Monthly Archives: March 2012

All Things Bright and Beautiful

In looking over my last post, I realized that the pictures at the end made it look like we live in a mass of grey. Taken from my apartment looking down on the street… it’s easy to see how that could happen. So, I felt the need to show you what else we see as we look around our new home.  It is not grey here. It is green, it is bright, and more often than not – it is staggeringly beautiful.

Here’s a slideshow of photos Bo and I have taken on our morning runs, walks, family hikes, and various wanderings.



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Categories: From Jamie | 6 Comments

Iskay Siki, or “Two Rear Ends”

        I’ve been doing some research lately on the local culture and their language, Quechua, and came across this website with a goldmine of poems and phrases common to that tongue. Apparently people speaking Quechua can have all different kinds of siki (rear ends) as there is a something siki to describe just about every type of person. Iskay Siki literally means “two rear ends”,  ‘but it is used to refer to a “person who wants to sit down in two homes”, For example, a husband spends as much time at his parents home as with his wife, so he is undecided about which home he should be in.’— (

I think it’s possible that I am an Iskay Siki.

(Oh how the fingers twitch with all the self-deprecating jokes possible right now.)

I think it is possible that I am an Iskay Siki because our first 2 weeks or so of settling in have been… remarkably unsettling. Largely because while I want my butt here, I also want my butt in its cozy spot back home with friends I can communicate with and food I don’t worry about getting sick from, and quiet. Oh, how I miss Quiet.

I’m not trying to worry anyone, I really believe that these are growing pains of what will be a beautifully fruitful experience. But as many times as I’ve started, and deleted, and re-started this post, I’m still finding it a staggering challenge to sum up just why it has been so much more difficult than imagined.

Do I give you the part that is nearly comical in its absurdity as was the case with my most recent breakdown? It sounded something like this:

(sobbing. with hiccups.)

“I-I-I jjjussst don’t thhhink I ccan doo this.

I wwaantt the real ch chuurch bells on the other side of tttown,

nnnott the stupid electric-blared-megaphone-awful onnnes!

And I wwant the ssinging garbage trucks like in Otavalo. Not these that just bbblare Spanish

ttalk radio at us until we’re deaf!

Or, do I share the heart-hurting bits like Luke clinging so hard to my neck that it took two teachers pulling his legs to get his tear-streaked-mama-screaming self into his new classroom. As a school bonus, there was also this conversation with Vaughn:

Me: “Hey babe! How was school today?!”

Vaughn: “Um. fine.”

Me: “Can you tell me about it?”

Vaughn: “A boy grabbed me and started pulling my hair and hitting me. I kept saying No! No! No! ’cause I don’t speak Spanish and he would just hit and hit saying “Si!” My teacher stopped him and he got in big trouble.”


Vaughn: “I was pushed and kicked again today mom.”

Me: “Did Katie help you again?”

Vaughn: “She didn’t see it this time.”

Makes me think that selling all our belongings, moving our family away from the people who love us for the purpose of exposing our children to the beauty and richness of other cultures in the world is going swimmingly, no?

I could also share just the oddnesses (c’mon, it’s totally a word), the annoyances, the differences that still weigh in at Uncomfortable on the scale, as opposed to New and Exciting.

Things like the car alarms that never stop going off. The fact that while I’d resigned myself to no wine here, I was expecting good coffee, I mean they grow some of the best not an hour away! But for some reason everyone drinks powdered instant coffee and all our attempts to use some of the actual beans from nearby have resulted in a liquid tar substance that I fear really is putting hair on my chest. The spider and mosquito bites we were waking up with because of all the quaint “indoor/outdoor” space we liked so much at first glance. The fact that our apartment being the first one renovated in this former hostel means that the whole rest of the building will be under major construction while we’re here. The packs of stray dogs defecating on the sidewalks. The automobiles of all shapes and sizes that attach a giant speaker to their roof and drive around blaring public service announcements at decibels that make our roof rattle. The fact that it gets cold here and almost every home (including ours) has a fireplace, and we can see smoke coming out of them, and yet every attempt we’ve made for weeks to buy actual firewood has resulted in the blankest of stares and the shaking of heads at such a query.

So, it makes a bit of sense that part of me is ready to be sitting somewhere more comfortable and familiar. Somewhere that is not here.

And yet.

I had a dream last night that Bo and I were visiting back home and when we were supposed to load up to come back here he said we weren’t going to. We were never coming back. And I cried. And I begged. And I used every argument in the book as to why we needed to get back to the life we were living in Ecuador. We were so close to… something. Something worth pushing towards and being close to. I woke up before knowing if we stayed or went, but carried with me into the morning that ache in my chest of sadness at the thought that we had left all of this. It’s that ache that is finally helping me write this post.

As any Iskay Siki will tell you, you cannot stand forever and you cannot sit in two places at once. You have to choose.

And so I did.

I’d say we all did.

I made an appointment with the principal at Vaughn’s school, who speaks English, to talk to Vaughn’s teacher with me. I told her how I used to teach students who didn’t speak English and I know what a challenge another language in the classroom can be and how much I appreciate her taking Vaughn in this late in the school year. It meant a lot to her and now she and I are much more of a team in both the lessons she’s working on in class and the time he spends out on the playground.

Bo has talked and loved Luke right on through his school anxieties. Two days in a row now and not a tear shed. Luke even flashed Bo a thumb’s up this morning when it was time to go to class.

My handsome, brave, and powerful husband also addressed the bug issue. In style.

And a real perk of our apartment is the family we rent from could not be kinder or more willing to help. AND we have a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood and local life in all it’s brilliant colors and characters.

We are also soothing our senses with fresh roses, regularly. They are grown near here and Bo found a place in town that sells 2 dozen long-stemmed roses for $2.50. And by “long-stemmed”, I mean as tall as Luke. So he grabbed 48 flowers in all.

I’m actually considering heading back there to get more. But that would require leaving this view of Imbabura Volcano I have and getting out of my chosen seat which, for today anyway, I’m just not going to do.

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Escape to Chachimbiro

A little shaken up by some unexpected twists and turns of our newly settled life, we decided to spend our first Saturday getting out to explore the amazing natural beauty that abounds in this area and is largely why we chose here over other spots. Having heard of the volcanic Chachimbiro hot springs about an hour away we headed to the bus station to seek it out. We were spared the bus by Bo talking to a new local acquaintance that told us his friend would drive us, wait all day, and drive us home if we wanted. Plus his friend could take us on the back roads through the countryside instead of the main highway through Ibarra. Perfect!, we thought. And it was. 🙂

Rodrigo came with his wife and children in tow as they decided to do their own family day up there. I felt a little strange having his family ride in the back of the pick-up, so the boys and I switched places with them on the way home – which we loved. Luke in fact declaring that this suddenly became the best day of his life.

Not sure what to expect having been to “The” Baños, we could not have been happier with Chachimbiro. In our opinion, it blows the famous pools at Baños completely away. It was cleaner, more fun, great slides, beautiful grounds, good food, lots of extra activities (zip line, air trolley, horseback rides), and as we were leaving Luke even spotted a man in a booth swinging taffy! So it turns out we are getting a better version of everything we liked about Baños here!

    The lovely grounds and one of the many spots the HOT water come straight out of the mountain.








We could not keep Vaughn off of it!

“Peligro Salida Personas” does not even BEGIN to describe what the exit of the dragon slide is like.

And then this happened…

Ask them to stand all the way under the shower at home and it’s a mutiny…???

Full day, heading home!

What are we doing this weekend?


Apparently, the carnival has come to Cotacachi.

Wish us luck. 😉

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments


I was feeling homesick for Colorado yesterday so Jamie gave me the day to go hiking at nearby Laguna Cuicocha. So grateful! Here’s the photostream:

Categories: From Bo | 6 Comments

Expectation Management and Herding Guinea Pigs

I’m writing this post from our new penthouse apartment in Cotacachi, Ecuador!  Jamie just finished a long nap while the boys watched a movie in their room. Vaughn needed some quiet time after another busy day at school and Luke was just happy to be with is brother after a boring morning of home-making with mom and dad.  More on the boys and all the new things with them in future posts!

For now, Jamie and the monkeys are off to a nearby playground and in this moment of peace, I thought I’d open a cold Pilsener (grande) and catch up on our blog.  After all, we made such a big deal over where we were going to settle that it’s time to tell everyone.

But instead of doing a fabulous post about our new little town in the mountains, I’m gazing off at the mountains; specifically Imbabura, the dormant volcano that dominates the view from our new office.  Here’s the actual view from our place taken this afternoon:

This is what the mountain looks like on a clear morning (it seems to cloud up in the afternoons like CB in July):

When Jamie and boys get back, we’ll take a stroll with the locals on the clean and pedestrian friendly streets down to the main square where the boys will do a bit more running around.  After that I think we’ll head to Pacha Mama’s, a restaurant in a cool old colonial building near our apartment run by the nicest indigenous family. We’ll have a wonderful natural dinner for four, including another Pilsener for me, for under $20.  As Luke has taken to saying recently, “This is the life…”

There are a few other details about THIS life we’re living that I should share.

As I’ve been typing this post, I’ve had a cacophony of noise: construction, barking dogs, car alarms, buses, moments of quiet and a neighbor of ours yelling and laughing from her rooftop.  Our apartment is only three stories above two relatively busy streets and our lovely outdoor/living room/office/dinning room/garden patio is covered with a clear plastic roof that acts like a sound amplifier…I can hear every sound above a whisper from all four directions a block away.  Even if we didn’t have this sound-drum-amplifier effect going, the building we live in is undergoing a full renovation and our apartment is the first to be finished so we get the pleasure of hearing how an Ecuadorian construction crew works through a challenging apartment remodel. The answer turns out to be banging on the walls with large hammers and load music from broken speakers.

What’s the yelling lady all about?  She runs a guinea pig farm on her rooftop and one of these cute little delicacies escaped.  The yelling was her shock at this realization and the laughing was her chasing him around her roof and through her drying laundry.  Thankfully she caught the rodent and he is back to eating alfalfa (which apparently makes them fat and yummy).  I took this photo after the little piggy was caught and put back in his rooftop prison, but maybe it will help you imagine the scene:

While I’m on the topic of our roof top oasis, do you see those pretty plants in the background of the first photo of the new desk?   They are covered with aphids and ants. Lots of them.  As I learned with our apsen trees in Crested Butte, aphids like to work in conjuction with ants; it’s something about ants protecting the plant and the ants get to eat sweet aphid poo.  The aphids and the ants have the same arrangement in South America as the do up north.  So as an unexpected result of moving into our new place, Jamie and I now know know the words for aphid, ant and very strong incecticide in Spanish.

This whole adventure has been a lesson in expectation management and taking the good with the bad.  Having a year off to have a family sabbatical is a dream, but it is also a dream happening in the real world.  We are grateful to be here in Cotacatchi and have a home.  We had hoped for a safe, clean, affordable home in a quiet and historic neighborhood.  We got the first three, but have to give on the last two.  Plus we get all sorts of things we didn’t expect like living above a fully functioning guinea pig farm.  Let the adventure continue!

Categories: From Bo | Tags: , , | 9 Comments

Time to Vote!

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Option #4: Baños de Agua Santa

Baños de Agua Santa is the last of our options to present. It is a small tourist town known for its adventure sports, access to the jungle, oh- and that it’s built at the base of one of the most active volcanos in Ecuador, Volcan Tungurahua.  Here’s an excerpt I read from before we headed there:

      “In spite of the volcanic activity from Tungurahua that forced an evacuation from Baños (photo) during 1999/2000, the town is a popular tourist area with both Ecuadorian and foreign visitors. They come for the Basilica, the famous hot springs, the scenery and the accessability to the jungle via Puyo and Misahuallí.

Tungurahua, also known as “The Black Giant,” is the largest volcano in Ecuador yet the most easily climbed, since Baños is already set on its hillside. Periodic drills keep residents and visitors aware of the potential risks. Be aware of activity before going to Baños.”

So, I was a little nervous. However, the draw of a small mountain tourist-driven town that values its abundant natural resources, and enjoys taking on extreme sports… well, you CBers reading this no doubt understand our interest. Fortunately, the boys and I slept through the one minor earthquake that happened while we were there (Bo wisely only telling me later) and having a trip completely sans eruptions, we all had a great time.

Here’s the smoking volcano as seen from the bus as we neared the town.

Baños also has a number of good Spanish schools, a couple viable schooling options for the boys, and enough resources at hand to make finding an apartment to rent somewhat less stressful than in other spots we’ve checked. On the flip side, it is in a narrow and tight canyon, not much sky or sunlight from my perspective. There are So Many tourists that the town has really adapted to accommodate that, which means good restaurants and activities (fun but hard on the budget) and also means it’s pretty darn easy to not HAVE to speak Spanish while you’re there. Which could put a damper on the kind of language learning we may have somewhere else where maybe the school isn’t as fancy but we have to speak it for every single interaction.

A couple views of Baños from a hike Bo took with the boys:

Volcano on one side, steep cliff with waterfalls on the other, kinda magical really.


He wishes…


TAFFY! Baños is also famous for its taffy, this man is whipping it around and around that post until it’s soft and warm and then he breaks off a piece at the end for you to eat. It. Is. Crazy. Good.


A street statue performer that really caught Luke’s attention.

Walking around one of Baños’s two squares.

Cuy!  No, we didn’t try it out yet.


Pros: Coolness of living next to an active volcano, access to the jungle, abundant schools, good restaurants and lots of activities, hot springs

Cons: Fear of living next to an active volcano, tight and sometimes crowded or dark-feeling valley, easy to get away with just speaking English, long and harrowing bus ride from the nearest airport in Quito


P.S. A note about the ‘Also-Rans’  of Cuenca, Loja, and Vilcabamba– we are drawing our search to a close here for a number of reasons. Unless you’ve done it, I just don’t think I have to words to explain how completely opposite a scouting trip is from a vacation or sabbatical experience. A month of scouting with young kids is plenty. This is a precious and unique time for our family, we want the chance to focus on that and not the logistics of scouting. Bo and I have seen Cuenca before and know it to be a big city with a beautiful cathedral that is really worth seeing. It’s also not a very walkable downtown for us (which is part of what we’re looking for) because the noise and traffic and smog make doing so not much fun. It has super friendly people and a lot of expat resources, but for the sake of just a few months of intensive language learning and cultural immersion, we felt we could do that better elsewhere. Loja, we’ve heard nice things about this city, but have seen, visited, and driven through enough Ecuadorian cities to have a sense that a shangri-la it would not be. And it’s at the opposite end of the country – getting there is not easy. Vilcabamaba, also heard great things but,  no school for the boys, so trekking all the way down there would be somewhat pointless given what we’re looking for.

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Option 3: Otavalo/Cotacachi

Otavalo was not originally high on our list, simply because we thought we wanted to try on a different climate all together from what we’d known before high in the Colorado Rockies. That was silly. We are mountain people. And Otavalo’s countryside was a balm to our senses from the word go. I’ve included Cotacachi in this option because they are next door neighbors to each other and both communities somewhat bleed into the other. For example, they both host strong, and dare we say- prosperous, indigenous communities that still hold to their native dress and customs. In Otavalo, they are famous for their amazing textile work that is displayed every day in “Plaza de Poncho” but really on point during the Saturday market – an event that draws people from all over South America and the world.  Cotacachi is smaller than Otavalo, its indigenous known for their leather works as opposed to textiles. It also has  more of an expat community that could make our short stay for language learning easier, in that a network is already established for finding rentals, putting the boys in school, and taking language courses ourselves. Not only does this high Andean countryside suit our sensibilities tremendously, but Otavalo’s people are by far the friendliest we’ve met in all of Ecuador. Its streets are cleaner and its traffic is borderline easy. Cotacachi boasts the same, save the traffic- Cotacachi’s traffic is even calmer and peppered with the occasional horse or family herding sheep.  These two towns are about an 8 minute and $5 taxi ride apart or 20min. and .25 on the bus. So, they are billed here as a shared option.

Otavalo’s Main Square:

The other mothers at Otavalo’s Playground:

View over Otavalo from rooftop of our hotel.

Cotacachi Main Square

Cotacachi street:

indigenous Couple in Cotacachi’s main square on a Sunday morning:

Pros:  Beautiful countryside, friendly people, peaceful pace, just 2 hours from Quito’s international airport, good school for the boys, resources for finding a home and setting up a life.

Cons: Only things that are standard Ecuador (and I suspect standard for all developing countries anywhere). Trash, glass shards sticking up from people’s concrete fences, dangerous taxi drivers, stray dogs everywhere…

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

So THEN… we took our children into the Jungle!

We interrupt our previously scheduled locations list to bring you: OUR DAY IN THE JUNGLE!

Sadly the first few steps of this adventure are not documented with photos, they were at one point, but now…    Ah, Technology. Can’t live without it and can’t afford to throw the computer against the wall.

Anyway – JUNGLE 🙂

We’ve really tried to make it a point to have at least one day of Pure Tourist in each of the locations we’ve been scouting. It gives us a chance to see what sort of activities an area offers and provides a much needed respite from the school/apartment/hospital/logistics hunting we do the rest of the time. For Baños, that meant taking advantage of it’s proximity to the Amazon Jungle. After asking around for the best tour operators, and then checking with said operators as to the difficulty level of the one day tour for young children and being assured they could do it “no problema”, we signed ourselves up and had an unbelievable day of jungle fun. Turns out, the youngest children to have done this previously were 10 and 12 year olds. Bo and I were SO PROUD  of our little hikers and explorers (4 and 6!) !! There were hikes and climbs that had the grown-ups gasping for air and our little ones didn’t complain once. Everyone on our tour was impressed. Okay- I’ll stop bragging- it was just really an accomplishment!

We loaded onto a bus with about 6 other tourists with German and Danish accents that were significantly younger than Bo and I and significantly older than Vaughn and Luke and headed out. Took a fairly long drive through dripping rock tunnels and waterfalls on both sides of the road before coming to our first stop at a monkey retreat for animals that were wounded or in need of help in any way.  We were able to get so close to the monkeys! Bo is apparently the Jungle Whisperer, as every animal not in its cage eventually jumped onto his shoulders or into his lap to be held. We all got to have the fun of a monkey climbing on our back, except Luke –he got bitten. His middle finger. I know. Shocking.

We bandaged him up in the van and headed for our next stop, a short walk across an unbelievably unstable bridge to an indigenous village where we had our faces painted with a local fruit’s dye by the chief. The boys weren’t sure at first they were going to go along with that, but ended up so glad they did. Luke was convinced he was a “MegaWarrior” and Vaughn LOVED that his cheeks were now painted in a design that looked A LOT like train tracks. 😉

Back across the shaky bridge and off on a short hike to a jungle lodge where we were treated to a local lunch. And… the pictures pick back up:

Having come into such close contact with so many animals thus far, Vaughn thought perhaps he was meant to pet it.

Meanwhile, Luke’s sopa was drawing an awful lot of attention from one jungle visitor that moved a click or two closer every time he thought we weren’t watching.

After lunch it was time for the canoe. Our wonderful guides had stopped earlier to pick up children’s life jackets. I did mention that their experience with children was limited to the pre-teen set, yes? Nonetheless, buckled up and on the water we went.

It. Was. Stunning.

Off the canoe and then straight up to an unbelievable viewpost.

Complete with rope swing that Luke was HEARTBROKEN we wouldn’t let him try…

Back down to the road where our van waited to take us to the trailhead of an hour long jungle hike to a beautiful waterfall. At this point in the day, Bo and I were worried if the boys could handle it. As previously mentioned, the did AMAZING. 🙂

Our guide, Luis, demonstrating natural mosquito repellant.

Bo, trying termites. Yum.

Luis was also great at making disguises out of jungle plants. Super. Cuteness.


“Where’d Dad go??”

Hike back, load into the van, and…


Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

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