Meeting Lively Senior Citizens in Saraguro, Ecuador

The senior citizens of Ecuador seem quite remarkable. They have eaten organic food most of their lives, walked to where they needed to go, and used herbal remedies for their maladies. They seem sturdier, and to have lived longer and more healthful lives than many North Americans, despite the fact that Canada and the U.S. have a much higher standard of living.

Those I’ve observed in cities and small towns work, unless quite privileged. Even if living on pensions or with family, they are active, unless disabled by a crippling disease. Some work in order to survive (boomers get ready), you see them on street corners selling religious objects, candles, candies, gum, cookies, and other small items. In Saraguro, they are selling textiles, jewelry, and produce which they pack and carry on their backs.  There are, of course, those who live even more difficult lives, lives of abject poverty. Your heart goes out to all, as it would to elders in any country.

Saraguro Senior Center, Ecuador

Saraguro Senior Center, Ecuador

charming policemen who escorted me to the senior center

charming policemen who escorted me to the senior center

Within minutes of arrival in Saraguro I asked the local policemen, a group of three, if seniors gathered somewhere. They said “yes, we’ll accompany you!” And they did, to the last building at the top of a hill!!  Note the sign above the door, roughly translated as “Gathering for a Better Life!”

I enjoyed a whirlwind visit at the Tecnica del Adulto Mayor (the senior center). The director is Angel, a delightful fellow who eagerly shares about the Monday through Friday gatherings of city elders. Up to 30 arrive daily for conversation, exercise, spinning yarn by hand, other activities, and a warm lunch.

The population of the city is around 30,000 and because of the few minutes I had before driving on to Loja, I did not learn how many seniors live in the area ,what percentage of the population is over 65, who the youngest is, who the oldest is, what their challenges are, etc.  I would have wished to learn more, but I am grateful to have seen the environment and to have felt the lively energy of  the seniors.

The center is small and intimate, perhaps 700 square feet with a small courtyard in the middle. One room has desks and chairs occupied by women spinning wool. In another area you’ll find a group of men chatting away. There’s a kitchen, a bathroom, and the director’s office. The assistant manager is a young woman named Elizabeth who sweetly insisted I try to stay for lunch.

Saraguro senior men

Saraguro senior men

senior lady spinning wool

senior lady spinning wool

other senior ladies

other senior ladies

Elizabeth and the cook

Elizabeth and the cook

Director Angel, Guendalina, Miguel and Angel from the city offices

Director Angel, Guendalina, Miguel and Angel from the city offices

The atmosphere was playful and positive; the experience a pleasure.  The endearing and welcoming people at this center will put a smile on anyone’s face!!

December 16, 2012 at 3:37 am 1 comment

Delighted by the Town and People of Saraguro, Ecuador!!

Saraguro landscape

Saraguro landscape

Saraguro, Ecuador is a town of almost 30,000, located in the southern highlands about  2 1/2 to 3 hours by car or bus from Cuenca.  The scenery along the winding Pan American highway is enchanting, and varies according to the elevation of the area – 3,500 to 5,000 feet. Part of the area is considered desert, another, tropical rain forest and cloud forest.  Flora and fauna await you – colorful flowers and plants, as well as birds, butterflies, and deer galore.

The elevation of the town is about 5,000 feet; (the elevation in Cuenca is around 8,400).  I’m told that June and August are quite cold and wet, and that is is best to avoid visiting at that time – especially if you are a hiker or camper – too many cases of slipping and falling, hypothermia, etc.

notice the sheep  ;)

notice the sheep 😉

Saraguro, southern highlands of Ecuador

Saraguro, southern highlands of Ecuador

According to info found by “Googling”, most inhabitants are descendants of the Inca who came directly from Machu Picchu along the Inca trail almost 700 years ago, others descendants of the Inca, via Bolivia.  Many of these beautiful indigenous people speak both Spanish and Quechua.

The “Saraguerenses” are easily recognizable and  distinguished from other indigenous groups of Ecuador for their hand spun, hand woven black wool clothing, and their hair worn in long braids or pony tails (men included).  Women wear long black wrap around skirts that are plain or with colorful one inch borders. Men wear black pants that hit just below the knees. Both men and women favor black ponchos and black hats. Women adorn themselves with beautiful gold and/or beaded jewelry.  Most smile at you easily, and they seem proud of their cultural heritage.  They work to keep their traditions intact.

I’d like to return on a Sunday, market day. I love the friendliness and the feeling of the people here.  And I’m imagining the Saraguro market, albeit much smaller, might be more interesting and possibly more authentic in many ways than the famous Otavalo market north of Quito, also known for its display of arts,crafts,  and textiles. For more information I recommend http://www.saraguro.org, a site hosted by an American couple who lived in the area for five years.

The church at the Saraguro town square

The church at the Saraguro town square

At the town square

At the town square

traditional woman from Saraguro
traditional woman from Saraguro

Saraguense beaded necklaces

Saraguense beaded necklaces

traditional skirts and ponchos

traditional skirts and ponchos

December 16, 2012 at 1:30 am 1 comment

Lunch at Mansion Alcazar, Cuenca, Ecuador

December 4 was a cloudy, cold day in Cuenca and I had many errands to take care of in El Centro, the old town.

I was feeling the need for warmth and remembered one of my favorite spots, Mansion Alcazar, a five-star boutique hotel on Calle Simon Bolivar.  It’s where President Correa has been known to stay when in the city.

Discreetly placed floor heaters are provided to keep you comfortable when it is nippy outside.  There’s a very inviting bar, Le Bar, near the front door, appreciated even by teetotalers like me.

Mansion Alcazar, Cuenca

Mansion Alcazar, Cuenca

Casa Alonso, the restaurant, behind the main lobby, is known for its gourmet cuisine.  And lunch was just what the doctor ordered – a peaceful environment with gentle service, and food prepared with the freshest ingredients and much care.  I enjoyed the melange of flavors in my warm dish of smoked trout (from a lake in Las Cajas) with potatoes, corn, and fava beans over a bed of lime butter.  Divine!

Casa Alonzo dining room

Casa Alonzo dining room

Guendalina has just been served  ;)

Guendalina has just been served 😉

La piece de la resistance

La piece de la resistance

December 5, 2012 at 11:04 am 1 comment

Safe Haven Condo, Cuenca, Ecuador

Sometimes, taking a chance is a good idea.

I was looking for a place in “Gringolandia”, an apartment or condo to stay in for a few days so I could learn my way around Cuenca more.

As luck would have it, there was a new listing on http://www.airbnb.com.  The lady offered Kangen water (wow!) and I immediately concluded she must somehow be involved in healing.  She also chose the name Safe Haven for the rooms she rents.  I was pretty much able to discern the approximate location from the photos.

It turned out that the condo was located near four bus lines with easy access to El Centro as well as far flung places.  It was a blessing in more ways than one –  a delightful host and a great location.

Condominio Los Cipreses

Condominio Los Cipreses

As you will see below, the residence has magical views to downtown (El Centro, looking east), to the Tomebamba River (south), to the Andes in the west (known here as Las Cajas), and, to comfortable neighbors below.

For those of you who haven’t yet been to Cuenca, this is one of the more privileged areas of town.

View to El Centro

View to El Centro

My room looking toward the Tomebamba River

My room looking toward the Tomebamba River

My room looking to the Andes

My room looking to the Andes

Traditional Ecuadorian home below
Traditional Ecuadorian home below

View across the street to villa of wealthy Ecuadorian

View across the street to villa of wealthy Ecuadorian

December 5, 2012 at 10:36 am 1 comment

Flying to Cuenca, Ecuador from California…

Happy flyer me reporting in again.

On my way to Cuenca for the fourth time with trustworthy TACA, an excellent airline choice if  flying from the west coast ( San Francisco or Los Angeles).  The flights are direct, traveling south along the Pacific coast, and, the journey is relatively painless.

On other trips I departed on  TACA after midnight in order to arrive in Quito (via Costa Rica), at midday, and then changed planes  in Quito for the 50 minute flight to Cuenca. For this trip I decided to try an alternate route and fly during the day from LAX to Guayaquil, changing planes in San Salvador.

Guayaquil airport

Guayaquil airport

Not sure the day trip was the wisest choice as I had to overnight late at night in Guayaquil – it’s unwise for a woman traveling alone in this not so tame city.  I chose a hostal close to the airport recommended by someone from Cuenca’s ex-pat newsletter the Gringo Tree and was so disappointed.  There was no rest for the weary – a loud party and barking dogs across the street all night.  For the same price I could have been in an immaculate, quiet, charming three or four star hotel anywhere else.  Just another affirmation of my lack of affinity for Guayaquil, and another lesson about why one must not trust web site photos – what you see is not necessarily what you will receive.  Though if passing through again, I will learn of better places to stay.  On http://www.airbnb.com I viewed a handful of apartments and homes I might have enjoyed for half what I paid at the dreary hostal.

The good news is that flying through El Salvador meant not having to go through security with hand luggage as one must do changing planes in Costa Rica or Guatemala.  I also avoided Quito’s new airport which is over an hour from the city (not convenient if you are stuck there). The airport in Guayaquil is beautiful, and this time of year the balmy weather in the city feels wonderful.  Another bonus is that the flight to Cuenca, on a clear day, goes over the Andes.

Flying into Cuenca

I flew Ecuadorian airline TAME to Cuenca (third time using this company and still delighted with their service).   I like their planes – they are older, seem sturdier, and have leather seats.  On the Guayaquil-Cuenca run they use a small propeller plane which is surprisingly quiet.

December 5, 2012 at 9:32 am 1 comment

Captivating New Medicine & Travel Title from Little, Brown Publishers

A new book will be released April 3 about a young woman practicing medicine in 16th century Venice, and the journey she ends up taking to five nations in search of her missing father.  Medical lore and foreign travel are at its core.  Eager to read it!!

The Book of Madness and Cures

Here is the publisher description:

Dr. Gabriella Mondini, a strong-willed, young Venetian woman, has followed her father in the path of medicine. She possesses a singleminded passion for the art of physick, even though, in 1590, the male-dominated establishment is reluctant to accept a woman doctor. So when her father disappears on a mysterious journey, Gabriella’s own status in the Venetian medical society is threatened. Her father has left clues–beautiful, thoughtful, sometimes torrid, and often enigmatic letters from his travels as he researches his vast encyclopedia, The Book of Diseases.

After ten years of missing his kindness, insight, and guidance, Gabriella decides to set off on a quest to find him–a daunting journey that will take her through great university cities, centers of medicine, and remote villages across Europe. Despite setbacks, wary strangers, and the menaces of the road, the young doctor bravely follows the clues to her lost father, all while taking notes on maladies and treating the ill to supplement her own work.

Gorgeous and brilliantly written, and filled with details about science, medicine, food, and madness, THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES is an unforgettable debut.

March 18, 2012 at 12:42 am Leave a comment

Long Awaited “On the Road” Movie to be Released Summer 2012

Here below is an article from www.shelf-awareness.com, my favorite publishing industry on-line newsletter which writes not just about books, but books into film as well…

On the Road Finally Nearing Destination?

A long, strange trip to bring Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road to the big screen (Kerouac asked Marlon Brandoto play Dean Moriarty in 1957, and producer Francis Ford Coppola acquired the rights in 1980) may finally reach its destination at the Cannes Film Festival in May.IndieWire reported that “the post-production is wrapping up and European theatrical dates are slowly coming into focus.” The film is directed by Walter Salles (The Motorcycles Diaries) and stars “a promising young cast” that includes Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Tom Sturridge and Kristen Stewart, as well as veterans Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Kirsten Dunst and Terrence Howard.”We just finished the edit and the mix in Paris,” Salles said. “There are still a few steps left until the film is completely finished (designing titles and credits, getting the digital workprint back to 35mm, etc.) The independent company that produced the film, MK2, is now working on the site and trailer. As for release dates, they tend to vary from country to country when a film is distributed independently.”

IndieWire noted that “the release in France, which producer Charles Gillibert revealed on Twitter is set for May 23rd, running concurrently with the tail end of this year’s Cannes Film Festival (scheduled for May 16-27). This primes the film for a potential premiere on the Croisette, which will precede the Gallic theatrical release.” On the Road does not have a North American distributor yet.

January 18, 2012 at 12:13 am 2 comments

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"If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." - Lewis Carroll