We had so much fun in the ‘full house’ we stayed in for three and a half weeks in Ecuador. We laughed, we cried, we shared and I fell more in love with my new little niece, Isabella, by the day. I love all my nieces and nephews equally, but it was the first time we ‘met’ Isabella (as opposed to goo and gaa at her over skype). Whilst it made me happy to see that little bundle of joy giggling and smiling at me, I was also accutely aware that it would end soon enough, and that I would have to revert back to watching her grow over Face Book and skype. How things have changed! (Geez, now I sound like my mother). I love Ecuador and I love my family there.
Ombi and Axel.
What didn’t we do whilst we were there? Apart from lots of socialising, eating and doing things such as visiting the dentist (way cheaper than back at home) we spent lots of quality time just hanging out. On our second weekend in Ecuador, all of Alex’s family on his mum’s side was invited to go to Ibarra to a party that Humberto (Alex’s mum’s first cousin) and his wife would be hosting. The idea was that various groups would go in several cars or vans and meet up there. We would be going with Tio (uncle) Gustavo and his family in his van. We were supposed to get picked up early Saturday morning … did you hear that ….’early’ … well, early for Ecuador was around 10.00am. Not bad I thought! And off we went, van chockers!
The Middle of the World.
Ah, the beauty of my second home never ceases to amaze me. After getting through the (normal) and ridiculous amount of inner city traffic, we started to weave in and around the mountains, which is what you need to do to get anywhere in a mountainous country. The visuals are always breathtaking and rarely disappointing! We would pass through the ‘middle of the world’ as well as the famous Otavalo market, but not before a pit-stop in Cayambe, which is renowned for its queso de hoja y biscochos (cheese wrapped in leaves and crumbly, savoury biscuits). Trust me, they are delish! We finally made it to Otavalo, and all the memories came
Freshly made bizcochos, Cayambe.
flooding back. I was transported to 1999 and my travels around South America, of which I have a multitude of poignant memories. I first came here as a ‘gringa’ (foreigner) and now some twelve years later, here I was with my Ecuadorian family. I was now on the other side of the fence, a defector!? Who would have thought all those years ago that Ecuador would become such a huge part of my life. Amidst the hustle and bustle, I pondered and absorbed … life, hey!
An Otavalena selling her wares.
I love Otavalo, I really do. Boasting one of the best handicrafts and textile markets in the world, its bright and colourful goods and people hold a very special place in my heart. Although goods are sold every day the market days are officially Wednesdays and Saturdays, especially Saturdays, where the central Plaza de Ponchos fills up with people from all over the world haggling for a bargain. It’s mostly all good-natured though, and the vendors will usually give you a rebaja (discount), unless your request is totally unreasonable. Over the years I have come to know what things are worth, and so I am able to get a reasonable price pretty much off the bat. Age and
Otavalena food vendor.
maturity, however, have also also taught me that that last dollar means far more to the vendor than the buyer, so whilst an ‘amicable haggle’ is fun, I am always very aware that that last dollar means far more to the vendor than the buyer. We all had fun and bought lots of bits and bobs.
The family at Humberto & Karina’s house, Ibarra.
Time to move on, but not before a brief stop to the Peguche Waterfalls only a couple of kilometres from Otavalo . We made it to Ibarra by just after 6.00pm, where we were warmly greeted by Humberto and his wife Karina. What ensued was a night of feasting and merriment. We ate, we drank, we danced, and … drank and ate and danced some more! I was even given a special vegetarian plate. I was particularly exhausted, but even between power-naps on the couch, I was up and dancing. There was a massive congregation and the partying went on until the wee hours of the morning; I am sure that I did not get to bed before 4.00am. Humberto’s house is quite large, and we slept wherever we could find a bed or a spot … somehow, we all found a spot! In the morning we were all treated to a cooked breakfast. We had all been treated like royalty. And like all good things our fun came to an end, and we had to all go back home. Needless to say that Sunday night was a very early night.
Alex’s Uncle Gustavo and Auntie Marcia have a beach house on the coast in Rio Verde, and we were invited to go. Again, it would be a family affair with quite a number of us going up. Unfortunately Alex’s sister, Karen, and husband, Christian, could not go as they had to work, but Alex and I went with Rocio (Alex’s mum), sister Angie and niece and nephew Denisse and Axel. We took an overnight bus and were greeted in the early hours of the morning by Alex’s uncle Gustavo. What a great place! It was like something out of the movies. Gustavo had built it himself out of timber. It had that really relaxed and isolated feel about it. Despite my many trips to Ecuador over the past ten years, it was the first time I had ever been here. And yet again (as often
Outside the beach house, buying some fish from the locals.
happens in Ecuador) I fell in love with the place! We all put in some money which went towards having three home cooked meals a day. Fabiola was a local and our ‘master chef’ … I had patacones (fried green plantains) coming out of my ears by the end of our five day stay there, but … I was not complaining. I love patacones and always ensure that I get as many into me as I can in Ecuador, as plantains are not that easy to find in Australia.
Five days of sleeping, eating, going to the beach, going to various watering holes, sunbaking and going for runs along the beach. Ah, this is the life! What I loved most about Rio Verde was how unassuming it was; rather than a bustling tourist metropolis, it was a quiet and local backwater. This is MY kind of tourism.
L to R: Dad Hugo and Alex with brothers Piero & Rodrigo.
With Daniel and Dani and baby Felipe.
Time was going by way, way too quickly. We managed to see Alex’s dad, Hugo, a couple of times, but unfortunately he was busy working interstate a lot of the time. We also caught up with his brother Rodrigo, his grandad, Papa Jacinto, and a number of other family members on his dad’s side. Time is NEVER our best friend in Ecuador, and it’s hard to pack it all in in such a short amount of time. We gave it our best though. Even catching up with many of our friends proved impossible, but we did have a night out with our very dear friends, Edison (Eddy) and Belen, finding out that they are pregnant with their first child. Eddy used to work with Alex when I met him all those years ago and we have all remained very good friends since. Eddy and Belen, you hold a very special place in our hearts! (Eddy y Belen ocupen un espacio muy especial en nuestros corazones!) We also caught up with Dani, her beautiful mum Martha, her partner Daniel and their gorgeous little boy Felipe.
With Mel and Dan ‘on top of’ The Basilica.
We also caught up with our friends Mel and Dan who are backpacking through South and Central America. I used to work with Mel and Dan is her value-for-money-partner (we love you Dan!) It just so happened that they would be in Ecuador at the same time we would be and we managed to spend a entire day with them. We had so much fun, being led by Alex, our personal Ecuadorian tour guide. Even I got to do things that I had never done before! We met in the historical centre of Quito, and took it from there. It’s always fun and exciting when you get to meet up with friends in a totally different country.
Crossin’ the plank; The Basilica, Quito.
Our morning started with some decent coffee (Ecuador has gotten much better at this over the years) and lots of chit-chat about the highlights of their journey. In my case, as I was doing that exact trip when I met Alex some 12 years ago, there was also a lot of reminiscing. We visited (I for the first time) La Compania Church, which was physically spectacular, but it was the Basilica that I thought was most impressive … for a number of reasons. In Australia we’d probably say, “Only half built mate!” Its construction began in 1926, and it was clearly never finished. The highlight is the basilica’s towers, some of which I had the nerve to climb and others not. To get to the towers however you need to actually cross a rickety wooden plank inside the main roof and THEN climb steep stairs and ladders to the top (with nothing on either side except for some thin metal rails and fresh air). Hmmmmm! You can also climb the spiral staircase and three sets of ladders into and above the clock tower. I was so not going to do that! So, whilst Dan, Mel and Alex climbed, I stayed on the ‘lower rungs’ and made some new friends, whom also had no intention of going any higher. I believe the views were arresting! I will simply have to take their word for it!
“La gente es una puta …solo jode “
Meanwhile, back at base camp (ground level that is) we saw a man sitting down in the grounds of the Basilica with a sign saying, ‘La gente es una puta – solo jode’, which loosely translates to ‘People are arseholes – all they do is bust chops’. Very interesting. We went up and had a chat to him. Whilst it appeared that he was indeed a little senile, there was a method to his madness and he made some very poignant comments. I questioned him about his sign and he kept repeating that people did not care about each other or treat each other with respect anymore and that their only focus seemed to be around themselves, material wealth and money. He was not too off the mark. He was also a painter and gave us a self-portrait (Mel and Dan we are looking after this for you until you get back). As we all waved and said goodbye, I could not help thinking who was really mad, him or the ‘others’?
Itchimbia, with Mel, Dan, Axel & Angie (Alex’s sister).
Our day finished off with a spectacular night at Cafe Mosaico in Itchimbia. We went with a whole bunch of Alex’s family and Mel and Dan came too. The food was great, but the views even better. Itchimbia is very close to the historical centre of Quito and as it sits up on a hill the views are amazing. The view at night with all of the lights over the old town was very pretty, and a good time was had by all. What more can you ask for, good food, good company and great views! We had had a fantastic day and we were glad that we had been able to show Mel and Dan a part of ‘our’ world! Looking forward to reminiscing about this when you are back in Melbourne guys!
With Byron’s kids, L to R: Dylan, Amy & Mishell.
We also managed to catch up with our special friends Byron and Alexa, who live out in Sangolqui, about 20 kilometres from Quito’s old or historical town. Many of you may recall that when Alex and I had our fair-trade import business that they were our first suppliers. They have their own wholesale business called Ushina Jewelers, but also have a beautiful gallery, Ari Gallery, in the Plaza San Francisco, in Quito’s historical centre. As always, a night at their place in the countryside not only provides a tranquil getaway from the buzz of the city, but Alexa always cooks up a storm (her home made aji di mani, or chilli sauce with peanuts is to die for!) We spent the night chatting away to them and also spent some time with their three children Mishell, Amy and Dylan, who are delightful. Clearly a night was nowhere near enough, but no time ever is.
Catching up with Carola.
Fortunately, we also caught up with Carola, our Ecuadorian friend who stayed with us when she came to Australia a few months back. We had lunch and a couple of hours together … not long enough, but better than nothing. We know that we have made a lifelong friend in you Carola!
Our time in Ecuador was clearly coming to an end, and I am never a good one for endings. Alex’s mum and sister would be flying back to New York on the Saturday, the day before us, so Friday night at Karen’s house was FULL, FULL house with all the relatives coming to say goodbye. Alex and I both went to the airport the next day. Life certainly can be interesting – whilst I have the honour of living with my soul mate and the love of my life on ‘the other side of the world’, I have fleeting moments of sadness as I realise that Alex is unable to spend more time with the rest of his family that he so dearly loves.
Christian cooking up a storm!
Next day was our turn; we would be leaving later on Sunday night. Karen and Christian cooked up a parillada or BBQ and also some yummy vegetarian food. Everyone was in a sombre mood as we knew that sooner, rather than later, we would all be saying goodbye. I felt particularly sad. My gorgeous nephew, Thomas, had grown so much since I last met him as a baby more than two years ago and as I watched tiny Isabella gurgle and giggle I wondered when I would see her again, and how much of her growing up I would miss. My nephew Axel was now 14, and no longer the little two and half year old I met 12 years ago. It was a very emotional day. Boly and Lily (Christian’s parents) and Jonathan and Naty (Chris’ brother and girlfriend) also came over to say goodbye. Tick, tick, tick … so did Carola and her husband Jorge (first time we met him and what a great guy). Alex’s Dad and Rodrigo were there also.
The time had arrived and we had to go to the airport. Hugs and tears all around. My last goodbye was to little six month Isabella, who I gave one more hug and kiss to before I left. She was too little to understand the bond I had formed with her in only a few weeks and how much I would miss her! The person I had least trouble saying goodbye to was Denisse, as we had just submitted (after days and days of work!) the paperwork for her to study in Australia for six months to the Australian Embassy in Chile (there isn’t one in Ecuador). We would hopefully soon have a little piece of Ecuador with us in Australia!
Before we knew it, we were on the plane flying to Buenos Aires in Argentina, where we would spend the last week of our holidays. I closed my eyes, and sighed deeply … when you gain something you lose something, and when you lose something you gain something!
Denisse and Axel.
Dedication: To my nieces and nephews in Ecuador, Denisse, Axel, Thomas and Isabella. Although you live far away you occupy a very special place in my heart and I love you all very much. Distance is no barrier to the great love and pride I have for all of you. I want you to know that you can always count on me – your auntie, La Gringa Loca.
PS And Angie, my beautiful American sister-in-law, who isn’t so little anymore … love you too precious!
Dedicacion: Para mis sobrinos en Ecuador, Denisse, Axel, Thomas y Isabella. Aunque viven tan lejos ocupan un espacio muy especial en mi corazon y les amo montones. La distancia no es una barrera para el gran amor y orgullo que tengo para cada uno de ustedes. Quiero que sepan que siempre pueden contar conmigo – tu tia, La Gringa Loca.
PD Y Angie, mi cunada americana linda, que ya no es tan pequena … te amo tambien preciosa!
Ombretta (Ombi) Zanetti is a co-founder of veryitchyfeet.com. 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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