Back ‘home’ … hello Ecuador!

Alex with siblings Karen and Jean Pierre.

It is no longer a secret that my ‘home’ now lies between two continents … I live in Australia but frequently visit, and think about, Ecuador. Having met and married an Ecuadorian and having returned more times than I can remember in the last 13 years, it is a country that I have grown to love on so many levels and for so many reasons. Primarily a huge portion of my family lives there and they play a huge part in my life … not to mention Alex’s. This was a very special trip as Alex’s mum, Rocio, and 13 year old sister Angie who live in New York would also be meeting us over there. It would be the first time that Alex’s mum would be with all of her children in the same place, at the same time, in over 20 years. How do you put a price on that? Needless to say, we were all extremely excited!

Dad takes us to the airport, as usual.

The trip over would be a long one … a particularly long one! We had managed to purchase some ridiculously cheap flights over but with lots of  stop-overs. Lan Chile and Qantas would code share and get us from Melbourne to Buenos Aires (BA) in Argentina and then Lan Chile would get us from Buenos Aires to Quito. The flight was leaving early and luckily we were organised (for once) as the alarm had been set incorrectly and so we did not get up when planned. Having said that we did make it to the airport on time, courtesy of Dad’s taxi service, and we even all had time for a cuppa together once we got there. We eventually said our goodbyes and we were off. Nothing unfamiliar to my Dad!

Pizza at Pedro Telmo with Charito.

Our flight across would be Melbourne–Sydney–Santiago (Chile)–Buenos Aires … overnight in Buenos Aires … and then Buenos Aires–Lima(Peru)–Quito. The flight to Buenos Aires was fine; as I usually sleep most of the way long flights for me do not usually seem so long anyway. We had to spend a night in BA as the BA-Quito return portion had been bought separately and we were afraid that we would not make the connection to Quito if we did not do it this way. We were excited anyway as we would be spending the night with our very special friend Charo, who I actually met in Uruguay way back in early 1999, before I met Alex. The last time we saw her was in 2000 when Alex and I passed through BA on our way back to Australia; the year when Alex moved to Australia and made it his ‘home’. Over the years we have always kept in close contact.

Alex and I with Nico at Pedro Telmo.

Charo lives in the heart of Buenos Aires in a gorgeous suburb called San Telmo. It is renowned as the tango capital of Argentina. We were surprised at how expensive BA had become since we’d last been here. The airport is around 35 kilometres from the city centre and a taxi ride in costs AUD $40.00. Whilst the bus is way cheaper, the ride in would take around two and a half hours … with or without suitcases this is not an option, unless you particularly want to spend that amount of time on a bus and especially after such a lengthy flight. It was soooooooo lovely to see Charo again after such a long time. Hugs all around and in seconds it was as if no time had passed at all. We briefly went to visit Charo’s parents Gladys and Roberto who live in the same apartment block but on a different floor, and then went off to have some pizza. Nico, Charo’s nephew who is staying with her at present, also came along. I must say that we were rather tired so despite the fact that we had lots to catch up on it wasn’t a late night. Besides, on the way back we would be spending a week in Buenos Aires, which would give us proper catch up time.

L to R: Aunty Marcia, Uncle Ruben, Rocio (Alex’s mum) and Alex.

Up early the next morning we had a quick breakfast with Charo and before we knew it we were back in a taxi on our way back to the airport. Our flight to Quito was via Lima, Peru. We were due to arrive in Quito at 3.30pm on Friday 19 August. The view as the plane descends into Quito, surrounded by the Andes Mountains, is always spectacularly breathtaking either by day or night. And then for Alex and I there’s always that heart-flutter moment of … we’re home! The plane landed on time, and as we disembarked, collected our luggage and went through immigration we could see Alex’s mum and sister waving at us through the glass at the level above us. More heart-fluttering! Before we knew it we were through the doors and hugging Rocio and Angie. Alex’s aunt Patty, cousin Samy, sister Karen, niece Denisse and dad Hugo were also there. Those first few moments always offer a mix of emotions; we felt excited and overwhelmed but also very happy. Alex and I also felt knackered! There simply ain’t a ‘quick way’ to get to Ecuador.

Alex with his mum and siblings; Angie, Karen & Jean Pierre.

We would all be staying with Alex’s sister, Karen, and her family in Ecuador’s capital Quito. Let me introduce you: Karen, husband Christian, Alex’s brother Jean-Pierre (who we also call Piero) and our nieces and nephews Denisse (18), Axel (14), Thomas (2.5) and Isabella (7 months). In addition Alex’s mum and younger sister were staying there as well as us. Talk about a full house! Karen lives in the north of the city in an area called El Condado, which is perched up on one of Quito’s many hills. Consider that Quito, at approximately 2800 metres above sea level is the world’s second-highest capital after La Paz, Bolivia, we were pretty high up. At this altitude breathing is a tad more difficult as the air is thinner due to less oxygen. We had to walk up a flight of stairs to get to Karen’s apartment and we were gasping for air, and feeling like we had run a marathon. High altitude is tough and acclimatisation can take several days if not longer.

L to R: Denisse, Axel, Jonathan (Christian’s brother), Isabella and Piero.

That first night was great although we were tired. We met our little niece Isabella for the first time, and I instantly fell in love with her. Of course we all keep in touch via skype, but face-to-face is another story. Unbeknownst, to Alex I had been communicating with Karen to organise a surprise birthday party for him with all of his cousins and relatives on his mum’s side. His birthday was on 10 August and his party would be on 20 August. Karen had effectively organised everything. The POA (plan of action) was that Karen would pretend to have a work appointment on Saturday morning and that I would go with her so that we could get everything set up and organised, whilst Alex hung out with Christian and Jean Pierre. Alex’s Aunt Maricela and Uncle Reuben would have the party at their house, which is quite large and on the outskirts of Quito.

La Banda del Pueblo.

Karen had organised a ‘banda del pueblo’ (village band) which is effectively a local band playing local music, some mime artists, a DJ and the food. Maricela had organised the marquee, tables and chairs. When Karen and I got up on Saturday morning (I was still exhausted!) we still had some running around to do. The morning began with us going to the hairdresser to get our hair straightened and styled (a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!), which put us out of pocket a whole $3.00 each. We then had to go and pick up the cake, some balloons, a few other bits and pieces and then go to Maricela’s to get everything organised. The guests had been told that it was a surprise birthday party and that they had to to be there at 10.00am promptly … yeh right, in South America, fat chance!  The birthday boy was to arrive at 11.00am on the premise of visiting a cousin. Karen and I worked furiously to get things organised. As it worked out most of the guests were late but then so was Alex (we kept calling Christian and told him to delay their arrival). The band arrived and set themselves up by just after 11.30am, and most of the guests were there by just before midday. Alex was fortunately the last to arrive and did indeed get a huge surprise.

The mime artist wish Alex a Happy Birthday.
Alex gives thanks to the Chocotos in his birthday speech!

With Alex’s arrival the village band started to play, and with this the party went off! After hugging all of his family, the party got into full swing; we danced to the local band, ate local food, were entertained by mime artists, did some pole-dancing and danced to the rhythms of the DJ. Adults and kids alike had so much fun. That’s what a party is like in Ecuador … fun, fun, fun!!! Karen had organised for people to bring gifts for Alex which had to be hand-made and have some personal significance. Each person presented their gift with a short speech on its significance. His Aunt Gladys got him a huge canvas print of the both of us in Machu Picchu several years ago and his Aunt Patty put together a photo album of all the cousins … there were both tears and laughter as we all reminisced about how and when the photos were taken. We cried as we recalled Santiago, Patty’s 26-year-old son, who died earlier this year! I cried because I was so happy to have been able to give my husband, partner, confidante and love-of-my-life the present of a lifetime, the gift of his family!

Ombi pole dancing with Mr Paparazzi.

Alex’s brother, Jean Pierre, also gave him an amazing gift; he put together a video of Alex growing up, including pictures of him as a little boy right through to the present day. It was really touching and we all found ourselves crying once again. The only other time we stopped was for a delicious locally made lunch. The rest of the time was party central, which even included a bit of pole dancing! Alex’s Uncle Gustavo, with his video camera, was the official paparazzi, and his mum with her roving iPad was the official ‘mamarazzi’. The ‘day’ ended after 10.00pm. Slowly, slowly everyone went home and we stayed back to clean up. It had been such a good day, despite the fact that by this stage Alex and I were totally exhausted!  Adrenalin was our saviour! We went home and flaked it! Thank goodness the next day was Sunday … nobody would be getting up for anyone or anything!


Family shot … far left Samuel (Santi’s son) and mum Andrea.

Dedication: To our cousin Santiago. You were the only one physically missing at Alex’s party, but we know that  you were with us in spirit. We will always remember you with much love. You will never be forgotten.

Dedicacion: Para nuestro primo Santiago. Estuviste la unica persona que no estuve fisicamente presente en la fiesta de Alex pero sabemos que estuviste con nosotros en espiritu. Siempre nos acordamonos de ti con mucho amor. Nunca nos vamos a olvidarnos de ti.

Books read:
“Belching out the Devil – Global Adventures with Coca Cola” by Mark Thomas
“The Link – Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor” by Colin Tudge

“Change your thoughts and you change your world” – Norman Vincent Peale.

Next: What we did in our three weeks in Ecuador.

Alex with Tio Chucha on left and brother-in-law Christian.

Alex with mum Rocio and sister Angie.

Alex with nephew Thomas and Boly (Thomas’ grandpa).
Alex with his mum and younger cousins.

Alex and sister Karen during ‘la hora loca’ (the crazy hour).

More fun during the crazy hour.

It’s Uncle Gustavo, the official paparazzi!

Alex and Angie.
Band members.

Mr Paparazzi with his wife ‘la tigressa’ (the tigress, Marcia).

Family shot.
Happy Birthday Alex!
L to R: Aunty Gladys, Isabella, Alex and cousin Valeria.
Sisters L tio R: Marcia, Maricela, Rocio, Patty & Gladys.

The good time crew, L to R: Ronnald, Gladys, Volney & moi!

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One Life! Live It!
Alex & Ombi

Alex & Ombi

Ombretta (Ombi) Zanetti is a co-founder of She has been travelling the world since 1989 and since 1999 with her partner, Alex, who hails from Ecuador. They both like to venture to the lesser known places. Ombi shares her passion for different cultures through her travel stories and Alex through his lens. Come take a detour or two with them!

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