December 27, 2008

A quick note - New home in Manta

All -
I want you to know that am safe and well and happy and so on and so forth...

I made it to Manta without a problem. When the plane lifted off in Quito I was laughing and crying at the same time... YAY!

I'm staying with Linda, the 64 year old. She's sweet, but talks altogether too much. Whew.

All is well. Tomorrow I will meet a school principal to look into job teaching opportunities - I met a guy named Walter through CouchSurfing, and he is kindly taking me to the school.

At sunset today I was practicing tightrope walking on the beach in a tank top. At about 9pm I got the goosebumps... Heh.
The water is tepid and lovely. I talked to the founder of a kitesurfing school today. We'll see if I take lessons. That would be awesome.

Dinner was $1.75. Big plate of rice and beans with grilled chicken and... get this... cow udder. Yes, I did eat it. It was a thin slice of meat, like a slice of ummm banana. The flavor was much better than the chicken (which was good!) If I didn't know it was cow udder, I would eat a whole lot more of it. Life is interesting.


Love you so much,


"Driving" in Manta

Definitions: Manta's Road System

Side "walks". Rephrased: Side "trips, splats, ankle rolls, government liabilities." It is not possible to hold a conversation uninterrupted while walking down the street - I am constantly steering a friend away from a sinkhole or otherwise random and quite dangerous obstacle.

Traffic Laws. Redefined: Traffic Lawlessness. There are often no lines painted in the road. People weave, drive down the middle, and brake without notice. They use a blinker when they feel like it, flip a U-turn whenever, and generally are hazardous. There are round-abouts. They pull into oncoming traffic on freeways and move over in just the knick of time. However - I've not seen an accident in the seven weeks I've been in Manta. Everyone is quite conscious of one another. Which makes all the difference.

Roads. Redefined: Cement areas with holes. And bumps. And more holes. And sometimes with a 4' pile of rubble in the middle of the road.

Drivers' Education. Redefined: Suicidal intent. I cringe when I see these kids trying to survive in the crazy streets.

Public Transport. Rephrased: Riding in the back of a camioneta (truck) heading around big curves at 50 mph. Around and over those holes. No seat belt. I LOVE it! Wind in your hair. And you get a workout from trying to hold onto the truck! All for $1! Really, I do love it. I take the camioneta between Linda's beach house and her house in Manta. We take these corners on the hills and can see the gorgeous blue sea as it twinkles in the sun. (repeat) I love it.

Right-of-way. Redefined: Pedestrians are in-the-way. Cars first. People second. It's like playing the video game Frogger. You sort of learn how to predict which car will move where and how fast.
Don't try and cross the street near the round-abouts. It is simply not possible to predict the cars. Don't be stupid! :)

Observations in Quito

There is no hot water handle. Or, when there is one, it does not function.

And all the toilets have funky buttons and handles like the ones I encountered in Europe. Interesting.

Windows are incredibly thin. You can hear car engines blocks away... Not to mention car alarms...

The temperature inside the house quickly fluctuates with the temperature outside. Fortunately there is not a huge variance in the cool Quiteno weather.

The roofs are ugly. You cannot see them from the ground, but when you are on the second floor of a nearby building you may find tires (usually strategically placed to hold down the metal sheeting constituting the roof), or refuse of any kind, or odd patch jobs including tar and a random material used as a sealant.

Small-ish cars. Thank God.

The damn car alarms. They literally run all day long. I wish the alarms had an auto-off after 15 minutes of obnoxious screaming. The owners do not take the time to turn the alarms off. Baaaagh! And when you are trying to sleep, the sound passes right through the thin windows...

Everything is lush and green. I'm in the tropics in a city of cement in the middle of December. Right. A palm tree outside my window for Christmas breakfast. Flowers abound. Right. It feels a bit surreal when I consider the month.

People warmly greet one another both when meeting friends and in passing on the street. It feels genuine.

Most people drink tap water. Others have a clunky, slow machine attached to their kitchen sink that whirrs and chugs as it fills your 10 oz water glass.

So many fruits I've never heard of... HOORAY!

No tank tops. Only tee shirts. When the weather is 80 outside. I don't really understand it. But the tees are a good idea, considering that the weather will drop to 60 and begin to rain in two hours (inevitably)

Invariable weather: Sunshine mid-morning with an average of 75. The temperature drops to 60 at 2pm, then it rains at 3. Clouds break, and the evenings return to a lovely 60 degrees.

Gas stoves. Uggggh. I've never forgotten the explosion in Mexico in 2003...

People wear practical shoes. Nice.

The airport is close and planes fly constantly overhead.

No one uses credit cards, unless for very large purchases.

Phone calls to the US are $0.06 / minute, and internet is $0.80 per hour. Awesome.

The city of Quito is a long valley. It resembles a skateboarding half-pipe. If you're on the third floor of any building you can look out and see one of the valley walls with houses and buildings sloshed up against it. I love it.

Cell phones are funded by purchasing $5 cards, not by monthly plans. And people always let their cards run out before buying a new one. Which means someone is always telling you that they couldn't call you back to cancel your meeting because they "ran out of credit." Annoying. It seems a rather irresponsible way to go about communicating with others.

Side"walks" are hazardous to your health. An elderly person could not get around town alone.

Street vendors are rare in comparison to Mexico. They seem to only be present in touristic places.

Locks. Locks. More locks. Ugggggh.

There is a security guard at the front door of almost every single establishment. I'm not used to this yet, nor do I understand it.

Unrefrigerated eggs. What is this???

Ciao -

Blanquita makes Pablo's amazing family empenadas...


1.  SMILE!  Then make a simple dough.  (I'm not certain what it is made of.  It seemed similar to pie crust - flour, butter, egg white, etc)
Roll it to the size of your hand.

2. Mix cooked chicken, peas, carrots, and onions with spices.

3. Place a spoonful of mix on half of the dough.

4. Place slices of red pepper, pimiento olive, and boiled egg on top.

5. Fold dough in half. Twist edges.

6. Lay in a flower lined pan.
7. Bake until browned and crispy (about 40 minutes.)

8. Thank Blanquita and Cristina and enjoy!

Contacting me...

Phone calls

We can talk by phone... cheap!

First – remember that we can talk on the internet for free, video included. My username is rosebark.

The cheap way to call me from your phone: I've used them for several years and they are excellent. Just be sure to buy cards with at least three stars. If you buy less than $20, there is a $1 charge. But the cards do expire after a while.

In short – I have a cell phone. It is free for me to receive calls.

We have a three hour time difference.

I am awake at about 9 am every day (today I woke up at 7 and walked on the beach!)

··· I go to bed between 10 - 12 pm. Please try not to call after 8 pm your time. For your benefit! I´ll be a zombie if you call after 8 but still glad to talk.

My phone number is

011 // 593 // 8788 5144

Luv Rosita

December 26, 2008

20 Steps to Build a Friggin' Awesome Fire Pit

While I was at la finca I was able to do anything that took my interest.

I realized that the property overlooked amazing mountains and valleys. The sunsets are magnificent. What better than to build a giant fire pit for visitors to enjoy?

Here's what you will need:
Cement trowel

Several big buckets
Piece of string
Sturdy shovel
Work gloves
Long flat stick (6' works well)

For a water drain at the bottom for wet climates:
Old paint can
Large and small stones. Flat tiles.
Large nail

Helpful items:
Sledge hammer

My strategy:

I am building on a very windy area. My pit will be two layers of brick totaling 20" under the ground with two more layers 20" above the ground in order to prevent strong winds from putting out the fire, carrying embers toward the house, and otherwise creating an ashy, smoky mess.

I am building in a very wet area. My pit will appear to be 20" deep, but will have a false bottom. I will dig an inverted cone below to create a drain. I will fill it with rocks, use the paint can as a drain, and cement over the rocks.

Here's how it works:

1. Spend four hours on the internet researching construction methods. (You can skip this bit. I did it for you.)

2. Figure out how to mix cement. I did test pads of variations of sand and cement. It failed miserably. I strongly recommend asking the guy who works at the supply store that you're buying the cement from.

3. Carefully choose your site. Verify that it is at least 12' away from any buildings or combustible structures. I also considered the wind direction and which windows in the house the pit could be seen from.

4. Clean the entire area of weeds, rocks, shrubs, etc. Level the entire site. Use the 6' stick to verify there are no large variances in the level of the ground.

5. Decide how large you would like your fire pit to be. Lay out the bricks in the same shape and diameter as you would like to place the bricks underground. The diameter should be at least 12" larger than the size of the base of the fire so the fire can breathe.

6. Pound in 6-8 stakes around the outside of the bricks. These will be your guides as you dig.

7. Start digging!

8. When you think you are at your desired depth, pause and set your bricks in the hole. Here I've placed my first layer in. I later stacked the second layer on top of it and verified the entire circle was level and flush with the ground.

If you are placing a drain in, read steps 9 - 12.

9. If you are building a drain, dig the inverted cone. Check out the picture: Start digging well into the center of your circle so you have a sturdy base to lay your bricks on. We don't want to dig out the middle and have the shelf holding the bricks collapse.

10. Dig the hole at least 6" deeper than your paint can. You will need your paint can to be above the bottom of the pit and several inches below the shelf where your bricks are placed.

11. Fill the pit with large stones.

12. Cut the bottom off. This will be the bottom of the drain. Poke large holes in the top of the can. The idea: The water will filter through the holes. The ashes will largely be retained. You can easily scoop ash off the cement surface when your pit becomes full (from friggin' awesome bonfires.)

13. Place the can in the hole. Check out the wood stick: The paint can rests on some rocks about 4" below the level of the shelf.

14. Cover with flat tiles which grade toward the paint can drain.

15. Carefully lay cement over the entire sloped floor of tiles and pebbles. Be certain the can is below the surface of the cement. Let dry for at least one day.

All -

16. Lay your bricks back in the hole. (See photo 8) Be sure the circle is even. This will be your guide.

17. Remove bricks one by one. Lay cement underneath each brick. Wiggle the brick to settle into the cement. This will create a much more stable base for your brick. Fill the triangular space between the bricks as you go along.

18. After each level of brick, back fill with dirt.

19. Clean the extra cement gunk oozing out between the bricks.

20. Looking awesome! I finished here for lack of time. I placed the next two layers above ground without cementing them in as a temporary solution.


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Short update before going to the Finca...

(This blog was written about 12/17. I posted it for a later date so it would not be lost under the Christmas post. -loverose- :)

In short:

- I am superbly well. I am living an unimaginably wonderful dream. I have seen nature in a gorgeous presentation of God's beauty, just as I have seen God's beauty in the people I have met.
- Plans are changing! No beaches in Manta for at least my first two weeks in Ecuador. Too many blessings in the countryside and in Quito. It looks like I will go work on an organic farm for one week and then return to Quito to celebrate Christmas with friends.
- I will not have internet access (nor electricity!) until the 23rd or 24th of December.
- I somehow made friends with a National Geographic photographer. I traveled to his family's farm / countryside vacation home for two days. And I modeled for a three hour photo shoot. God is way too good to me!

December 25, 2008

Christmas with the Corrals


I decided to take Pablo (the photographer) up on his offer to spend Christmas with his family. Why not experience a true Ecuadorian Christmas? The opportunity couldn't have been better.

Christmas here is celebrated on Christmas Eve. People gather late that night and celebrate in much the same way we do. The build-up to Christmas is, however, much different. It is rare to see a Christmas tree unless you are in a big mall. Christmas music pops through the noise of the busy streets only once every few days. There are few advertisements. (Mind you that I don't watch tv.)

Pablo invited his house help, carpenter, handyman, and their families for lunch on Christmas Eve. They are such lovely people. We had rotissery chicken from a local vendor. Delicious. Part of the conversation was less than engaging – they were recounting who had died that year, who had been robbed, and their injuries. Heavy talk. I turned it – What's one good thing that is happening in your life? I spoke of how grateful I was to be with this “family” of Pablo's house, albeit not with my own. They thanked me profusely. And did not continue my suggested comments of gratitude, but you can only do so much, right?

Christmas dinner was to be at the house of Byron and Maria, the Ecuadorian ambassadors to Austria. At 10 pm. Around 8 Pablo mentioned that the evening would be bumped to 12. Why? Because Maria forgot to put the turkey in the oven. She sort of blamed it on Pablo because Pablo's house help is also Maria's... And the help were all eating lunch with Pablo instead of assisting Maria. Baaah! I found the whole thing comical.

The Turkey Chefs (Pablo & Byron)

There were about 12 of us gathered for Christmas dinner. There was lovely music playing in the background and a cheery Christmas tree set up next to the fireplace, and a hearty mound of gifts. Byron made rounds every five minutes or so trying to force wine and expensive champagne on all of us. The refusal process was amusing. I finally gave in on the champagne. I hate champagne. There was only one kid present. He was 14. He tasted it and made an awful face. I told him I had the same reaction, but I'm an adult and therefore not allowed to show it.

A simple menu of turkey, fruit and nut salad, and some sort of weird grain and apple dish was served in opulent dishes on a large table. (With more alcohol.)

The discussion in my group was about the political climate of Cuba and Latin America's desire to emulate their so-called revolution. Included in my group was a member of the United Nations' anti-corruption task force. Those I was discussing with spoke with great passion, and the discussion sometimes turned into argument. It was amusing to observe from a distance – Quite an odd discussion for Christmas dinner!

The entire family is lovely. What I love about real people, about good people, is that titles don't matter. These guys have excellent repute. But they engage me as an equal, seek me out for conversation, and are generally laid back. Over all, I felt completely welcome. I am truly grateful for this.

The food was, ehm, not great. I ended up eating lots of grapes and crackers. Which was just fine with me. Like I said before, life goes on.

Maria, our gracious host

Gifts were practical and not extravagant. I received a traditional necklace from Maria made of seeds and feathers. I've not decided what to do with it. Is "...interesting..." the right descriptor? Re-gift? :) And a box of chocolates from Pablo. Thank god he did – it would be so sad if mom's tradition of chocolate giving was not continued!

I did not receive any letters or cards from home. I was sad about this. Then I got over it.

Christmas day was more than anti climatic. People do nothing but rest. I am used to the same Christmas breakfast, method of opening stockings, and order of presents. It was time for breakfast, so Pablo and I went to look for a restaurant. We found a bread shop. I began crying because I missed my family – tradition and familiarity really do count. We ended up in a hotel. Mediocre pancakes and bland sausages were served. I cried again. I was grateful for the food, and truly grateful to have his kind and gentle company, but truly missing home.

That night was... a good joke. I was eating a left-over huge turkey leg out of a pot at 8 pm. We were laughing about the situation. Then went to a Swiss restaurant and ate fondue. That was my Christmas dinner. I only cried once. (I'm laughing as I write this.)

Pablo and I - December 25, 2008 @ the Swiss restaurant

Thank god I was with a friend that I trusted, and not some acquaintance. That would have been awful!

Bueno - Here's to a blessed Ecuadorian Christmas - Turkey at midnight, fondue for dinner, and thank god for new friends.

- Miss Rosi

December 24, 2008

I'm a Model! The National Geographic Photo Shoot

I finally, finally, finally have one true reason to be glad for my fibromyalgia. (I have this undefined disease - essentially my joints have chronic pain.)

On the flight from Houston to Quito, I stood in the isles and stretched. And I met two wonderful people. I spent time with both later - and one, Pablo, invited me to his family's hacienda. (Remember the post about the best nightmare ever???)

He has worked for National Geographic for ten years. His next photo shoot will be working with the living relatives of those who died in a genocide in South America. His website:

What a crazy world! Who would ever imagine that they would be in a gorgeous hacienda in the middle of December in a vintage black dress, watching the hummingbirds and smiling for a photographer of such high repute? Awesome.

I greatly enjoyed the shoot. At times I was timid. At times I felt camera shy. At times I laughed because I couldn't hold a straight face - and these were my very best smiles.

Please email me or post a comment to this blog if you would like to see more photographs.

Link to my photo shoot:

Bueno - Shortly off to work. Love you so much!

December 23, 2008

The Awesome Organic Farm

I was invited to spend Christmas with the National Geographic photographer and his family. (Including the ambassador to Austria and the head of the United Nations anti corruption division for all Latin America). I was elated to accept, but needed a place to stay for the week where I would spend no money. It is my priority to start work before I burn through any money, so I was on the hunt to find an alternative .

La Finca

Sometimes life just sucks.

But you gotta take it in stride, you know, recall the big picture, give it some context, laugh a little.

Like being stuck without electricity for a week – On an organic vegetarian finca (farm), Comun de Rhiannon, in the highlands of Ecuador.

The clouds shoot down the valleys at eye level only a thousand feet in front from me.

Oh, and candle candelabras, and candles jammed into wine bottle necks, and candles propped up in old spaghetti jars...

Like changing my sleep schedule.

At the farm I woke up at 6:30 for yoga and later a fresh cooked vegetarian breakfast, enjoying the sunrise all the while. Then I hit the sack at 8pm, a great night's sleep for certain. And did I mention meeting amazing people from all over the world who live openly and love well? Right. It sure is awful to not have electricity.

Like digging a giant hole for hours a day and laying brick.

It's free to stay at the farm if you work 20 hours a week. I took it upon myself to build a giant fire pit. After all, what good is a gorgeous night view of the valleys filled with clouds and a sky full of stars without a bonfire?

The pit turned out awesome. There is a paint can that leads from the bottom of the 2' basin to a chasm of two more feet of boulders and rocks to create a drain. Mucho trabajo. I'm so elated with the result!

Check out my next post for details on how to build your own pit....

Like having toilets that do not flush.

Well, they weren't supposed to. They were naturally composting toilets. Pee in one hole. Poo in the other. Dilute the urine with water, a 1:10 ratio, and use to fertilize trees. After you poop, toss one scoop of a specific kind of wood chip in the hole. After six months the poop has naturally biodegraded and can be used for fertilizer.

Like not having hot showers.

After a long day's work, I wanted a shower. But with the evening comes strong winds carrying clouds, which has a huge wind chill factor. The temperature is actually between 60-65, but it feels about 50. A cold shower isn't desired. So... I didn't take a shower for five days. Then I decided to boil two tea kettles, toss it in a medium sized tub with cold water, and slowly bathe myself. I borrowed clothes from Nikki – It was my first time being clean in quite a while. Either way, I loved the feeling of living out there. My hair was full of dust, my skin always a bit crusty from the mix of sweat, sunscreen, and dust, and, well, I suppose I didn't care too much for how the clothes felt on my skin. A bit too crusty for my taste.

Like not having access to any stores whatsoever.

But our pantry was always stocked with fresh fruits, veggies, grains, and pasta. And every Saturday the Fruit Man and his wife came to coerce us to buy their delicious fresh wares.

OK, so I loved not having electricity, and I loved waking up with the sun.

I did get bit by a dog, but I am up on my tetanus. And life goes on. (Sorry mum – I deliberately didn't tell you!)

It was also one of the most cleansing retreats in years. There is much baggage that comes from living in the States. Consumerism. Sense of entitlement. Mandate for quality control. And many other components of life that are entirely superfluous, but that I am accustomed to. Life on the farm purified and simplified me – It forced me to immediately confront these concepts and strip myself of them. When I returned back to the city it was much easier to deal with the bored store employees, the inattentive waiters, and the dirty doors inside of nice buildings. I feel so much better now. Life is easier. Less stress. Less conflict. Pura vida.

The sense of community was captivating. We all worked together, cooked together, laughed together, sang together, drank together.

Lunch with my new fam on the last day at the farm

I left 13 good friends at the farm. A tear fell as I drove away, expectant for my next unexpected adventure, and crestfallen to leave a truly refreshing atmosphere. I will decidedly return to the farm before I fly back to the States.

:P Con carino,


December 16, 2008

My Favorite Nightmare (ever)

This morning I awoke from an awful nightmare – I was driving and hit another car, of which amassed into a ten car pileup. I was of course worried about those involved, and thankfully all but one were perfectly fine. But my mind was elsewhere. “I cannot go abroad!” I said aloud. “The insurance will cost too much! I cannot afford to leave!” My heart is in Latin America. I was utterly downcast. All I have wanted and worked for in these last months and years was destroyed.

My nightmare was interrupted in this precise moment by a knock at my door. Es siete y media, Rosi. It's seven thirty, Rosi. It only took seconds for tears to pool in my eyes, not because of the strong emotion of my nightmare, but of remembering where I was waking up. I started laughing as tears wandered down my face.

I awoke this morning in la hacienda of a dear friend, Pablo Corral. I awoke in a sanctuary. The gardens are enormous. They have 90 acres. An avocado orchard, an apple orchard, a grove of eucalyptus trees, and a huge vegetable garden. Some cows wander around. Both cultivated and wild flowers are everywhere, most of which I do not recognize. I love that they meander around the orchard floors as though they own the entire earth. They truly do.

I awoke at this early hour to imbibe the morning sun as it kissed the wet flowers, to eat the smell of the wet ground as last night's rain evaporated, to let my soul dance as I received this amazing gift. OK, let's be honest. We awoke early because we wanted to catch the sun for a few photographs.

The house is grandiose. Just like you would expect a hacienda to be. All of the wood is from the local eucalyptus trees, rough hewn, and offering excellent presence over the tall rooms.

The house is an “L” shape, and inside the arm of the house is a large courtyard covered in red and yellow burgambilla and the tallest ferns I have ever seen. All of the walls facing the courtyard are not walls at all – they are windows. A giant sun room. The house has such substance that it has its own chapel. The chapel has intricate catholic relics and has such a quiet presence that one knows God must be near.

More on this reality of a dream in a moment.

I laughed in the face of my nightmare; it could not have been even one speck more of a lie. The last five days have been a dream for me. (Except the day I was erm... rather ill. To be expected.) I cried because I am incredulous at my good fortune; I have no paradigm to comprehend my new world. Plans that you would prosper... said the Bible verse from my friend Jen, which I received just before I left Oregon.

I vividly recall years ago, perhaps in 2001, when I was prophesied over. “You will travel to places you have not imagined. You will not conceive of the voyages ahead.” I do not remember who spoke these words, but at that time my heart was only in Mexico. Later I was to travel Poland, Greece, Turkey, and much of Mexico. Those words came true.

Yet I experience them impossibly more vibrantly now.

On Wednesday, about 25 hours into my journey to Ecuador, I was tired of sitting. The flight to Quito was amazing simply for the emotion of my voyage. Five hours of sitting in the airplane understandably tired me, especially after traveling so long. I stretched in the isle of the plane, watching maybe 15 others doing the same silly dance. I mentioned in my last entry that I met Pablo, a photographer, and Karolina, a student on her Christmas break. We all exchanged contact information.

On Sunday I attended church with Karolina... Well, not really. I spent the entire service crouched over the street gutter puking, in the restroom puking, and walking to the supermarket trying not to puke. Fortunately there were three doctors attending church that morning, and they came to a consensus on what medicine I ought to take. This is the day I was ill. Either way, Karolina was more than gracious to me, as were her friends and family.

I'll interrupt my story by speaking of my second CouchSurfing host, Felipe. He is more than gracious, and looks to be a Latino cross between Scott from church and Manny the Greek. I immediately liked him, and we were friends before blinking. He was amazingly hospitable, kind, generous, and sensitive to my experience. Hours after we met we went salsa dancing. Meaning that I danced on my very first day in Quito!

Salsa dancing is much different here. There are few women in exotic dresses. Most are in jeans, many of the best dancers wearing slip-on shoes. The men do not ask you to dance. They stay with those they know, whether it be friends or their usual dance partners. Everyone's shoulders bounce a bit when they dance, which is completely wonderful to me, as my Latin American dance partners in the States are always reprimanding me for bouncing too much. Dancing is wonderful. The Latinos here breathe the dance, they dance for the joy of dancing, for the delight it brings. To dance is to truly live.

Felipe knows... Everyone. Everywhere we went, he ran into friends. But, then, he has his fingers in everything, but in a non-meddlesome way. The government passed a new constitution a few months ago, and congress is passing laws furiously. He is the director of a think tank / watch group that governs congress' behavior to verify that it is legal and such. His office is in the World Trade Center. And he was the keynote speaker at a conference with many former presidents from all over Latin America. He owns two coffee shops, and lives in an amazing studio apartment five floors up which overlooks the city.

The best thing about both Felipe and Pablo is that their community stature have nothing whatsoever to do with why I enjoy them. It is their compassion for others, their desire to grow, and their introspection. And so many other things that I admire and respect.

I decided that Felipe is the best CS host in all of Quito. Without question. I stayed at his house for a few days. I gratefully laid in bed some mornings, resting in the morning sun and spoiled in his queen bed which he insisted I take while he slept on the floor. One day I spent two hours cleaning his apartment. It wasn't dirty. Just, you know, a bachelor pad. He was so busy with his presentation for the press conference he was to give, with the cafes, with the university students he mentored, too busy to dust. It took two hours because the dust was rather thick. I cleaned everything but the toilet and bathroom floor. You gotta draw the line somewhere! We spent a bit of time in the apartment after I cleaned it, and I honestly don't think he'd noticed. I thought this was strange, given that his cologne and toothbrush and all common daily items had been shuffled. Oh well – I am simply thankful to improve his world even a little bit, even if he never knows. Tomorrow, if I remember, I will go to the supermarket and buy a dust pan. This would have been quite helpful.

And then we have Pablito, little Pablo. When we met, he was wearing a frumpy forest green coat, hair tussled, and glasses quite dirty. What struck me about Pablo was, as I mentioned, nothing to do with his reputation. His face was radiant. His eyes crinkled, almost closed, because he smiled so much. His laugh was joyous and soft. While waiting for immigration he invited me to lunch. Yes, lunch would be... stellar. Karolina knew exactly who he was, that he indeed was the man of widely acclaimed photography, and that the world was better for having him. I called him the following day and he asked to meet at his house. I thought for a moment, and then agreed. I laughed, how hard can it be to look up a journalist for National Geographic if something bad happens?

I arrived at his house on Friday, late by at least 20 minutes. I now know that no matter how confident a Quiteño is in giving directions, they are often wrong. I learned to ask on every block to make sure there was a consensus on the direction I ought to head.

I was buzzed into the large metal door to enter a courtyard with delicate giant ferns. As I approached the solid wood door to his house, he opened it with a smile. This was the only expectation I had. Walking into his house was... not overwhelming, but still immense. Gorgeous photographs were enlarged to 6'x3', covering half the walls I could see. They were brilliant photos of the people and places of his journeys, of his photo books on the Andes, and Colombia and Australia and Peru and so many other places. Light came in from beautiful windows. Music came from all directions. floor is a golden eucalyptus and is calming, and relics of his travels and antiques of his family graced the ancient chests and trunks that served as his coffee tables and cabinetry.

His dining room was engulfed in a large table set for two. Blanquita, one of the house help, was serious and too formal – certainly an odd contrast to the radiant Pablo. I sat down, a bit too chatty, yet smiling all the same. We were served a lovely lentil soup, Blanquita rushing about and making sure that Pablo always had just enough to eat. The music was not in Pablo's taste, and he left the table to change it. Now I was overwhelmed, immensely grateful to God for this experience of knowing such a kind and wise man.

Tears formed. I tried to suppress them and to calm myself knowing that Pablo would be back shortly. No matter, he returned, and I simply explained my tears as joy of the rich experience I have had in Quito as I wiped my eyes with my napkin.

He was humble, kind. We spoke of life, of love, and of faith and spirituality. But not really of photography. His profound and raw grasp on truths of this life was obvious. I have much wisdom to learn from this man, I realized. Simple truths, ones that were universal and tangible albeit not observable.

He spent about ten minutes helping me with my camera... the settings were awful until he fixed it. He took a few photos of me when measuring the light – Ha, I thought. A National Geographic photographer took my photo! THANK YOU, all of you, who helped me purchase my new camera!

His photographs are so amazing, he says, because he spends time with people. He says he often talks with his photo subjects for three hours before ever taking a photo. This is part of why his photos are so profound. The other part is his empathy for the person he interacts with as he experiences their pain and joy, as his soul touches theirs. And when I look at his photos, I can see such a true caption of their soul and essence.

You know how preachers say that God is everywhere? That God is the same no matter where you are? That His love is always present? That the same God is here as in the streets of Mexico, and on the other side of the earth? We hear these preachers, but, in a sense, it is only theory. They are only speaking the words of text, of belief.

Pablo stated that God is everywhere, He is in everyone, no matter what walk of life or physical location the earth. Somehow his words seemed more true than those of the preachers – He had seen, had breathed God's love with those in desolate conditions and couples in love and those with no hope in their eyes. He could say so because he knew it; he had palatably experienced it. I visualized him kneeling with the old women, an exchange of love before thinking of picking up his camera.

This man had truly experienced God's love over all the earth.

That first afternoon we talked for five hours.

I stopped by his house the next day only briefly. He had to submit some shoot to Rome. Right. I brought a yellow rose, which, in my culture, symbolizes friendship. We ended up speaking for six hours, including dinner at the best sushi restaurant in the whole of Quito.

I learned that Blanquita is a soft soul, and only putting on a face for whomever Pablo's new prestigious guest might be. Me. Later I ate with her, Cristina, and Teresa. All were so gentle. They had served Pablo and his parents for many many years. They are darling; they are family. They kept addressing me with usted, which is a formal way of addressing another. No, TU! I said. No, just you, informal! They balked, saying it was customary to say usted. I don't care, I said. Tu. Finally, after a true argument, they acquiesced. I am the same as you! I insisted. They smiled.

Did I mention that Pablo knows everyone? His great grandfather is Antonio Borrero Cortazar, former president of Ecuador. He is great friends with the owner of the sushi restaurant and the gourmet ice cream shop, has vacationed with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and knows and the owner of the best chocolate company which exports world wide. He does not name-drop, he simply mentions these in passing as they apply to the moment. He always mentions them by saying, And my good friend, the owner / president / etc. I love this. He honors his friends at all times, of which I greatly aspire to do. I have never heard a negative word from his mouth.

He told me that it was unfortunate that I am headed to Manta, he doesn't know many people there. But, here in Quito, he knows so many. It would be easy for him to help me to find a job.

He invited me to his finca,his farm, the day we met for lunch. I considered it carefully, but knew his soul is too good to doubt. We arrived in the evening and discovered the orchards in the cold rain. The light was still vibrant in the overcast afternoon. His property ended on a cliff. But nothing like Oregon. More like a chasm, with tall walls that were covered in aloe vera cactus and brilliant green grass.

Humming bird in the courtyard

We later cooked fresh tuna, eggplant, and corn for dinner. It was positively one of the worst meals I've ever eaten. Well. I ate five bites of the tuna, two of the eggplant, and only one of the corn.

We laughed so hard – How can we screw this meal up? We did overcook the tuna intentionally. It wasn't worth me becoming ill yet again. Even still. He told me that it was better this way. If I would have had a delicious meal, I won't remember it. This one, however, I'll always remember. Later I recounted the story to Blanquita, Teresa, and Crisitina. They laughed hard and agreed.

The morning of my nightmare I awoke in paradise.

Waking early at 7:30, as I mentioned, was for more than to just enjoy God's nature. It was to have a quick photo shoot in the early sun. I donned a vintage black dress and my momma's pearl earrings and ventured into the cool morning. I sat under the burgambilla on a wet bench. What is that sound? I asked. The hummingbirds. I was surprised – they were only a few feet from us, and not afraid. Their wings sounded like thunder rolling from far off. There were so many birds singing. Not like home, with loud shrill voices, but truly singing, something I could listen to forever.

Our one hour shoot turned into three hours as I draped myself over rotting benches, laid up against the cement cross, sat in the bishop's chair (yes, really), danced in the courtyard, stretched in the sun, and otherwise laughed. I find myself quite insecure in front of the camera. I never know how to hold a serious face. Usually in the past I'd just think of someone that I loved who had died. But this tone of seriousness does not reflect peace, so instead I found myself trying to look serious, but instead cracking up laughing. Oh well.

The night before when we were cooking, I asked him to take a photo of me. I was freezing cold and wearing two ponchos How fitting, I thought, to be in Ecuador at una hacienda wearing ponchos Of course! What else! After three photographs he told me I was photogenic.

During our photo shoot, he mentioned again that I am photogenic and have amazing natural beauty. I believed him for the same reason that I believe God is everywhere after he spoke it; he has seen more faces and shapes of bodies in a lifetime than anyone else I know. And I have seen his portraits. They are amazing. I thanked him for his sincere compliment, not really knowing what else to say.

Link to the photo shoot:

... End of letter- No more time to write! Sorry for the abrupt end.

Off to the organic farm. Talk to you at Christmas time!


December 14, 2008

The Weather and the Mountains


Just looked at the weather. And laughed aloud.
I sit in quito in a tank top, and I am walking around the neighborhoods taking photos of amazing flowers that I have never seen before, nor could have imagined.
Just saying.

Today I will go to Pablo's family vacation home in the mountains.
Guessing after being in his gorgeous giant house, the trip will be well worth skipping out on the beach for a few more days...

I am blessed.
Love you so much -

Private Thoughts

I am leaving the most respected gourmet Japanese restaurant in Quito. I noticed that throughout our meal cheesy old American music was playing. It didn't fit – We were in a restaurant too trendy, too refined. Yet when we walked out the door, another very old song began to play. “God must have spent // a little more time // on you.” I searched my mind, finally remembering that my very first boyfriend chose this song to epitomize his perception of me.

I did not think much of that moment in the restaurant until just now, two days later. I lay in bed, 1:15 in the morning, as the Quiteno rain clacks on my huge windows and my laptop is perched on my stomach and bent legs.

I think of it because I remember what I've been through. So many know of my physical disease, but many of my newer acquaintances do not know of the mental disease that I have fought so hard to shed. They do not know, rightfully, because it has become a different form of struggle. Less obvious, less infectious. I have no need to speak of it.

And in this moment I realize that it is much more than a miracle that I am still alive, that I breathe at all. And yet I smile, I live with powerful emotion, and I love. Love. I delight in knowing that this word, agape, is always developing in my understanding. I grow when I understand love to a greater degree.

I made it; I am here. Not to say that the hundreds of ridiculously privileged events and people I have experienced are nothing – no, I just acknowledge the amazing reality of this moment, alongside all the others. It is magic, you see, because I don't really know why I am still alive, but for the love that has been demonstrated to me by so many.

God must have spent a little more time on me. He cared for me so deeply when I had nothing to grasp within reality, he covered me, he knew me. This song is not just about God taking extra hours to craft me at conception, but God mentoring me, crying with me, pursuing me when all I could do was try to survive.

I do not understand what is happening in my heart right now. But I know it is good, it is real.

The rain sounds just like Oregon as it falls on my back patio. God is in the rain.

- R

December 11, 2008

Happily in Quito, Healthy, and Almost Home!!!

Welcome to my very first attempt at a blog!
Please check back later for videos - I haven't figured that bit out yet.

The skinny: Healthy, Happy, and almost Home!

Below are answers to your FAQs (I've been asked some of these a hundred times. Literally.) This letter is more my journal than anything, so I give no apologies for content or wordiness.

The FAQ answer sheet

How are you? Where are you? What time is it there? How was your flight?

I am SUPERBIEN AMAZING! I'm in Quito, Ecuador. Ecuador is in the northwest corner of South America, directly south of Miami. Our time here is Eastern Standard Time, or three hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.

Map of Quito:,-95.677068&sspn=27.699934,44.912109&ie=UTF8&ll=-0.111237,-78.52478&spn=8.18881,11.228027&t=h&z=6

My trip was wonderful albeit exhausting. I left my home in Salem, Oregon on Tuesday at 6 pm PST. I arrived at my hosts' home in Quito at 1 am EST on Thursday. That's 28 hours of travel! I was blessed to be seen off by my family and friends. And while eating my mum's homemade chocolate chip cookies. Portland to Houston (four hours) was red eye – and felt obnoxiously long as I couldn't manage to fall asleep.

I had a 12 hour layover in Houston. Don't ask. I actually love airports, so I didn't mind much. Except that I needed to sleep. I spent four hours on the hard airport floor sleeping (sort of.) An employee wandered my way and graciously gave me four blankets; I was shivering and too cold to sleep. I was immensely grateful. Grandma gave me money specifically for food in the airport so I warmed up with peppermint hot cocoa and read about Ecuador in my new guide book.

The flight to Quito (five hours) was lovely. We sat on the tarmac for an hour. Talk about anti climatic! I watched the snowflakes slowly fall. Yes, it was snowing in Houston. When we taxied down the runway, I smiled a huge smile – and cheerfully cried when we lifted off. This moment was immensely symbolic; I finally left the US, concretely, and now it is time for MY adventure! My eyes have tears in them while I type these words.

Somewhere in the air over the Pacific -

I cried when the plane lifted off from Houston.

I laughed hard at the same time.

I smiled.

My dream is now reality.

On the flight I met Karolina, a lovely MBA student, and Pablo, a 40-something photographer. The three of us spoke for the last hour of our flight while standing in the isle of the plane. Turns out Karolina is a Quiteña, back for a month in Quito from studying in Texas. She wanted to take me in, and invited me to her Evangelic church on Sunday. I've decided to stay in Quito to attend church with her. What a sweetheart!

After chatting for 20 minutes, the gentleman said that he works for National Geographic. His name is Pablo Corral Vega. Karolina laughed – She just purchased his recent book on Tango (the dance.) Her facebook profile photo was one that he took. This moment certainly validated his story! His website is, and there you may find a link to his work with National Geographic.

He and I having lunch together tomorrow (Friday.) He asked what types of food I like. Everything but, you know, tongue. He laughed and said we would get along fine.

At midnight we finally made it off the plane and were greeted with a 40 minute line to immigration. I was so exhausted I began to fall over a few times. But... I still cheered up everyone around me by handing out... Mum's cookies! I broke out the bag of crumbled cookies, and all kinds of people dipped in. I had about 10 new friends in no time. Mom, just so you know, you made everyone super happy! I think we were all grateful for a homemade treat.

I arrived to my host's home at 1 am - 28 hours of travel. But well done!

Where are you? Who are you staying with?

I am still in Quito and will be until Sunday. I am staying with hosts from

My profile: Don't worry about safety – check out the safety measures on the site. Que chevere.

My host's profile:

How lovely to be with these girls! I am living in a neighborhood of shabby small businesses and homes. I arrived last night in a taxi and was surprised at just how run down this area is – more so than anywhere I lived in Mexico. The great thing: I immediately felt home. This atmosphere, the people, the lifestyle, speak to my heart. Everyone here is super amable, super friendly.

I am on the fourth floor of a building in the north end of town.

Helen and Niki

The view from my current home - Both photo and video:

The girls' rent is $165 for a two bedroom place. Mind you – no hot water. And the walls are far from airtight. My hosts:

The girls I stay with are complete hippies. Incense, “Capitalism is Boring” photograph, woven cloth bags, and natural soap. The place hardly feels Quiteño. The girls are lovely. A flat bleached mohawk! And dreads!

Helen and Niki

What are you up to?

Today I rested. I ate fresh papaya for breakfast. As I pressed my tongue to the roof of my mouth, it actually melted. I went to a small lunch cafe (eight tables.) They were full. Do I just sit at an empty seat? I asked. Yes. Ok. I sat down with a decently dressed guy and started to look at the menu. I asked him what people usually eat. He looked at me funny and said Almuerzo. Lunch. I was confused. I was bleary-eyed and squinting at the menu when I was served a giant bowl of delicious chicken noodle soup with a white chunk in it, and a opaque glass of sweet juice. Turns out that the soup had jucca root in it, and the juice was guanaba. Ok, I guess this is lunch! I asked if it comes with every meal – he replied that of course it did. The waitress walked by with a huge bowl of rice with meats and goodies in it. I asked him how much it costs. It's lunch! He said. Turns out that you go to the cafe, and you eat lunch. Soup, juice, and rice. $1.50. I was shocked – I was full after my soup, and the rice was a meal in itself! I paid for the whole bit, and the waitress agreed I could return in an hour to eat the delicious rice.

I spent three hours in the internet cafe. I had a lot of unfinished details for my future travels, and for the many things back home that I left undone. And now I sit in the apartment, flute music playing, hot herbal tea next to me, and I'm rather exhausted. Shortly I'll catch a taxi to downtown and meet my new host,

He is a Political Science professor who I have been exchanging emails with for the last three months. And... we're going SALSA DANCING! I don't know how much I can take – I'm pretty exhausted. But why waste a good night out with new friends?!?

A photo later taken of Felipe eating my Mum's cookies -

Where will you live? Who will you live with?

I will settle in Manta, Ecuador. It is on the beach, annual low of 70, annual high of 85. My kind of weather.

Check out Manta: (Yes, I know you can barely tell what it is. Dad and I literally spent several hours looking for a map. I've not found a good one online.),+Ecuador&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=28.749334,43.505859&ie=UTF8&ll=-0.921439,-80.716209&spn=0.141431,0.169945&t=h&z=12&g=Manta,+Ecuador&iwloc=addr

I will fly there on Sunday after church. 30 minute flight for $70, or 8 hour bus ride for $10... I choose to fly! I've been traveling too long :)

I will staying with couchsurfers until I find an apartment. I think I would like to find a family or girl to live with. It will help immerse me in the community and I'll feel much less alone.

Much more on these details later.

How is your Spanish?

Good enough. I understand nine of ten sentences easily. Frankly I'm surprised at how well I'm doing, but, then, I've barely begun interacting with the locals. I'm walking around with my sister Chrissy's little electronic dictionary. I look up as many unrecognized words as possible. I ought to be much more comfortable in a week.

Well... Time for me to take my giant packpack, small backpack, and self to downtown to meet Felipe.

(( Note added later: Felipe was awesome. I went to one of his trendy cafes that he owns, he took me to La Virgin, and

Love you so much.

In peace and happiness,