Saturday, September 24, 2011

Feliz Cumpleaños a Harper

Harper had a great birthday yesterday at Rio Muchacho.  She was showered with birthday wishes all day long.  It started out with presents from us in the cabana.  Cal, Danny and I made a mobile with sea shells Harper had collected at the beach the weekend earlier. We also gave her a headband we got in Canoa and Danny did a great job wrapping it in a banana leaf.

Danny's banana leaf wrapping job- not bad!

Early morning presents
Later in the morning at school the whole group sat in a circle around her and sang Feliz Cumpleaños.  Then each kid (all 40 of them!) walked up to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  It was really sweet.  Danny was actually subbing for an absent teacher that day so he was there to celebrate with us, too.

After lunch we had cake with all the staff and volunteers at Rio Muchacho.  Dario, the man who runs the farm, ran out and picked it up the day earlier.  Harper sat at a table with her pals and they got nice and messy eating cake with their fingers.

La torta
First piece for the birthday girl
Caden, Kristen, Cal, Prisilla, Harper and Andrea
The volunteers don't want any more dishes than necessary, so we ate cake with our fingers!
Later in the day she got to hold one of the baby pigs and then the day ended with a bonfire.  One of the interns picked up colored marshmallows the weekend before and Harper was thrilled.  It was a great way to turn five!

Our First Full Week at the Farm

We’ve been at Rio Muchacho for over a week now (with Saturday night each weekend in Canoa.)  We have gotten to know how things work pretty well and we’re feeling more settled.  This is our cabana below.  It is over the river and has a nice little deck on the back.  Harper is a fan of the bunkbeds and Cal has repurposed the hammock as a taxi/garbagetruck/airplane. 

Danny has been starting each day shoveling manure from the horse and cow pens!  This glorious job at 6:30 helps the farm by way of adding to their manure compost.  He also gives the animals new grass to eat.  His morning chore comes with the company of the new foal, who is interested in Danny’s work, and the enormous pigs who are always snorting around him.

Meanwhile I get the kids up, we make our beds, put away the mosquitoes nets (which we barely need but can’t quite stop using just in case!) get dressed and up to the main house in time for the breakfast bell.  Lucky for us we get to walk past the horse and cow area to see Danny sweating hard.

Harper enjoying our cold shower.  Cal screams; she giggles.  Luckily for him there is a hot water shower now far from our cabana!
After breakfast the kids and I head off to school and Danny starts his morning work.  This week he has chopped bamboo for a new roof, began to put up a new fence, weeded and composted rows of veggies and planted lot of new seeds.

Harper had at work learning the Spanish vowel sounds 
The kids and I have had a great first week at school.  We’ve played lots of “Pato, Pato, Ganso” (duck, duck, goose) and I’ve led a couple lessons in English.  Harper goes through all of the instruction from the teacher in Spanish alongside the other children and Cal switches between that and a big box of legos.  Recess is Cal’s favorite part of the morning; he’s been trying to get into the big-boys’ game of soccer and yesterday they humored him for quite awhile.  He doesn’t have much fear when he is out there playing and just like Cal, he is always falling all over place. The kids think he is a riot.  The only part of school that has been a little challenging is the commute.  It is about a half hour walk, which Harper does just fine and I end up carrying Cal for part of.  But there is a house we have to pass with 3 loud barking dogs that scare us each morning. Luckily the dogs are too tired by the midday sun to come snarling at us at noon.  The kids have gotten down the word, “Sale,”(leave!) to scream at them and hopefully the dogs will get more used to us with time.

Pato, Pato, Ganso
In the afternoons Harper and Cal take some downtime in our cabana and Danny and I take turns hanging with them.  The other person is assigned a job on the farm.  This week I made more spoons for the meals out of mate and Danny worked on a bamboo fence.  After a rest, the kids play soccer, build little villages in the sandy road, and this week we got to make jewelry out of the tagua nut.  Harper also has had Spanish lessons for an hour each day (I've gone each night for a couple hours.)  She is picking it up fast and I swear she can count higher now in Spanish than English! 
Harper with her profesora, Alexandra, and Kristen, a little girl who lives on the farm.

This week we’ve been lucky to have another family here at the farm with us and our kids (same ages and genders) have become fast friends.  The family just moved from Berkley to live for the school year in Bahia.  They’re staying at the farm just for the week before they find their apartment and get the kids enrolled in preschool.  It has been nice swapping traveling stories with them and seeing just how many things we’ve had in common planning these grand adventures with small kids.  We plan to visit them in Bahia one of these weekends once they are more settled.
Cal, Harper, Andrea and Caden facepainting

One of the señoras, Norita, gets lunch ready.
Cal gives besos to Juanita, the other señora.

Now we are in Canoa at our favorite little hotel called Amalur.  A Spanish couple runs it and it’s got great food and a nice vibe.  Tomorrow I am going to cook with the owner to perfect my Spanish tortilla and learn to make this tomato and onion marmalade.  Yum.  The meals at Rio Muchacho have been so fresh- last night we ate a chicken that was still clucking around the farm at 3pm! And all the produce from the gardens is amazing, but one can only eat so much yucca and rice before it starts to make you a little crazy.  In Canoa we get our fill of ice cream, French dries, and meat before we head back Sunday night to the farm.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rio Muchacho

We’ve arrived at the Rio Muchacho farm and are trying to get in the swing of things.  The days will be long- chores begin at 6:30!- but it seems like they will pass very quickly with all there is to do.  The people here are very friendly and there is a lot of both English and Spanish speaking.  The staff are Ecuadorian and the volunteers/interns are from all over the world.  The climate here is much milder than I expected.  We are quite comfortable in pants and long sleeves in the mornings and late afternoons.  The midday sun feels strong but its intensity is lessened by our post-lunch siesta.

Thursday morning we took a tour of the farm and saw all the different sustainability practices they have in place.  It is amazing how self-sustaining this group runs.  We’ve been told that noodles and rice are the only foods that are not produced on the farm- just an hour ago as we looked over our balcony to the river below, the señora who cooks the meals was wading out fishing for river shrimp!

Yesterday afternoon we hiked to “arbol gigante” and Harper and Cal enjoyed climbing the huge hanging vines and truck.  I will post pictures next week, but the picture doesn’t do justice to the enormity of this 300-year old tree.

Thursday night our kids had their first time really playing with the kids who’s parents work here on the farm.  There are 6 kids, ages 10 mos. to 11 years, and they are a happy, energetic bunch.  They also attend the Rio Muchacho School so our kids will get to spend a lot of time getting to know them.  Last night we all had a good laugh having running races.  This is apparently something they all do often but Harper and Cal had never really ran competing against someone else for a long distance.  Harper and Cal were pretty funny trotting along while the other kids blew past them and giggled.

Friday we visited the school where I will be teaching English and Harper and Cal will be attending.  Harper immediately took to being part of the class.  She got a seat right in front and started the lesson of writing out her numeros 0-9.  The instruction is not at all what she is used to- rote copying of the teacher’s lessons from the board, but she fell right into step.  She is in a class with kids ages 4-7 and it seems like it will be a great alternative school experience for her.  She likes to please her teacher and she has been practicing her numbers the way the teacher wrote them all weekend.  She is officially a nerd and we love it.

Now Cal will be another story.  He is definitely too young for the school group but I am still hopeful he can find his niche there, even if it means drawing and playing with legos while I teach.  He loved recess time and an 8-year boy named Carlos took to helping him on the monkey bars.  Cal accepted help eventually and might even have cracked a smile but interacting with other kids he doesn’t understand and who are much older than he is going to take some practice.

We haven’t really started our real schedule on the farm yet.  They have been sweet in giving us some time to settle in. The kids just run from place to place happy as clams.  Their biggest complaint would be the long stretches without a snack- meals are at 7:30, noon, and 6:00.  Harper actually suggested that when it is time to travel on we could just leave her at Rio Muchacho.  Ha ha.  Obviously, she digs it.  Cal occasionally asks questions about where we live, when are we going to our house, etc.  Those things make me sad because he doesn’t get it, but for the most part he is enjoying life.  He especially loves all the fruit and juice we get here.  The kids can’t get enough of the morning bowl of fruit and homemade granola.

I’ll post more next week about how our real work schedule shakes out. Cross your fingers for us!

 Sorry no pictures.  I am posting from the town of Canoa where we'll spend weekends and I forgot my camera cord at the farm!  Bummer.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Resting at Saiananda

On the bay side of the Pacific in Bahia

Sitting on the wall overlooking the Pacific

Cal's first (unprompted) Spanish...

Angela: Do you like the coconut water?
Cal: It is muy good!

School Visit

Yesterday we visited a school in Bahia.  Alfredo, the owner of the inn at which we are staying, opened and helps run the school.  Danny’s cousin, Laurie and her husband, Anibal taught and worked here when they lived in Ecuador 4 years ago.  Their son, Camilo, attended the school and today we met his former classmates.  The school is based on teaching the principles of Human Values: non-violence, love, respect, fairness, etc.

The teachers and students welcomed us with hugs and songs.  Harper and Cal spent the first 15 or minutes hiding behind our legs and chewing on their fingers.  After a visit in the preschool/kindergarten class full of songs and energy our kids began to loosen up and enjoy the other children.  The older kids began asking Harper her name, how old she was, etc. and surprisingly to all of us Harper began answering their questions without our translations.  The school also had a play area and our kids spent a while on the monkey bars while we talked to some of the older kids about their schedules and studies. 

I think this morning was a nice introduction into the Spanish-speaking school experience.  The Harper and Cal were definitely nervous but it didn’t take too long relax a bit and enjoy being around other kids.  Harper said her favorite part of the school was the kids because “they are so friendly.”  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Estamos aquí!

We arrived in Ecuador three days ago.  We've been staying just outside the small city of Bahia de Caraquez.  So far traveling has been good.  The 6 hours on the bus to Bahia went pretty smoothly.  Harper and I had our bounciest turn on the toilet ever and we managed to get Cal to take a nice long nap in Danny's arms (one of the perks of dramamine!)

The days we have spent wandering around Bahia and playing in the ocean.  The water is really warm and the kids have had a ball.  Yesterday Harper made a friend at the beach named Mayeli.  She was seven and Harper was able to pull together the courage to ask her if she wanted to help us build our sandcastle, "quieres ayudar?"  After that they were off to play in the sand and ocean much of the afternoon.  Harper was very proud of her español!

The food in Bahia has been hit or miss.   We've been surprised that beans don't comprise a big part of the Ecuadorian diet.  Plantains are a definite staple- at one lunch we had dried plantain chips, fried plantain slices and plantain cakes.  We've eaten a lot of seafood and soup is always part of the lunch or dinner meal.  Harper and Cal have loved the soup served at the inn where we are staying.  Fresh fruit and juice is also served all the time and we are all trying to acquire a taste for papaya.  Danny mostly likes it, Cal and I are on the fence, and Harper has yet to speak positively about it (although she still tries it each morning.)

The bus rides to and from town have been a great adventure.  The music is blaring and as soon as we clamor up the steep steps the driver hits the gas and we go tumbling in to find our seats.  Cal likes to sit on the window-side, spending the entire ride looking for garbage trucks.  Thankfully yesterday he finally saw one.  The people we have sat with on the bus, and the people in Bahia in general, are all so friendly.  People rub the kids' heads and give them all kinds of compliments about being beautiful- "qué linda!" "qué bonita!" "qué presioso!"  We prepped them before the trip for this kind of attention, thanks to advice from our friends, Lauren and Julianna.  Cal occasionally throws people a "don't pat my head" look, but for the most part they have allowed the cooing and patting.

The place we are staying at is pretty wild.  The food is wonderful- all vegetarian and fresh fruit juices with each meal- and the people are friendly.  We had no idea that there would be so many animals here though.  There are the usual suspects- dogs (3 are golden retrievers which has been fun, but make us miss Sadie,) a couple of cats, parrots, peacocks, and also iguanas cruising the grounds.  The parrot calls "hola" to us each morning which the kids love.  And there is a sloth that lives upstairs in the house!  Unfortunately, there are also cages and pens of all sorts of other  animals- rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, exotic birds, geese, goats, donkeys, and horses.  The confinement of all this stuff has been a little overwhelming as are the squawks and braying all through the night.  Cal and Harper enjoy checking all the animals out and have yet to be woken by them before 6:30 so that has been good.  We had no idea our farm experience would begin even before Rio Muchacho!

We will visit the town of Canoa today and I'll write more later in the week.  I guess our only complaint so far are a few mosquito bites, so so far so good.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tick, tick, tick

And the race against the clock has begun.  We head out of Carbondale tomorrow morning.  We've had such good times hanging out with family and friends and enjoying our little town.  We've made it carless for 2 weeks and I'm loving my bike trailer now even more than ever.  And we've been so lucky to have Bob and Shirley's condo as our staging area.

On Thursday morning we fly out of Denver in the morning and will land in Guayaquil, Ecuador, that night.  After a 6 hour bus ride the next day we'll arrive at in Bahia de Caraquez and stay at an inn called Saiananda.  We have a week to relax there, visiting with the proprietor, Alfredo, who is friends with Danny's cousin, Laurie, taking in some beach time, and exploring the town.  September 16 we'll travel to Rio Muchacho and try to learn the ropes of the farm and school.

Our backpacks are almost packed, our good dog, Sadie, is ready to move in with Sarah and Rob, and the butterflies are flying around our stomachs with much gusto.  It's almost time...

Thursday, September 1, 2011


So long Chicago
For three weeks in August we traveled the midwest.  The kids held up great in the car and we laughed that this was a perfect crash course for our trip.  We know the midwest is nothing like South America, but Danny and I sure hammered home the idea of being "flexible."  Every little hiccup we had we tried to remind Harper and Cal that our little predictable life as we know it in Carbondale was on hold for now.  As we listened to the Stones our first day following our trip Harper proved she got the message.  Turning to Cal she said, "It's our song.  Do you hear it?  Remember?  You can't always get what you want..."  As Mick sang I smiled and silently told myself this might just work out.  

We headed out on I-80 across Nebraska and Iowa and made stops along the way to break it up.  For our first dinner on the road we picnicked and swam at a lake in Nebraska in which stood an enormous street light.  It was definitely weird but the 100plus temperatures of the heat wave had ended just a day earlier and it was actually nice.  We passed around food from the cooler and felt like we could chalk up day one as a success.  The next day somewhere in Iowa, Trainland USA surpassed the lake.  An Iowa family's basement over the course of 19 years had been turned into model train track route through American history.  Harper and Cal pushed button after button lighting up windows and operating the little waving arms of the passengers.  We had to take a picture in front of the Colorado ski scene.  We all got a little sad remembering that this year our skis would be collecting dust in the crawlspace. 

After 3 days in the car, we arrived in Madison to visit with Danny's cousin Vicki, her husband Steve, and their daughter, Ana.  Their older daughter, Madeline, was still away at camp and so unfortunately we didn't get to catch up with her.  Steve has been recovering from a stroke he had earlier in the summer and it was great to see that he is doing so well.  Downtown on Madison's campus we sampled ice cream at the union (orange cream with chocolate was delicious!), hung out by Lake Mendota, and walked downtown as Cal collided with almost every single person he passed.  After crashing into a sandwich board and some poor college student it was time to get Cal back to their house where he could better spend his crazy energy playing ball with Ana and rough-housing with Steve.

Pentwater, Michigan with the Hanley clan was the next stop and it was great to be out of the car for a whole week.  Cousin time and ice cream eating were definitely the two top priorities; we visited the House of Flavors as much as possible and Harper got her first lesson in the "dip cone" from Uncle Eric.  Danny and Cal met baby Tallulah for the first time and we all got to do lots of holding and cuddling with her.  Harper, Cal and Caroline spent hours going on "family trips"- imaginary traveling that all began with a plane ride in the upstairs closet.  The kids also experienced their first time go-carting and attempted a round of mini-golf.  The cousins still could use some growing up in these areas but we had a lot of laughs.  Of course, Lake Michigan did not disappoint.  We had great waves and a sandbar right in front of the cottage.  I feel blessed my kids get to experience these Michigan trips like I did as a child.  (We'll see how I feel when the cousins are all teenagers!)  

The culinary adventure that is always our Michigan week included smoked fish tacos, a chipotle salad (that we then made 2 more times over the visit!) and a serious tres leches cake for celebrating Aunt Lauren's birthday.  The much anticipated Argentine  appetizer of provolone on the grill did not quite work out as hoped but we've since consulted with our friend Raul and next year's will be better!

Our next stop was to visit with Shari and John in Delaware, Ohio.  We saw their new house, played in the river right behind it, and spent lots of time with the cats and the bunny.  Harper and Cal put on a singing show up in the loft for Shari and John and were very happy with the response from the audience.  John showed the kids his rock-skipping skills in the river while one of their cats looked on from the grass.  We also ate at the local Greek restaurant one night and Danny got to order saganaki- I think he definitely had his fill of flaming cheese- Opa!

Finally it was back to Chicago for a week of farewells and catching up with old friends.  Grandma Mary celebrated her 60th birthday and the kids decorated an M&M cake in her honor.  The adults celebrated at a rooftop at Wrigley field for a Cubs game and the evening was full of laughs.  Danny requested a quick postgame stop at Slugglers which filled our annual quota of pop-a-shot, skee-ball and the sticky-floor bar scene for a long while.