From Bo

Off to Intag

With the boys getting a week off from school for Semana Santa and Jamie and I ready to explore the surrounding areas, we headed west to Intag.

It is a remote area on the other side of one of the two big mountains we’re in between. As the condor flies it is not far, but it takes three harrowing hours to get to by bus.  The bus starts in Otavalo and if you’re there early enough and have enough livestock crammed into old cardboard boxes, they will let you on the first bus.  If you don’t qualify by those standards, then you need to wait half a day for the next bus; either way you make it.

We did not qualify to make the early bus so we waited for five hours in Otavalo, which is not a bad place to be stuck.  Once we made it to Intag, we we’re in a new land of steep, green canyons, coffee beans shaded by banana trees and nothing around for miles including a good meal.  Here’s some photos of the “aventura”!

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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:

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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!

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Everyday Roller Coaster

I’ve had Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” stuck in my head.

Everyday it’s a-gettin’ closer
Goin’ faster than a roller coaster…

Everyday seems a little longer
Every way love’s a little stronger
Come what may

Everyday here has had its ups and its downs and many of the days have had more downs that I was expecting.  But now, nearly three weeks into this adventure, the days are getting a bit easier and we’re feeling a little stronger.

A major reason for our improved perspective is our new location: Otavalo.  We should do a post on Bahia and Quito, but we’re more excited by Otavalo. As we traveled out of Quito the other day and started to see massive flower farms, it put a smile on our faces.  Continuing towards Otavalo, the mountains started to get greener and the trees taller.  We came over a ridge top and saw this:

Jamie and I both looked at this, then looked at each other and took a deep breath and a deep sigh of relief.

Once in Otavalo, we settled into our historic, clean, cool and cheap hostal and we took another deep breath and shared a drink.  Amazingly, Luke did not interupt the moment with any sort of bodily injury.  After some more breathing and smiling, we went for a walk through the market and this little city connected with us again.  Latin American markets are amazing.  Colors, smells, varity and life hit you from all directions.  This was the best one yet.  And the nice ladies were so impressed that these niños were only six and four years old.  Muy grande!

The rest of the evening and the following days have been just as charming: beautiful friendly people most of whom are indigenous, clean town, slower traffic, less honking, cheaper everything, huge mountains and an amazing climate which is sort of like Crested Butte in July all year with warmer nights.  The beach, Cuenca and the big cities of Guayaquil and Quito seem to be out of the running (another post maybe). We’re going to give Banos, Loja and Vilcabamba their chances, but Otavalo is the current leader.

While our new locale is helping, we’re also getting in the new rhythm.  Disconnecting for a week plus from the outside world including no internet, TV or other media was good for me.  Jamie and I started forgetting what day of the week it was and just focusing on what was right in front of us…good, bad or otherwise.  After we moved into our fifth hotel, the boys stopped asking when we’re going back to Crested Butte and have started asking, what are we going to do today. The answer to their new question almost always involves amazingly fun and equally unsafe playgrounds.

Jamie and I are starting to carve out little bits of time so one of us can go for a walk or work on researching where to settle down.  We’re also getting little mini-dates like last night when we left the boys in the room watching Spy Kids 3 on the Mac and we had a few mojitos at the restaurant just below our room. Speaking of mojitos, good rum is cheap here.  So are flowers.  These babies cost $9 and I overpaid because I didn’t want to walk a few blocks to the actual flower market:

Now, that I’ve let you know that we’re okay and doing a bit better, let’s keep in mind that this is still a roller coaster.  After being pretty hard on Jamie about losing our camera, I managed to lose our other good camera along with the boys’ coats, hats and sunglasses (I already left my hat and good sunglasses on a beach in Canoa).  Yeasterday, Luke caught a wicked cold that seems to be spreading among the four of us.  More than all of this, we’re all suffering from what seems to be culture shock.

I’ve heard and read a bit about culture shock, but I thought we were vaccinated for this ailment since we were so excited about this big adventure and since Jamie and I have traveled enough to know that different is often fun and sometimes even good.  What I did not appreciate was the fact that we’re not “traveling.”  We are looking for our new home (even if for only 6 months).  When every element of your day, from the taste of your coffee or simple lack of coffee in the early morning hours to the sounds you fall asleep to are different, it is stressful but part of the joy of traveling.  However, when these little and almost constant differences combine with the fact that this trip has no end in sight and that they are your new life, it hits you in the gut.  When you realize all this strange stuff and interesting people are now your stuff and your people…your new life, that is when the culture shock kicks in.

The trick is that you don’t know that it is culture shock.  You’re just tired, edgy and longing for the familiar.  As we longed for what we we’re used to, much of it was around the basics, like food, so when we heard about this GREAT pizza place in Guayaquil and ordered a large pepperoni and got this strange and massive collection of lunchmeat, bad cheese and half “oven cooked” dough, we were not impressed.

While we were all gropping in the tropical Ecuadorian heat with our unnamed culture shock in a search for a new home we also had the pleasure of doing it with two massive bags, two large bags, three backpacks and a purse full of stuff for when we find this home.  I felt like a settler moving west with all we owned, not needing much in any moment, but bring it all for that some day when we find home.  I needed an ox to pull all of the stuff!  This combined with the boys understandable need for daily stimulation, play, edible and familiar foods and we’ve been getting our asses kicked.

So that’s my take on the other part of this roller coaster.  Would I ride the last few weeks again? Maybe. Am I happy to see us rally after all of that and be more engaged and more connected? Yes.

P.S. The backpack with the other camera and coats was returned to the restaurant the day after I left it there. Let the roller coaster continue!

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A Daydream with a Catch

We’ve had the daydream of living abroad with our children for a long time.  The appeal for us was obvious: get rid of all your stuff, live simply, enjoy new places and perspectives, be together and take each day as it comes.  Sounds nice.

In fact, it sounds so nice that we decided to make it a reality and to do it in short order.  After the initial euphoria that comes with such a big decision, we started to read up on and identify steps that need to happen to move our young family abroad.  Very quickly we started to realize just how much work it was going to take to put our life on hold and step into the great unknown.  As a small sample, consider this basic list from the last few months:

  • Research tourist visa for Ecuador
  • Research places to start
  • Research small cities or towns in Ecuador and pick top 3-5
  • Ensure all passports up to date
  • Determine big items to sell (gear, cars, electronics)
  • See what vaccinations we should get
  • Decide first steps and first phase
  • Set up next steps and book travel for Ecu exploration
  • Spanish lessons or courses for all of us
  • Get criminal reports, health certificates and ensure have birth and marriage certificates
  • Look into travel and health insurance
  • Set up seperate bank and CC acounts to provide options
  • Cancel all reoccurring bills, subscriptions
  • Figure out what we’re taking, selling and storing including one of our cars and expensive items like sports equipment, electronics, tools and furniture
  • Bo create plan for transition at work with document outlining suggestions
  • Look into cell phones, internet, banking including atm card cars, credit cards, accountant and taxes including write offs,
  • Set up official will and life insurance
  • Brainstorm on what Jamie and Bo want to focus time on
  • Get suitcases, travel gear, cloths
  • Get all electronics and copy DVDs for boys
  • Tell people at work
  • Tell landlord
  • Tell friends and contacts
  • Tell schools
  • Act on visa process
  • Sell stuff we’re not going to keep
  • Get storage unit and start moving stuff in
  • Set up mail and shipping to be forwarded
  • Research school options
  • Decide on school plans and act on them including meeting with teachers and establishing reentry requirements
  • Have a going away party
  • Ensure have all electronics and non-abroad items, also medical and hardware kit
  • Act on plan for phones, internet, banking, cars, insurance
  • Have plan for boys schooling possibly including home school
  • Provide Dave and Linda acct info and copies of documents
  • Take Lucy to vet and hand off to Dave and Linda
  • Make connections with people who live in places or live abroad
  • Pack up what we’re taking

So one early lesson from all of this: great ideas often come with serious to-do lists!

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Power Issues

“I love you and I know you’re going through a lot of change.  That said, I just want to be clear: I’m not a staff member of yours.”  -Jamie after Bo realizes he doesn’t have anyone to be the boss of because he quit his job.

On Monday, I gave two weeks and told the people closest, who didn’t already know, about our transition. Tuesday and Wednesday, I told friends and many others who my work interacts with on a regular basis. It felt great. We’ve been thinking and planning for a long time and now everyone knows! Without exception, the people we’ve shared our plans with have been supportive and they’ve said they’ll miss us.  At work, they ask what will happen and how will it work without Bo.

By Wednesday afternoon, the plans for finding my replacements at work were in full force. The transitions were announced and I was officially the former boss.  My role was now to advise and not decide.  In a week or so, after the job ends, I won’t even have that role; I won’t be needed like I have been for seven years.  What is it that I do around here?

This is what I wanted.  Minimal commitments.  Ahhh…  But wait, I had have an idea about how things should work and I need to be heard.  So and so could do this better.  This should be done that way.  Why aren’t you listening to me?  At least Jamie and the boys will listen…


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