Stuck in Paradise
I woke up to the sight and sounds of the ocean again this morning, rested and ready for another perfect day. Nora and I found a new place to try breakfast and ate boloñés de queso, made from banana, with eggs and juice. It was delicious.
Then we joined our new friends for another yoga class and I think I fell asleep in savasana, I was so relaxed. We stayed to talk for a bit after class, and admired the dog and the owners’ baby boy, Ollie. It was nice to sit and converse with people like they’re old friends.
We had planned to take a trip into Puerto Lopez today, since we are about out of cash and there are no ATMs in this small, two-road town. Turns out all of the banks in Puerto Lopez and Montañita are out of money after the Carnaval holiday, and they don’t reopen until Wednesday. So, we’re stuck on the beach for another two days until we can access some more money. It’s not too bad when you’re stuck in Paradise, though.
This afternoon will instead be filled with more reading, writing, and swimming in the blissful little oasis we found almost by accident.
Sunday. A day of rest (but let’s be honest this whole week is pretty restful) to relax and be present.
I woke up naturally, no alarm clock here, and admired the ocean view outside my window. I’m so damn lucky. I took a deep breath and started my day.
On our way to breakfast we ran into Kyle, a fellow traveler and paradise-seeker. “How’s your day going?” Nora asked him. “Uh, perfect,” he answered. It’s true. Our days here are about as close to perfect as you can get. Even as I’m writing this it sounds crazy to know that this is my life. Another delicious breakfast before Nora and I came back to slather on the sunscreen. The sun here is STRONG and you can feel it. We were both nervous for our surf lesson. It was Nora’s first time and I had only surfed once before, when I was about 14 or 15 years old. I think I had more guts back then.
Our teacher was patient and encouraging. We stayed in the white water and practiced riding on our bellies until we felt comfortable enough to stand up. I did stand, although not very gracefully, and it ended up being really fun. Our teacher grew up in California and has been surfing since he was 12 ( he’s 35 now), and I’m sure we looked ridiculous to him but he was kind enough not to show it.
The surf lesson went by quickly and I didn’t want to get out of the water. In this sun though, you can’t stay in too long or you’ll fry. I’m happy to say I’m only a little pink, and wasn’t badly burned, though I did earn myself a few bruises from the board. Let’s call them warrior marks. ;)
After surfing we went back to the hotel for more reading and quiet. I guess we didn’t realize how tired we were from all that exercise under the sun, but we fell asleep for a good nap. I, again, woke up hungry and this time enjoyed a shrimp and fish ceviche. Ceviche is made differently everywhere, so it’s interesting to see the variations.
We spent a few lazy hours in the hammocks, socializing with Gerry and the other travelers at Xanadu. Then we headed back to the yoga school. They were using the open porch space for vendors to sell soaps, lotions, jewelry, plants, clothing, you name it. I enjoyed a fresh baked carrot and ginger muffin and some chai tea while meandering around, socializing and browsing the handmade wares. The art was beautiful, and I like these types of markets, supporting local artists and people from the community. Once again I couldn’t help but notice the relaxed energy and positive vibes filling the space. I could stay here forever. I bought some soap made from tea tree oil (if you’re into essential oils you know that tea tree is versatile, smells great, and can be hard to find) and mango lotion that is good for after-sun care. It was the perfect end to a great day.
Yoga, horses, flowers, sand, calm
Saturday morning we woke up and went to find breakfast. We found the gringo hotspot in town, and ate well. Scrambled eggs, fruit salad mixed with yogurt and honey, toast with butter and fresh strawberry jam, fresh juice, and the best coffee I’ve had in Ecuador. While we were eating we met Mark, a friendly, older American guy traveling the coast of Ecuador. He was a character and interesting to talk to.
After breakfast we headed to the yoga school for a morning class. I haven’t been able to practice with a class since May, and it felt so good to be in an open space and feel the energy of other yogis. The class was outside, on a wood floor platform covered by a canopy. You could hear the waves from the ocean close by and smell the aroma of flowers coming from a nearby tree, a very pleasant change from the smell of sewage in Riobamba.
I melted into myself, taking my time with each pose, breathing in and out, slowly, purposefully. I stretched and moved my body freely, grounding my feet into the mat and soaking in the beauty of this moment. Peace. Serenity. My skin was warm and the air light. I felt good.The yoga space also serves as a cafe, serving muffins, chai, coffee, tea, etc. It’s as if this place was just waiting for me to discover it. I talked with some of the other yogis and the owners after class, and ended up signing up for surf lessons. The owners are a Canadian couple who moved here six years ago. They built a house and started their business - cafe, yoga and surf classes, and Spanish lessons. The place has a good vibe. Soft music, good food, chill people. I couldn’t wait to come back. After our class we spent some time in the water before heading back to the hotel. The sand was smooth and the water warm, though not as warm as I had expected. It felt good to be outside. On the walk back we came across some beautiful horses grazing on the beach. Doesn’t get more idyllic than that. Once the sun and salt had drained our energy we went back to shower and read, laying in the hammock and dozing in and out of sleep. I could get used to this. I woke up hungry and ordered a shrimp dish, made in coconut sauce. It was as good as it sounds. I had been craving this typical coastal dish for months, and it didn’t disappoint.
It is 5am and I didn’t sleep much last night. It’s cold during the Riobamba mornings and I am dreading the shower. Ever since it broke it unforgivingly moves back and forth between warm and cold and the surprise of icy water on a dark morning is not one I welcome.
I have a long day of travel ahead of me. It is the start of vacation from ILE and Nora and I are headed to the coast. We aren’t exactly sure how we will get to Ayampe. We will go first to Guayaquil, and beyond that we’re hoping to find a bus to Montañita or maybe Puerto Lopez, and maybe a van or taxi from there. Thoughts of the beach and touching the salty ocean water get me through the groggy morning and the 9 hours of bus travel.
The security guards and drivers’ assistants have been looking out for the two gringas in the back of the bus all day. We get off one bus and they walk us to the next, leaving in five minutes. It is easy travel all day. We stop on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and they call to us. We’re in Ayampe. We get off and start walking in the only direction with street signs and huts. A blonde girl comes out onto the street and starts walking. We follow her, thinking she must know where the hostel is.
We wander for a bit and then ask a woman who is outside playing with her baby where Xanadu, our hotel, is. A sign (facing the beach rather than the road) points us down another path. We walk a bit more and find the property. The walkway is lined with flowers and when we reach the top of the steps we have a perfect view of the ocean and the tops of Palm trees. We are in heaven. We check in and discover that we have the best room in the house, with two windows with an ocean view and a patio out back. We have a private bathroom with hot water and good water pressure. The patio has a hammock and a table, with a pot of rocks for painting. We hear the waves crashing from our beds.
Gerry, the owner, checks on us. There is a restaurant upstairs when we get hungry. We are. Nora and I both order fish tacos, and Gerry brings us his homemade hot sauce. Gatoman, the cat, keeps trying to steal our food. It is a perfect afternoon.
Gerry bought this place just about a year and a half ago. He stayed one night and made an offer for it, then spent his time renovating it. He says his standards for all of rooms and decorations were “would my mother like it?”
Gerry only accepts donations for the rooms. He wanted to create a sanctuary here, so that people who were going through a rough time could still afford to get away and heal. He said he wants those who stay here to pay it forward. Leave here and go do something good for somebody else. The world would be better, he thinks. I like him.
Nora and I walk down to the beach to watch the sunset. It is beautiful. We have found the perfect getaway to escape our daily routines and Carnaval, which is being celebrated all over the country. It is basically Mardi Gras,except everywhere, and in some parts it can get ugly and even violent. I’m happy to just relax and rejuvenate during this break.
We end the evening reading to the soft glow of the funky lights upstairs, another touch Gerry thought of. “Details, ladies,” he keeps saying with a smile.
learning to climb
Today I went rock climbing again. We went to the same spot in Guano and climbing the rock for the second time was much easier. I knew I could climb at least to a certain point, and I felt more confident.
Then I reached a part of the rock where I had to place both hands in the crevice and lean back into the rope, walking my feet up the rock in front of me. I knew I wouldn’t fall - the harness would hold me - but after I slipped once I was overcome with fear. “I don’t think I can do it,” I called down to my friends. “You can,” they assured me, “You only think that you can’t until you do it. Just keep going.”
I realized this was true not only of climbing, but of all challenges we face. They only appear insurmountable until we do, in fact, overcome them. Most of the time, all that’s missing is confidence in ourselves. We just have to keep going.
I thought about the challenges I’ve been able to face this year: Being away from my family and friends for months at a time, adjusting to a new culture and language, teaching for the first time, traveling solo in a foreign country, and finally, jumping off a bridge.
Yes, I finally went “puenting.” After chickening out on bungee-jumping in Costa Rica, I promised myself I would jump off a bridge in Banos before leaving Ecuador.
Last weekend, a few friends and I took a trip to Banos. Two of my friends wanted to try puenting, too. We went to one of the tour agencies to check the price and schedule. I was praying we wouldn’t be able to go that day. I was filled with nerves, but knew I couldn’t back out. After talking to the guide, we found out there was a guide at the bridge at that moment, ready for us. It was only $20. Shit.
I paid my part, signed the “Conditions of Agreement” (which asked for your blood type and emergency contact, just in case), and followed my friends to the bridge. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the bridge looked very high, and the jumping platform very small. The wind started to pick up, and suddenly I was second-guessing my courage. The guides were relaxed, casual, and handed us our harnesses. “Esta seguro?” I asked repeatedly, “Is it safe?” They assured me it was, and triple-checked my harness to calm me down. Then they explained that my harness could hold over 2,000 pounds. I started to feel better. Then I climbed onto the platform. There was nothing to hold onto. Just open air.
"Okay, move your feet to the edge," my guide said. "On the count of three, you jump." I was gripping the bridge railing for my dear life. The guide actually had to un-clench my hands and place my arms out for me. "Ready?" he asked. Hell no. But I knew if I didn’t jump on the first count of three, I might not do it.
1, 2, 3, go. I dove into the air, and it all happened so fast I don’t even remember what I was thinking. The photos prove that I screamed my head off, and at the end of the jump, I swung back and forth under the bridge, shaking and admiring the view.
It was beautiful, and thrilling, and I’m so glad I did it.
"If it’s both terrifying and amazing then you should definitely pursue it."
There is no height to which we cannot climb, be it literally or metaphorically. All we need is the belief in ourselves that we can, and will, make it wherever we set our minds to.
Teaching - month 4
This cycle I am teaching level 7 again, and doing it a second time has definitely made it easier. I am better able to anticipate my students’ questions and better able to explain the lessons I teach. I’ve also gotten more comfortable in the classroom.
My students and I at the Country Fair this cycle. Our country topic: Tanzania.
Teaching has shown me that I belong in a job that challenges me, that I care about, and that doesn’t involve sitting at a desk all day. My job is never the same - it takes a lot of energy, and this is a good thing. I get to interact with people all day. I learn something new all the time. While there are days that I don’t feel like going to work, I appreciate that I have a job that lets me grow.
In addition to teaching, we also practice each morning for our traditional teachers’ play. This cycle we are performing “The Evolution of Dance,” and I don’t mind having daily practice because I love dancing, and it feels good to have it back in my life, in whatever capacity. I’ve also just accepted a tutoring position, and I’ll start working with Jose on Monday. He speaks very little English, but will need to use it in his new job and needs to learn quickly. Jose and I have only conversed in Spanish, and from what I can tell, his English is still very basic. I have a feeling this tutoring job will prove more challenging than my level 7 classes, but I am looking forward to testing myself.
A photo of me with some of the other teachers at ILE. These people make life in Riobamba so much more enriching. I’m lucky to have them!
Today I was lucky enough to try rock climbing for the first time with a great group of friends. My friend Hugo has been climbing for 12 years, and was a climbing trainer, and my friend Daniel used to be his student. Both of them are insanely good climbers, and very patient teachers. We spent most of the day in Guano, the town next to Riobamba, learning to climb and trying not to let the fear consume us. Though it can be daunting to look down, and difficult to find a good grip, we were in good hands. The few times I slipped and fell, I didn’t go anywhere; I was suspended in air, secure in my harness and guided by my friends.
Enjoying the view over Guano.
Hugo and Abby on the first climb.
Nora made it pretty high!
Gorgeous mountains. So peaceful.
Hugo teaching Nora how to belay.
Abby, Daniel, Hugo, and I getting ready to climb.
Being up on the rock wall was exhilarating. When I first saw our climbing route, I seriously doubted my ability to do this. Climbing up (even if not to the top) felt so rewarding and freeing. I actually did it! And repelling back down was probably the most fun part. After being cooped up inside the last week (Volcano Tungurahua, about 45 minutes away erupted last week, filling the town with dangerous ash), it felt so good to be out in nature again. There are few better feelings than spending the entire day outside in the mountains.
The plan for tonight: more dancing. I went out with a few of my Ecuadorian friends last night, and let me tell you- Latinos can MOVE. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to keep up with the salsa and move my hips that quickly. Until then, I’m happy to keep practicing! :)