydney – LA – New York. We worked out that that was about 20 hours of “bums on seats” time, and didn’t include the stop overs! One way! The flight over was predominantly fine. The plane food, whilst no gourmet delight, was edible and the movies excellent (you MUST see the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas). Add to that that I am a good sleeper on planes, and the time seemed to go rather quickly. Having said that, by the time we hit JFK Airport in New York, we were knackered, so to speak.

Alex’s mum, Rocio, and little sister Angie (who isn’t so little anymore!) were waiting for us with open arms. They were so glad to see us, and there were hugs all around! Whilst Alex had seen them both in January this year (you may recall that Alex was in the USA), the last time I had seen them both was in August of 2006, when Alex and I began our 16 month around the world trip. It was great to all be back together again. On the ride back home there was lots of laughter, chatting and story swapping. I was so happy to see Alex reunited with his family again, as I know how much it means to him.

We were blessed with a gorgeous springtime climate, with daily temperatures of between 19 and 23 degrees celcius, and virtually no rain, which was great ( I know, I wouldn’t be saying this in Australia!) Jeans and t-shirt weather. We would be spending a fraction under two weeks here, and as always, time was not enough. Not that I ever feel that it is. There is always so much to do, and catch up on. Our first night was spent relaxing, eating Alex’s mum’s home-cooked Ecuadorian food, and catching up on…….everything! Needless to say, we went to bed in the early hours of the morning, despite the fact that Alex’s mum had to get up at 4.00am the next morning to go work!

We spent the first few days hanging around the apartment, relaxing and not doing much at all. Alex had worked up until the night before we left, and I had caught some chesty bug on the plane which had me coughing and wheezing (and…..shock horror…..I virtually lost my voice!) No, luckily no Pig Flu! After a few days, we figured it was time to step out into the concrete jungle. New York, New York! Where does one start? In the centre of course! And the centre would be? Times Square! Wow! Good wow or bad wow, that is the question! Full-on, information overload, crowded with people, flashing digital (I almost wrote neon!) advertisements of every colour and description, frantic energy……just some of the words, I would use to describe this hub of activity. I found it to be a veritable “Consumerism on Steroids”! The who’s who of any brand that was worth anything in the 21st century were all screaming, Look at me, Look at me!” Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Panasonic, Swatch, Sony, only to name a few. Right amongst all of this the famous Naked Cowboy was struttin’ his stuff. Who’s is the Naked Cowboy, you ask? Some long blonde haired American dude, who wears only his white jocks, cowboy boots, hat and strums a guitar. Go figure! (For you Harry, OIFA!!!!!!!!!) But let me tell you, the gals, local and foreign alike, were loving him!

Alex and I sat down close by and people watched as we ate our home-made lunch. Amazing! It really is a jungle out there, and the variety of animals phenomenal! (We even saw a “Naked Cow-girl!). There is a hype and a buzz that is quite indescribable. Having said that, Alex and I felt that we had to get out! The messages, both subliminal and overt, in relation to what we should buy or be seen with were overwhelming. We walked away, as the chaos continued behind us. The Big Apple is bigger than ever. Take the word bigger in whatever way you wish! It’s no big secret that New York is not my favourite place on earth (nor Alex’s), but as a friend said to me, “Maybe you’ve just got so much to compare it to!” True!

New York shopping? What can I say…unless you want brand and label stuff (and Alex and I both categorically refuse to wear labelled clothing on ethical grounds), I don’t feel that it really has any more to offer than the likes of Melbourne, especially if you live next door to Ms Shopper of the Century, aka Lizzie Leveridge. Lizzie can show you a better bargain than anything you can find in New York! True! Seriously, it’s just that Alex and I don’t get off on browsing a street lined with Tiffany’s, Versace or Gucci and friends, let alone buying their overpriced products, which needless to say are made in China! A little aside here: In Australia, I bought a little stuffed multi-coloured kangaroo for my new little nephew, Thomas, in Ecuador. I had to laugh when I saw where it was made. It read, “Designed in Melbourne, Australia. Hand-crafted in China”. Translation, “Made in China”!!!! Let’s call a spade a spade! Whose scab labour are we paying for?!

OK back to New York. As an observer, I was also taken aback by the amount of truly obese people, and more to the point, really obese children. Having said that, I have always said that I find American food to be rather unhealthy. Either too much fat, too much sugar, or both! I was bringing snacks from home when we would go out for the day, as the street food just wasn’t calling out to me. It looked and smelt like heart-attack material.

A highlight of my time in New York, was catching up with some very dear friends of mine. First with Kobie, Liz and Daniel, and then Joanne, Mike, Alex and Irene.

Kobie is a very, very special friend of mine who I have known for practically half of my life. She is Australian, but has lived in the States (Massachusetts) for years, with her partner, Liz. The last time I saw them both was in August 2006, only months after their little baby Daniel, was born, when I stayed with them in their house. This time, they all came to New York, where the three of us stayed in a hotel, close to the city centre, with Daniel. It was wonderful just hanging out and reconnecting after such a long time. During the day, we would go out and do fun things like walk around Central Park, or other parts of the city, and at night, after Liz and Daniel would go to sleep, Kobie and I would stay up and talk into the early hours of the morning. We only had a couple of days together, but they were so special: full of laughter, tears and re-connecting. Alex did not stay with us, but on the Sunday, he and Angie met us at Central Park, so Kobie, Liz and Daniel were able to briefly catch up with him too.

Catching up with Joanne and her family was also a highlight. We spent a day with her, husband Mike, and son Alex out in Brentwood, Long Island. I met Joanne some 18 years ago, after I had worked on a summer camp in Indiana, in the USA. I remember it clearly; it was in Colorado Springs. We struck up a friendship immediately, and the rest is the proverbial history! After meeting her that first time, I even went back and stayed with her. Hey, she offered, and I accepted. For those of you that know me well, you would also know that if I say, “I will come and see you”, that I truly will. I am a woman of my word! Since then I have only seen Joanne a couple of times, but our bond defies both time and distance. I without a doubt, consider Joanne to be one of my most valued friends.

Back at Joanne’s house…….we spent a brilliant day, catching up whilst ploughing through the “smorgasbord” that Mike had prepared for us. Despite the fact that Mike is an exceptionally warm, intelligent and kind-hearted individual, he is also a brilliant cook. Go on Mike, show America how it’s done! Without a doubt, some of the best food I had on this trip in the USA. We started with bruschetta, prawns, corn chips, potato chips and Mike’s own home made tzatziki, and later followed up with a range of barbecued meat, sausages and veggies. Yum, yum, yum!!!! Of course, it wasn’t all about the food! Another surprise that day, was a visit by Irene. Irene is a friend of Joanne’s whom I met 18 years ago, but had not seen since. I thought that Irene looked just the same….Irene commented, however, that I no longer “looked like a kid”…after all, I was in my early 20s when I met her! It was only a day, but proof that life really is about quality and not quantity! Neither time nor distance can ever take away what we hold dear to our hearts!

Apart from those few getaways, our time was spent with Alex’s mum and Angie, and some of her friends, like Isabel, Adolfo, Betty and Samantha. Many a night were spent with Rocio (Alex’s mum), Alex and I chatting and swapping stories. There is always so much to chat about, but never enough time. Unfortunately, Rocio was unable to take time off work, so we had to do the best with the time we had. In addition, getting up at 4.00am is no mean feat! (That’s the time that Alex’s mum usually gets up for work). We really hope that she will be able to come out and visit us some time soon. We skyped the family in Ecuador several times, so we were also getting excited that we would soon be seeing all of them too!

And so, our time had promptly come to an end. Having said that, 12 days are barely enough! Part 2 of our trip would be almost three weeks in Ecuador. As we had organised our Melbourne-New York return trip using our frequent flyer points, we had to purchase the New York-Quito return trip in addition. Thus, after flying to Quito, we would have to come back for a night (where we would stay with Angie and Rocio again), before flying back out to Melbourne. Mind you, whilst we flew into JFK Airport (in NY) from Melbourne, we flew out of La Guardia Airport (also in NY) to Quito. Again, we then flew back to La Guardia Airport from Quito, to then have to fly out of JFK to finally get back to Melbourne! Confused? Join the club! You can add jet lag to that confusion too, but more on that later!

Soon we we were off. My favourite continent, South America, awaited!

It wasn’t really that hard to say goodbye, as we knew that we would be coming back, if only for a night!


PS Scroll down to the bottom of this blog to see a video of some guys dancing in a train, as we were travelling from Quens to Manhattan!

Dedication: This is for Kobie and Joanne. Thanks for being such wonderful people, and such special friends. Both of you have touched my life in an indescribable way, and I am a better person for knowing you. Both of you hold a very special place in my heart. Joanne, you know that I will come out and see you again. Kobie, I cannot wait to see you, Lizzie and Daniel in Australia this October!

A few words from some of my friends:

“Hi Ombretta
It was great seeing you as well. I’m always so happy to see the ease at which we just pick up like we just saw each other. Kindred spirits indeed…………Thanks as always for staying in touch. You and Alex are such special people and I’m glad to have you in my life.
Much love Joanne” (Joanne writing after our visit)

“NY is the cross roads of our materialistic world. Maybe you don’t feel challenged when you are there. Make the most of it, goto a quirky comedy club or try to get tickets to David Letterman. I know it isn’t the same as the beautiful people that we met and stayed with in Panama! …….. I am still in Hawaii. Have fun!!” – (You know us all too well Paco! Alex and I met Robert “Paco” Steinke in Panama in 2007, where we continued to travel together for several months. Paco is from Alaska……we love you Paco!)

“Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless” – Sinclair Lewis (1885 – 1951)

(Photos: 1.-New York taxi. So, who looks relaxed? 2.-View of New York, taken on train, coming from Queens. 3.-Alex, Angie and his mum, Rocio, taken outside their apartment, in Queens. 4.-Times Square, New York. 5.-The Naked Cowboy, Times Square, New York. 6.-His rival….the almost Naked Cowgirl, Times Square. 7.- So, who IS the trophy? Please explain! 8.- L to R: Kobie, Liz and Daniel, New York. 9.- L to R: Daniel, Alex, Angie and her dog, Juicy, in Central Park, New York. 10.- Ombi and Joanne relaxing in her backyard, Brentwood, Long Island, New York. 11 – Mike, the Master Chef! 12.- Alex and his mum. 13.- Trains running less frequently during peak times in Manhattan….and that would be……Derrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 14.- Kobie, Ombi and Daniel being silly! 15.- This kiss is for you Paco…gotta luv those shoes! Quirky enough?!) 16.- Below is a video of some guys dancing on a train we caught between Queens and Manhattan.)