¡Que Linda!

“I see her!!”

“There she is!”

“In a blue coat, see her?!”

“I do! I see her! I see her!”

And in the mass of arms and tears and glee and grandsons, just like that, YaYa came to Ecuador.

Not only was this visit the best heart-salve for all the homesickness lingering in our spirits, but it was also the first encounter we’ve had with someone from our “normal” life peeking in on us in our “sabbatical” life. That got interesting.

First, let me say that we had a blast and did and saw and toured and explored every hectare of our new home that we could squeeze into her 9 days. In addition to the daily adoration from the boys, morning coffee complete with volcano views and Bo and I showing her our favorite countryside walks, we also toured the surrounding villages with our friend Luis and saw the indigenous culture at work in heart-stoppingly amazing ways. We met an 85 year old man still making the straw mats he’s made since childhood with guinea pigs and kittens scampering around his dirt floor hut and feet that have spent the last eight decades bending to match said floor’s surface. Introduced next to a simply beautiful couple, also in their late 80’s, that still weave textiles together the way they have been since they were married. They stood on opposite sides of their wedding present, an 160 year old loom, smiled at us and each other, then with dexterity and sprite that defies their age, wove sheep’s wool into countless works of art.  We went as well to the topiary garden/cemetery of Tulcán, across the border to the stunning Colombian church at Las Lajas, and ended with the grand sights of Quito’s colonial old town. More adventures and stories than can be adequately summed up in a single post, and many that will hopefully have a post of their own later on, so for now I’ll put a slideshow of photos at the bottom for you all to see our highlight reel.

The work of this post, the sitting down to compose “My Mother’s Visit”, quickly became less about the adventures and more about the actual experience of having my mother here. In Ecuador. How she came farther away from home than she’s ever been and how her fresh eyes gave us new sight.

Previous visits to our home from my mother, or anyone, usually included coffee, wine, cards and conversations about how the boys are progressing in school, what’s new with Bo’s job, and any theatre projects I have in the works. There is a pattern that is known, a cultural road map, that guides our interactions via shared and understood mile-markers; clearly identified life signs telling you where you are in the “Grand Scheme of Things”.  Vaughn started kindergarten, Bo got a promotion, Jamie’s directing a play, Luke’s tying his shoes…all fairly standard and measurable steps of progression clearly letting us know that along the American cultural life map, YOU ARE HERE :

However, since jumping life tracks, and cultures, and professions, and schools, we’ve lost our mile markers. Shoot, they don’t even HAVE “miles” here. If we’d thought to make one, our route marker would probably look more like this:


It would say, “You Are Here-ish”.

To be sure, our family sabbatical thus far has included joy and adventure and raucous shared laughter, but it has also included confusion, heartache, and a rather large portion of floundering.  Floundering around looking for progression points that we didn’t even realize we were looking for, until Mom came. Similar to how we know the boys have grown while we’ve been here, but mom, having not seen them for months REALLY saw the change – Bo and I knew we’d grown as a family and people as well, but couldn’t see or understand the full scope until placed in front of her qualifying gaze.

Vaughn did start kindergarten back in the states, but now he’s in a Spanish speaking school and has lost a lot of confidence in pronouncing his letters and will no longer even pretend to spell words he used to write for fun. Bo’s not working, I’m not directing, our accountants will have a no-brainer doing our income tax for this year, and no – Luke cannot tie his shoes.

The mile-markers of our native culture…don’t exist. Not only do they not exist in our life now, their opposite stance does! So, the usual catch-up conversations with my mother brought about more than a little bit of anxiety, for both of us.


As my mother braved our new culture with us, her unusually green eyes and loving spirit picked up on what we’ve previously had and not really seen. Her being here showed us our new mile markers. We can now spot ourselves on this foreign map.

Mom found beautiful things at the Otavalo market at a great price, that I bargained down for her, in Spanish. Bo translated much of our guides’ information to her as well, enhancing what all of us learned through those jaunts. Her patience and attention and play time with Luke and Vaughn bolstered them from nervous about their original English skills to being proud of their new bilingual ones. She spent one-on-one time with both Bo and me, loving on us and talking with us, and telling us how proud she is of all we’ve done. And then listing off all we’ve done.

Mom ate fruit she’s never seen, trekked her blonde head through countryside that never sees blonde heads, hiked an active volcano crater, dodged feces on the sidewalks, was cheerfully mobbed by Ecuadorian children at the hot springs, yelled to be heard over the rain hitting our plastic roof, rode chicken buses over ridiculous terrain, clenched her seat and her teeth through each insane driving maneuver–and laughed with us at the errant livestock that sometimes pepper our street. Her joy in these discoveries was infectious. Her discomfort at times, relatable. Our ability to navigate her through Ecuador, illuminating.

At 3:30 am on April 21, mom quietly slipped into our Quito hotel room, kissed the boys while they slept, told Bo she couldn’t be prouder of him, hugged me with that fierce mother’s love, and left for the plane that would take her home. She left believing we had made a good choice in coming here and with such pride in us for doing something new and brave and bold. She left giving us the gift of believing the same thing.

Linda, in Spanish, means “lovely” and “elegant”.  We hear the male version, “¡Que Lindo!” at least 4 times a day as the local population walks by our startlingly beautiful boys. A descriptor of which I completely agree.

Linda also happens to be my mother’s name. Another descriptor of which, I completely agree.

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Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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22 thoughts on “¡Que Linda!

  1. YaYa

    My daughter, the writer! Thank you again for such an amazing ‘adventura’ to South America! Your family of four, finding foreign, fills my heart with happiness!

  2. I love following your travels in South America and so happy Linda could join you. You are a great writer and very interesting.

  3. Makara

    Lovely photos and a compelling story. I love it when friends (no family yet…) join me on my adventures. Growth is a blessing and travel brings a special flavor of growth. Picante! Muy bueno. Grasias!

    • “travel brings a special flavor of growth” — love that! So true! Thanks 🙂

      • Elizabeth


        I stumbled across your blog and thought you might be able to help point me in the right direction.

        A short synopsis: I’m coming to Ecuador–probably Cotatachi–in January with my two teenagers.

        A slightly longer synopsis: American high school bites. My oldest has done NOTHING but homework for 5 years. While he has more than two years worth of college credits–at 17– I’m determined not to make the same mistake with the younger two–soon to be 14 and just turned 16. We are going to walk away from AP classes and dual enrollment. And let them be kids for a few more years.

        What I need–someone–doesn’t have to be you–you are already finding your bliss and enjoying your kids–but someone who can help me figure out how to go about doing this. I confess. I’m a weenie. A complete a total weenie. I’ve never been to a developing country. I’ve never lived abroad. When my brothers were running all over central America in the late 80’s and early 90’s–I was safely in college. Horrified by the stories form a distance.

        I have no clue what I’m doing. I haven’t the foggiest how to find an apartment. Or whether we should just stay in a hostel and sort it out when we get there. I loathe the idea of just showing up blind–with two kids–and assuming it will work out. I love plans. But I have no experience making this sort…

        Is there an expat down there who does this for a living? Seems like it could be a full time job. And pay well.


      • Hi Elizabeth!

        I can tell that you are taking this step seriously and I so honor your desire to just want to do the best things possible for your family!

        There are a number of people from other countries that are very very happy with their choice of moving here. And there are a few that feel pretty disillusioned to tell you the truth. The key difference between the two, it seems to me, is 1) how much of a community they are a part of here (expat AND local — which means learning another language) and 2) whether their expectations were to come live in a (developing) foreign country or come live in a mini-America at just a fraction of the cost. I don’t mean that to sound as a harsh judgement by any means, we were clearly setting out to experience what it was like to live in a foreign country and STILL found the “foreign-ness” of it all completely overwhelming at times. That said, we wouldn’t trade a moment of this for all the coffee in Colombia.

        Our boys are in school here and we are pretty happy with that choice. I love that the hours are from 8-1 and then the standard practice is to have a large family lunch together, after which we have the entire afternoon and evening to ourselves. I don’t know anything about a homework load as they don’t have it in pre-k and kindergarten that I can tell. School is SUPER hard though without a proficiency in Spanish. They learn quickly as children, even teenage children, but there’s no skipping around that learning curve unfortunately. If you’re wanting a completely different set-up, I have met a few families here that I respect and admire that are doing “un-schooling” with their children. You should be able to find some preliminary info about that philosophy online, and I’m of course happy to put you in contact with them should you decide to come down here. On a side note- I believe there are some international schools in Quito that teach in English should you decide that’s what you need.

        If possible, a scouting trip to get your eyes on the place and your sense of direction somewhat established is priceless. If not, I do know of a couple expat real-estate agents that I could put you in touch with to help you look for housing that could be ready for you when you arrive. Let me know if that’s what you’re looking for, or if you’re needing different guidance.

        I hope this helped answer some of your questions. I really do admire you taking the time to think this through and strive to do the right thing by you and yours in whatever way you can. If I can be of any more help, or if you would like me to connect you with some specific people down here, please don’t hesitate to ask.

        All the best,

      • Elizabeth


        Thanks for your time and attention.

        I’ve homeschooled all of my kids at various points–so we know that schtick. I think they would rather be in school–as it’s around kids and more Spanish exposure. My 13 year old is currently living in France–going to public school–so she knows what it’s like to be overwhelmed with new language. Oddly, she LOVES it. That’s what gave me this idea.

        I clearly should have mentioned more details. First, we’re coming for 6 months. We’re not walking away permanently. My husband isn’t coming–he’s staying state-side to be on call for the son who is going to college this fall. The younger two will be in US classes here for fall semesters–and we’re going to travel in the springs. Best of both worlds. I hope.

        Second, the whole point is the “newness” of it all. While we lead what I would consider to be a pretty eclectic American life (we’ve never had a TV, for example)–we won’t be bringing it with us. No “International School”. Definite engagement in the local community. The 16 year old is leaving next week for Peru–to spend two months studying Spanish and building a school for disabled kids.

        I have his trip elaborately scripted though–someone to meet him at the airport, get him to his homestay, walk him to and from school the first week. Etc. He’s not just showing up cold.

        That’s what I’m trying to get a handle on for when we come to Cotatachi.

        I’m not worried about the lifestyle–just logistics.


      • Hi Elizabeth,

        So sorry it took me longer to respond this time, our internet has been down for a few days, I’m at a wifi cafe right now.

        It sounds like you are more than ready to take on the challenge of living abroad! I think that, given what you’ve mentioned above, you will be more than happy here. I certainly hope that for you!

        Las Lomas is the local school, it is excellent, and used to having expat children (from American and European Countries), so the challenge of meeting the needs of children that don’t always understand what you are saying is not new to them. I love the principal and our son’s teacher, the care they have for the children in their care is so clear. The monthly tuition at this time is $57.60/month and it cost us just over $100 to buy everything required for the uniform.

        As far as not wanting to show up cold, I so wish I had more to offer you as an alternative. There is no way to know what apartment or houses will be available for rent with any kind of advanced notice I’m afraid. That was our experience, and the sentiment just now from the local expat real estate agent that just walked by my table (Dale Olerich is his name.) That kind of system simply doesn’t exist here. It is all word of mouth and pounding the pavement that day. I understand the desire to set things up ahead of time- I’m the same way! It’s taken quite a bit of adjusting for me to live here in Ecuador where nothing is planned a moment before it is needed.

        Given that your flight will likely come in late at night, I would recommend one night’s stay in Quito. We really enjoyed The Traveller’s Inn – very helpful family and Diego (one of the sons) drove us to Cotacachi the next day for $80. Expensive compared to a taxi ($50) or the bus ($12), but also much safer and more “just got here and simply want to get to Cotacachi and get our bearings” friendly.

        We stayed for one week in a hostel when we arrived before we found our apartment to move in to. I would recommend checking Trip Advisor a month or so before you come because by next January, when I understand you are planning to arrive, the landscape of open hotels will likely be vastly different from what is open today. We have a guide book from 2011 and 7 times out of 10 – the restaurant or hotel or activity that we set out looking for, and counting on, simply doesn’t exist anymore. Or it’s moved and no one is quite sure where. Or it’s changed names and now is a shoes/leather belts/Dora backpacks store…

        I hope you have the experience you are looking for, and others you can’t imagine yet but will hopefully love, when you get here. We will begin traveling other parts of South America beginning in July, so if there is anything Cotacachi related that comes up that I think you’d benefit from by then I’ll be sure to send the info your way.

        All the best,

      • Elizabeth

        Thanks SO much.

        I’ve never done anything without over-planning in my life. I think it’s called OCD….and I’m just going to have to copy. ‘Cuase I’m coming!

        Is there a Spanish school in Cotacachi–I can’t find one on the web?

        Do you know if Los Lomas has a website–which I also can’t find?


      • Those two questions plagued me when we were planning this trip! 🙂

        There is a spanish school in nearby Otavalo: http://www.mandinospanishschool.com/
        It is very good, but we ultimately ended up finding a private teacher (via word of mouth and postings on random information boards) here in Cotacachi because the trip to and from Otavalo didn’t fit in with our youngest son’s school schedule. He goes to a pre-kinder and it gets out at 12 instead of 1. Which didn’t give us as much time as we wanted for the school and just became a hassle. If you are free of that constraint though – then it is a great school and Otavalo is a fun town to hang out in.

        Las Lomas, to my continued befuddlement, does not have a website. When you get here simply have a taxi take you, ring the bell on the big gate, and walk to the main office (it says Principal’s Office in English as well as Spanish). The principal speaks english pretty well, and makes herself very available for questions. Walk around, ask to sit in on a class, whatever you’d like – then if you decide to go ahead you just say so. That easy. She asks when you want to start, we said tomorrow, and so we did.

        Good Luck!

      • Elizabeth

        You are the bomb! Thanks SO much.


  4. Caroline davis

    I could cry…this is such a moving account of your life and visit with your precious mother. I could feel your mother/daughter relationship that is and will be always there no matter how far away you are. Jamie…tell me you are considering writing a book! You have it! My love to you!

    • Thank you Caroline, coming from someone who knows and loves her so well- your encouragement really means a lot to me. Hugs and love to you! Jamie

  5. ok…i am crying!! feeling a bit homesick myself the past few days. i love the pictures, and i am glad you are all doing so well! we miss you all and i look forward to your posts!

  6. We think about you two in The Big Apple allllllll the time Laurel, thanks for the kind words and hope our paths cross again sooner rather than later. 🙂

  7. Desse

    Now I understand why I have not heard from you in a while! I cried my way through the last entry feeling the joy that a grandmother feels visiting family afar and having those unforgettable experiences. Wonderful pictures. We go back to Colo. in a month and I am already missing you!

    Love you, Desse

    • Thank you Desse, I will miss you and the rest of the ladies so much this summer. I always look forward to those studies and that time together. Love you back, Jamie 🙂

  8. Mary (Grammy) Swetkoff

    Wow, Jamie! Beautiful pictures, beautiful writing and I too cried. I’m sure it was so hard for Linda to leave you all. Thanks so much for sharing – you are a gifted writer, Jamie!

    • Thank you for taking the time to not only read along with us, but post such encouragement afterward! It means a lot to me, to all of us. Best, Jamie 🙂

  9. Anne

    Great post. 🙂

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