Showing Dad how it’s done in Ecuador

Viva Ecuador!

The first few days in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, were spent hanging out at home, acclimatising and reconnecting with our family. Normally, we jokingly call it ‘Full House’ for all the people that live there, but with us there as well it was more like ‘Packed to the Rafters’!  Add Alex, Dad and I to: Karen, Christian, Denisse, Axel, Thomas, Isabella and Jean Pierre (Alex’s brother). That’s a lot of people in a smallish apartment! But it was wonderful! Dad felt comfortable from day dot!

With Alex’s mum’s sisters at Karen amnd Chris’s house

Over the coming weeks, Dad would really bond with all of them. Language wasn’t a big problem, as most of Alex’s family speak English in varying degrees … he also had two personal translators/ interpreters with him! Little Isabella took a real shine to Dad and he soon became ‘Nonno’ (Grandpa in Italian). Actually, we all got side-swiped for Nonno, as when he was around it was Nonno this and Nonno that. It was lovely to see! Dad has always been great with kids; I remember my own childhood where he would read and play with us.  I loved my Dad then and nothing has changed now!

Isabella with Nonno

In the nights to come we had visits from several family members, including Alex’s four aunts and their families (Alex’s mum is one of five girls, and they and their families all live in Quito, except his mum who lives in New York). It was great to see them all again, as it was for Dad to see me in my other home environment. As our lungs slowly adapted to less oxygen, we started to go out and do a few more things. We would often go with Karen in her car as she drove to work and then do our own thing. Dad was blown away by the traffic, and I must say that it does seem to get worse and worse every time we come over. The reality is that as the economy grows, so does the number of people buying cars. The problem is that the streets and highways are in no condition (both physically and space wise) to accept this growing number of vehicles.  So being stuck bumper-to-bumper in traffic is the order of the day!  Add to that the unroadworthiness of many cars and a ‘simple’ drive into work can become a logistical nightmare.

Isabella helping mum put away the shopping

Having said that, it certainly gives one a lot of time to observe. Dad was bowled over by Quito’s spectacular position, high in the Andes, amid dramatic, mist-covered peaks, which were always visible in some form or another, from most parts of the city. Due to the such slow moving traffic, Dad was also able to observe daily life; unlike Australia, a lot of it happens on the streets. Kids selling lollies, adults selling fruit and whatever else they could, and amputees begging … all doing whatever they could in order to eke out a living. Dad found this very confrontational, and in the first few days, he was overcome with emotion! It threw me back to some 14 years ago, when I had first come to Ecuador, when the poverty and lack of equality overwhelmed me so much that I often felt sick to my core. How many times I had simply stopped and cried, as I did not know what else to do! Not that I didn’t care now, but I had seen it so many times (not just in Ecuador but in other third world/ developing countries) that it wasn’t new to me. Dad’s reactions brought back all of my own feelings of sadness and despair about our unjust world, and my own overwhelming feeling of wanting to make a ‘wrong world right!’ Dad and I would later chat about this often … he was getting an insight into the world beyond Australia; the different world that his daughter has long been an inhabitant of!

Near Otavalo, Quito

Karen works in the area of Quito called Amazonas, otherwise known as Gringolandia (gringo being the slang word for foreigner). With so many foreigners staying there (as I did some 14 years ago and it’s also where I met Alex) it is abundant with restaurants, cafes , internet cafes and all that pertain to being a tourist, as well as a craft market, which showcases a variety of beautiful things from all over the country. We took Dad for a browse through there. Over the years, however, I have noticed imports from other countries slowly filtering through, yet they still try to pass them off as their own.  That’s globalisation for you!

With Don Pedro in Otavalo

We had found out that our good friend and the person who used to supply us with the bulk of our jewellery when we had an import business in the early part of the noughties, Byron Ushina, would be displaying his jewellery at a local fair called Texturas y Colores (Textures and Colours). This fair showcases the work of Ecuadorian artists and artisans. Dad and I thought that we would pop in and surprise him, as he did not know exactly when we would be arriving in Quito. And what a surprise it was! We casually walked up to his stand, and when he saw us, his mouth dropped to the floor, and then he came over and hugged us both. Dad had heard so much about Byron and Byron so much about Dad. For me it was wonderful to be able to see my Dad join the dots of the fabric of my life; for so long he had heard about my world and now he was living it!

Fresh bizcochos, Cayambe

Our first weekend in Quito was spent at Humberto’s house in Ibarra, 70 kilometres northeast of Quito,Cayambe, famous for its bizcochos (savoury biscuits made up of buttery flaky pastry) and queso de hoja (cheese wrapped in ‘atzera’ leaf, which is typical to the region), which is Alex’s all time favourite cheese.  I love both! We took Dad in to a place and showed him how the biscuits were made. It’s like a ritual, whenever passing through this town, we go to the place that makes them (there are many) and then order both the cheese and the biscuits and dig in!
where he had a party for all of his cousins (Alex’s mum’s sisters and their families). He normally does this in the middle of the year, but this year he changed the date in honour of us and Dad being in Ecuador. The three of us went in Marcia (Alex’s auntie) and Gustavo’s van, along with other relatives in their cars.  It was like a convoy, and we all stopped in different places along the way. 

Indigenous lady, Otavalo

Next on the list was the famous Otavalo market. As we neared the town we stopped for some more spectacular views of the surrounding area. Ecuador is a visual feast where beauty and striking scenery don’t descend but, rather, impose themselves upon you! It’s the best type of imposition, however, as each time you go around one of the (many, many, many!) curves, you are treated to yet another visual spectacle!

Indegenous man, Otavalo

For hundreds of years Otavalo has hosted one of the most important markets in the Andes, originally celebrating the gods of commerce. The colourful open-air market place is abuzz with products from all over Ecuador, and as mentioned before, imports are cleverly disguised, but slowly creeping in.  Having said that, it’s still a great place to see the local indigenous people (as well as many from surrounding villages and areas) bartering with Ecuadorians and foreigners alike, selling their wares. Bartering is a totally acceptable practice, but one has to be careful about haggling over the last ten cents!  The deal should be a happy medium, a ‘good for you, good for me’, outcome.  I am generally pretty good at bargaining and speaking Spanish fluently is a huge bonus.  Alex has often said that I am able to get a better deal than the average Ecuadorian!

Indigenous child, Otavalo

I must admit that Otavalo holds a very special place in my heart as it brings back many wonderful memories of my backpacking days through South America in 1999. It encapsulates everything that backpacking is about … a totally different culture, indigenous people dressed in their garb, the buying and selling of different goods … the memories flooded back … and I do have a multitude of amazing memories from my travels of all over the world.  Yet, here I was today, not ‘really’ as a tourist, but with my Ecuadorian-born husband and ‘my’ family. Wow, life’s twists and turns are often unpredictable. If you had have asked me 13 years ago if my path would have included marrying an Ecuadorian, I would have said that it would have been about as likely as me learning ancient Arabic overnight!  But here I am today, happily married (almost 11 years) to my soul mate and the love of my life, Alex … the Ecuadorian!  Life!

At Humberto’s house with the family

After an early start to the day and a  full day of sightseeing, we arrived at Humberto’s house close to 6.00pm, where we were greeted by Humberto, his wife Karina, and her parents. What a night it proved to be. All of the relatives rocked up slowly, one by one, and by 8.00pm it was well and truly a full house.  They had prepared food for us, which we were eating in rounds, due to the fact that there were so many people. Food washed down, the music cranked up! Time to get the party started!  We sang and we danced, and danced and danced!

Humberto and I did a rendition of Gangnam Style and whilst we provided the group with a good laugh, the next day, I felt like I had been belted. I refuse to admit that I am not 20 anymore! Even our one and a half year old niece, Isabella, was bopping to the music. Bed?  No way, this little party animal was out to play!  It runs in the family! The next morning, we were treated to breakfast and then slowly, we all made our way back to Quito. Everyone was clearly tired. Not only did it end up being an early night, but the next day was a day of rest at home.

Isabella and Chris, party animals

In the weeks before Christmas we would do lots of day trips here and there as there is so much we wanted to show and share with Dad.  This was interspersed with a bit of resting and visits to the doctor.  Unfortunately Dad ended up with both bronchitis and gout. It appears that it was his body rebelling against the high altitude. Whilst the gout was able to be treated almost immediately, the bronchitis seemed to go on forever, and in fact, despite taking antibiotics, it didn’t go away properly until after we came back home.

Smack, bang in the Midde of the World!

There were a couple of things that were on Dad’s more immediate hit list.  The first was a visit to the Centro del Mundo or  ‘The Middle of the World’. Ecuador’s biggest claim to fame is is its location right on the equator, and is the place where measurements were made in 1736 showing that this was indeed the equatorial line. Touristy, yes, but some things just need to be ticked off the list! Whilst the site now has lots of restaurants, cafes and handicrafts stalls, there are still lots of interesting displays.  The 30 metre high stone trapezoidal monument topped by a brass globe not only has a viewing platform at the top (more spectacular views of the surrounding Andes!) but also houses an ethnographic museum. The displays  of the several indigenous groups of Ecuador through various models, clothing displays and photos, give a real insight into the variety housed within such a small country.

Cruz Loma, 4100 metres above sea level

The other ‘must do’ on Dad’s list was the TeleferiQo, or cable car; it is one of the highest aerial lifts in Cruz Loma. Although both Alex and I had done this before, it was still very exciting.  Dad was blown away, quite literally! As the cable car zooms up the slope, and leaves the city behind and below, one can only gape and gaze in wonder. The views at the top are mind blowing! Dad absolutely loved it. In fact, any view in Quito is spectacular, simply due to the altitude. We walked around a little, took in the fresh air (certainly cleaner and fresher than down below), had a coffee and empanada, and contemplated the meaning of life!  I was loving my Dad experiencing my world, and watching him love it as much
the world. The cable car is in central Quito and  reaches 4050 meters on the summit of
as I do!

Dad and I in Quito’s historical centre

Another day or two were spent in Quito’s old town, or historical centre. Its claim to fame is that it’s one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas. It has been listed as a world heritage site through UNESCO since 1978. Yet another of Ecuador’s many hidden gems.  In fact I have backpacked all over South America and have often wondered why so many people skip this tiny but fascinating country. In my opinion, it truly is the jewel of South America. I have now known about this secret for years! With its narrow streets, restored colonial architecture and large and lively plazas (brilliant for people watching), the historical centre, or El Centro as the locals call it, is a marvel to wander. We ate, we visited churches, we watched; always fascinating. Our ex-jewellery supplier (for our fair-trade jewellery import business that we had a few years back) and now friend, Byron Ushina, has a gallery in San Francisco Plaza, in the historical centre, so we popped in to see him and show Dad the gallery. Again, it was lovely to be able to show Dad the elements that had been part of my world for so long. It also worked in reverse; this gringa had been coming to Ecuador for years, from a place far away called Australia. My Ecuadorian family and friends were also learning a bit more about me, who I was and where I came from.

El Panecillo

I was actually quite enjoying being the tour guide for Dad.  It made me feel a bit less like a tourist myself. Dad and I decided to go on the Quito Tour Bus (whilst Alex hung out with his own Dad) which is a double-decker that takes you all around town and shows you Quito’s most important sights.  Dad and I agreed that you got a totally different perspective of the city from up high. You can also hop on and off as many times as you like, taking in the sights in at your own pace. One of the final stops is to El Panecillo (the Little Bread Loaf), the ever-present hill to the south of the Old Town. A major Quito landmark, it is topped by a huge statue of La Virgen de Quito (Virgin of Quito), with a crown of stars, angelic wings and a chained dragon atop the world. Quitenos (the people native to Quito) proudly claim that she is the only Madonna in the world depicted with wings. From the summit there are eye-catching (running out of synonyms to describe Quito’s aerial views!) views of the sprawling city and the surrounding volcanoes.  Dad was left gob-smacked yet again!

With Maria Antonieta

Quito is also home to a multitude of excellent museums. With so many to choose from we went with the Museo Nacional, or the National Museum, which houses one of the country’s largest collections of Ecuadorian art. The most impressive rooms, however, are the archaeological ones, which showcase more than 1000 ceramic pieces dating from 12 000 BC to AD 1534. Whilst here is only so much one can see and take in, we were giving it our best shot!

Belen with baby Elias

Christmas was only around the corner yet we felt like we’d packed in a lifetime since our arrival only a few weeks earlier. Amongst all of the sightseeing there were also the many catch ups, get togethers and meeting up with various members of Alex’s family, as well as our friends. With so much to do and relatively little time, we had to see some of our friends separately. I did manage to see my very dear friend Maria Antonieta a few times. She too holds a very special place in my heart as she was one of my best friends when I lived in Ecuador for a year between 1999 and 2000. I also managed to catch up with some other friends, through Maria Antonieta, that I hadn’t seen since in years. One, Geovany, has a new partner, Shirley, and we hit it off like a house on fire. We also took Dad to Edison and Belen’s house and met their new little baby boy, Elias. Unfortunately, Edison was at work and due to time constraints we would not end up seeing him on this trip. When I left Ecuador for the first time in 2000, Edison gave me a beautifully painted wooden mask, which holds prize of place on my wall … so I may not have seen you this time Eddy, but you and your family are never far from my thoughts.

Ombi

Next: Christmas and New Year Ecuadorian style.

“Never go on trips with anyone you do not love” – Ernest Hemingway

My two best friends

Dedication: To my Dad, Dino, and husband, Alex. On this trip I travelled with the two people I love most. This trip was all about you Dad! I wanted to show you the other half of my life, the other half of my world. I know you got it! I know that you understand what draws me back to this tiny country called Ecuador, again and again. I know that now you  understand both parts of the world I live in. Alex – thanks for showing your other Dad your first world, the world that has helped shape the person you are today. I thank you both for loving me unconditionally, supporting the crazy gal that I am, and for helping me to become the person that I am today!

Alex with brothers Rodrigo (L) and Jean Pierre (R)

The two ‘fathers’ meet
Baby Elias, future backpacker
Not all are equal, historical centre, Quito

Historical centre, Quito
Deni and boyfriend Miguel (Fosfi)
Busker in historical centre, Quito
Cable car back down from Cruz Loma

Fresh air on Cruz Loma, 4100 metres above sea level
Indigenous lady, Otavalo

Friit vendor, Otavalo

Otavalena
In the historical centre of Quito

Dad and Alex, near Otavalo

Cemetery, Cayambe
Thomas and Karen trying on hats, Otavalo
Alex’s sister Karen and family
Woman from Otavalo
Thomas … unadulterated bliss!
How’s this for fashion?
Fresh bread anyone?

Thomas in his school’s Christmas concert
Isabella
Artisan shop at Centre of the World

Thomy and his beloved dinosaurs
The many faces of Ecuador – Ethnographic Museum
Straddling both hemispheres
Me with Dad at ‘the Centre’
A ‘chiva’ (party bus) at the ‘Centre’

Ecuador via Fort Myers, Florida

Ready to go!

As usual, I find myself asking where time goes.  It’s the middle of March and we’ve been already been back from our last overseas sojourn for over two months yet, somehow, I simply haven’t been able to find the time to put ‘fingertips to keyboard’.  Well, here goes!

Leaving Melbourne Airport for the USA

We were ready to embark on a different type of trip this time; Dad was coming with us to meet the family in Ecuador. We would be going for almost six weeks, and would spend the first few days in Florida, USA. Bags packed and everything under control, he would have two ‘experienced guides’ to show him the way! It was exciting. Alex and I have been together since 1999 and Dad has never met anyone from his family as they mostly live in Ecuador, with the exception of his mum and sister in New York and cousin in Fort Myers, Florida. There is no short cut to get to Ecuador!  It’s long and it’s tiring, but we decided to break up the trip and stop over in Fort Myers before going on to Quito.

Almost gone … Melbourne Airport

There was NO WAY that we were going to be late to the airport on this trip. My super-organised Dad was going to make sure of that!  He slept over our place the night before, and ensured that we were all on time.  Fulvio, my brother, was here to pick us up by 7.30am and we left by 8.00am. We checked in and made our way through passport control and the security checks.  Dad was surprised at how much rigmarole we had to go through.  It had been about 17 years since he’d flown last, and things have certainly changed since then. I couldn’t help but think that this was nothing, wait until he got to the USA! All in order, we got through and had Dad participate in our ‘coffee before take off’ ritual. Dad was excited and so were we.  I was really excited at the thought that not only would Dad now get a ‘live’ insight into my world but that he would also get to meet the family and the country that was now part of my world and that I had grown to love so much!

Flying from Melbourne to LA

The first part of the flight, Melbourne to Los Angeles, took approximately 15 hours.  The flights were
Qantas/ American Airline code share with this first part being Qantas. As usual, I slept for most of the flight, whilst Alex and Dad watched a number of movies. We had a couple of hours stop over in LA and then we went straight through to Miami where we were picked up by Alex’s cousin Christian. It was then an approximately three hour ride to Fort Myers, where Christian lives with his partner Frankie. It was wonderful to see him again.  The last time we had seen Christian was when we went on our around-the-world trip in 2006. He and Alex grewup and lived together in Ecuador.  They are more like brothers than cousins!

Dinner at Chili’s

As we drove we laughed, chatted and reminisced.  Christian had heard so much about Dad and Dad so much about Christian. We had a lovely four days together, but as you can imagine it went all too quickly.  Dad was not overly impressed with the American cuisine but loved our meal at Chili’s, where we stopped for dinner soon after Christian picked us up.  The food was actually quite good, if I may say so myself, but talk about super-size-me portions! I know that in Australia we talk about our growing obesity problem, but we just don’t seem to be as big here. I am always shocked at the sheer size of so many people when I visit the USA.

Sunset at Fort Myers Beach, Florida

Christian is a qualified nurse and is now doing further studies.  So, between working in a hospital full time and studying, flat out mode is usul for him.  Luckily for us he was able to take a few days off and we were able to see several things together. Apparently it was winter in Florida!  Yeh right, 26 to 30 degrees; shorts and t-shirt weather…  that’s not winter! We went on some lovely walks through some national parks, saw the Everglades, and even went on a mini-train ride through a local park.  All very low key and relaxing. We also went to a variety of shops, including, Wal-Mart, and it just blew Dad away.  He was stunned at the amount of everything and anything.  All that you wanted, in whatever size, make and colour … and that included food! One day we visited Fort Myers Beach, and had a walk along the shore as well as the pier, where we were afforded some spectacular views at sunset.

Train ride through a local park, Fort Myers

And almost as soon as we had arrived, it was time to go!  Four days is hardly enough to do anything, but we had managed to do quite a bit, and Dad had finally met the Christian whom we had spoken so much about! Before we knew it, we were back in Christian’s car, returning to the airport. Hugs, kisses and some tears all around, and then we had to go through the whole rigmarole once again. Passport control isn’t thaaaat bad, but the security checks … OMG!  They do my head in! Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out!  Before we knew it, we were on a plane and flying to Ecuador, which was another three and a half hours (add: Melbourne to LA, 15 hours; LA to Miami, 5 hours; Miami to Quito 3.5 hours).

Time to leave!

As we were arriving in Quito at about 7.00pm, the views of the city as we descended were spectacular! The ‘old’ airport that we flew into has actually closed since our return (mid-February 2013) and the new one at Tabebela has opened. The old airport sits smack bang in the middle of the city, whereas the new one is some 20 kilometres north east of the city.  It has been a long time in the making, as whilst flying in to the old one may present some marvellous views, high altitude, a cramped runway and towering volcanoes nearby make it one of Latin America’s most challenging airports for pilots.

Christian with Thomas, Quito

 As Quito’sairport (old) is rather small, it hardly takes any time at all to get through passport control,  grab your bags and walk out.  As we were going through passport control, we could see some of Alex’s family waving through a glass panel above us!  How exciting this was going to be!  I still could not believe that after years and years of asking Dad to come and visit Alex’s family in Ecuador he had finally said yes! We grabbed our bags and in no time we were walking out of the doors, where we were greeted by Alex’s Dad, brother Rodrigo, sister Karen, brother-in-law Christan and Auntie Gladys. It was quite emotional really, and as Dad would comment later, he felt immediately at home.  He too had finally met his second family!

Take it easy! At almost three thousand metres above sea level, the second highest capital  on Earth is a bit thin on air!  As I explained to Dad, it takes at least a few days to acclimatise, and even walking can feel like exercise.  He would find that out soon enough! It was so good to be back … I am blessed with two families and two homes! I could see Dad just taking it all in. The Andes are spectacular!

Isabella with her new Aussie backpack

We all went back to Karen and Christian’s house, and Dad was first greeted by Denisse who ran out and gave him a big hug. In the six months that Denisse had spent in Australia, Dad had grown to love her like his own.  We all then slowly went upstairs (although they were only on the second floor, how Dad would learn to hate those steps by the end of the trip!) where we were greeted by Axel, Thomas and Isabella, our nieces and nephews. They had all grown so much; Axel at 15 was starting to look more like a young man than a boy, Thomas was now three and a half and Isabella, the almost newborn we had left behind a little over a year ago was now one and a half. More hugs all around! It really was nice to be home!

We were all a little tired (perhaps a bit more than a little) and eventually just had to make our way to bed. The next few weeks would provide us with lots of love, laughter, happy times and good memories!

Ombi

“You only live once, but if you do it well, once is enough.” – Mae West

Something a bit different at the Fort Myers Flea Market
WRONG!
Brothers in arms
Fort Myers Beach
Boardwalk walk … Fort Myers
Fort Myers wildlife
The famous Florida alligator

Alex and his cousin Christian
Christian & Dad, Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers, Florida
At the Fort Myers Flea Market … heart attack special, USA style!
Christian and Dad in Fort Myers, Florida
Pasta with Ombi’s homemade sauce, at Christian’s house
As the sun goes down, Fort Myers Beach
On the Fort Myers Beach Pier