Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The latest editorial from my column...

Blogger is finally allowing me to post articles from the Ecuador Reporter directly to the blog.

The latest edition of my ranting and raving from the paper:

When I first arrived in Ecuador, I was immediately smitten with Pilsner. It’s cold, cheap, fresh from the factory, and they serve it by the glass-boot-full in the Ghoz Bar. Within weeks I had bought my own haba, a crate of 12 empty, liter-sized bottles, and I was recharging them for less than I’d pay for two pints back in beer-snob-Boulder. Then a friend offered me a Budweiser, and I uttered words I thought would never exit my mouth: wow, now, this is some good beer!

You see, as cheap and cold as Pilsner is, it really isn’t anywhere near being classified as good beer. And drinking too much of it may have you forgetting that fact. What’s more, Pilsner and its close cousins, Club and Brahma, are our only options in Ecuador. I recently counted 13 different flavors, sizes, and types of marshmallows in a small corner-store near my house. But the beer selection? Well, let’s just say I didn’t need a calculator to add up the offering.

The problem, of course, is import laws. Ecuador, with good reason, wants to protect its local industries, and certainly Pilsner has some political capital to keep it that way. El Griego and El Espanol both have a small selection of European import beers; but the real gold mine is at Santa Espuma. This Ecuadorian enterprise has ripped the carpet from underneath Pilsner and Club. The owner, Andres, learned his craft in Australia, and his methods are meticulous. His brewery is spotlessly clean, and his ingredients are imported from Europe. His selection always involves a Scottish Strong, a Golden Ale, and a Porter. Additionally, he rotates in seasonal specialties such as an Oktoberfest or a Stout for St. Patty’s Day. So far, the only method to get his beers out of the door is in a pony-keg, but after recently purchasing a six pack of Ukranian beer as my only alternative to Pilsner, I think it might be time to start pricing kegerators.

In truth, I’m not sure if I really dislike Pilsner, or am just tired of having it as my only option. But there is one thing I know for sure: Ecuadorian wine is truly horrible. It sells for around $1.50 to $2.00 a bottle, and I’m not quite sure who buys it. Every guidebook spends at least three sentences trashing it, and so it was with great reluctance that I accepted the idea that the Ecuador Reporter should go tour a vineyard last weekend. First of all, I wasn’t sure if we could all get up early enough to catch the bus (I was right.) However, by 11AM we were happily cruising along in the back of a pick-up, drinking Pilsner of course, heading towards Chaupi Estancia Vineyards. The owner wasn’t available for our tour, but his long-time assistant vintner, Jorge, graciously opened the 6 hectares of grapes to our motley crew. Jorge led us through fields of grapes, explaining the varieties, and their methods of harvesting. The grapes are extremely sensitive, and must be harvested during precise times of sun, water, and temperature. They are then brought to a fermentation room, where the bottles are meticulously produced—six at a time. The winery has been producing commercially since 2002, and has won an award for its distinctive Palomino Fino.

All of this was great information, but honestly, Jorge had us at the word wine. We were eager to crack a bottle and get to the real test of any good wine: how many bottles could we drink before someone started rolling down the freshly mowed hill outside the wine cellar? Our new writer, Yancey, won that game, and as we laughed at his antics, we all came to the conclusion that a day spent at a Chapui Estancia was a day well invested. Next time though, I think we’ll bring some cheese…then again, maybe we shouldn’t get me started on Queso Fresco.

The Blue Footed Booby is soliciting care packages of Colorado Micro-Brews at www.esteecuador.blogspot.com

The Blue Footed Booby’s Alcohol Gift Guide:

  • Chaupi Estancia Wine can be found at Mega Maxi
  • Santa Espuma will sell you a pony keg for about $100, Whymper and Orellana
  • Chicha, fermented jungle root spit is widely available in The Oriente
  • Punta, fermented sugar cane liquor is under the counter at every Banos sugar cane stand
  • Zhumir, widely available, comes in lovely flavors like Peach and Chocolate
  • Finally, The Spirit of Ecuador, which tastes like it is straight out of Willy Wonka’s factory, can be found in overpriced commemorative Mitad Del Mundo bottles as you leave the country

Ecuador takes a cue from the U.S.

Hmmm, it seems as if Ecuador has decided to take a cue from U.S. homeowners and stop paying the interest on its loans.

What happens when you foreclose on a country? This can´t be good.

Ecuador defaults on its loans here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Costa Rica, How, well...Rica!

The rich coast really did apply to me last month when Colegio Americano treated me to a week-long conference in San Jose, Costa Rica. Teachers where I come from in Colorado aren't really used to this kind of treatment; it kind of seemed more like something fancy suit-types would go to rather than geeky teachers, but why not!

We arrived in San Jose after a short flight from Quito, and were greeted with a room at the very fancy Intercontinental Hotel. Here's something I never knew growing up sleeping in sleeping bags and the dirty floors of camping tents--an amazing bed filled with down above and below you and with soft-soft-soft sheets REALLY does help you sleep! I hit that bed at night and didn't roll, toss, or turn until my alarm woke me up with whatever songs from my i-pod I had synced it with the previous night!

The conference was an annual gathering of international schools from Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. We attended a pre-conference on a new online assessment we are administering this year in Quito; mostly I was excited that this fact allowed me to milk the lap of luxury for three extra nights! Our Director General generously treated us to steak and lobster dinners, sushi-bars, and the breakfast every morning, which was, well, a bit ridiculous. That plate in the lower corner is all salmon, yes, all of it. My breakfast special was a bottom layer of gallo pinto and Lizano (rice and beans and Costa Rican salsa), with two friend eggs, and salsa ranchero, cheese, and sausage on top. Maybe with a waffle and some fresh fruit as well. Yes, Costa Rica is quite appropriate.

Breakfast was only the beginning, the whole facility embraced this kind of opulence. The pools had this great design, where the water cascaded over the top of the pool, only to fall into a crack a foot back from the stone-work. Just the kind of thing for some kid to get his foot stuck in and sue in the states, but in Costa Rica it was just good architecture. The exercise gym was filled with full circuit machines, and a waiter who brought you a ginger towel and cucumber/lime water while you ran on the treadmills (equipped with personal TV's, which would accept your i-pod if nothing good was on TV). Speaking of TV, I was watching my flat-screen TV one morning, drinking Britt coffee when I realized I was watching Channel 9 Denver News. Funny, the local U.S. TV station in Costa Rica is Denver--looked like they had some black ice on Kippling that morning, I hope Glen's commute to work was okay.

But, really, there were two highlights of the trip. One, was the great people I met at the conference. International educators are my kind of people--and we had a great time, working hard during the day, and playing (read--drinking) hard in the evenings. One night--mid conference--several us from Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Ecuador ended up at a World-Cup Haiti V.S. Costa Rica soccer match. The game was awkward, they don't serve beer in the stadium, and Costa Rica is embarrassingly critical of their own team, but as we wandered the bars late at night after the game, I realized this was my zone. My friend Ray actually did a workshop one year on how to balance working out V.S. working at these kinds of events. All I know is the gym was full every morning at 5 AM with teachers that I had been partying with mere hours before.

The second highlight was pretty simple. Across the street from the hotel was a grocery store; stocked with Guiness and Red Seal (California) beers. As I've bemoaned before on this blog, Ecuador is bereft of good beer, and so this was a god-send. The Ben and Jerry's and Quizno's subs were just icing on the cake....

Saturday, November 22, 2008

LLamas are funny

These are some wild llamas Erin and I hung out with a couple of weeks ago up on Cotachachi. Funny-lookin' ain't they?
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quilindaña--the other side of Cotopaxi

Finally, a new post. Last weekend my friend Jeff invited me to join a trip to Quilindaña which was being organized by Mark Thurbur. Mark is pretty well known around town; he´s been climbing around Ecuador long enough to still own a Chouinard ice-axe, be kidnapped by Achuar Indians and held for a 2 million dollar ransom, and write the climbing guidebook to Ecuador. So, minus the whole kidnapping thing, he seemed like a good/safe guy to hit the mountains with. In addition, Jeff is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines and a DEA agent, so I generally feel pretty good about his presence on any expedition that takes us far off the beaten path (the bullet-proof windows in his jeep helps).

And Quilindaña is way way way off the path.

My local guide friend, Pepinico, says that the mountain probably gets climbed once a year. Hearing our plans for this rarely climbed jewel, three new friends also decided to join us.

Mario--A strong climber who attended the same university as I did, ASU, and knew my father-in-law as his mechanic in Boone!
Patricia--A Fort Collins girl who works with Mario, and loves O´dells brewery almost as much as we do.
Caroline--Mario´s girlfriend and an amazing photographer. (The pictures on this post are...well, they ain´t mine that´s for sure)

Upon entering the gates to Cotopaxi National Park, it´s still two hours of four wheeling and five hours of hard backpacking to get to the basecamp. The mountain itself is not that hard, but it is a royal bitch-in-the-ass to get there. Several river crossings and a locked gate that required Mark´s promise to not kill any cows to facilitate its opening landed us at the remote and beautiful Hacienda El Tambo. From this Hacienda we trekked over two passes, and through several wet sections of Andean Paramo grassland before arriving at a small alpine lake nestled at the base of the mountain. Our weather was the typical mix of Scottish/Ecuadorian mush that we have become accustomed to. Luckily, our evening was dry, and the morning dawned clear and relatively warm for 4600 meters. Within the first hour of climbing we discovered what the clouds of the previous day were hiding on the mountain--lots of snow. We needed crampons. Unfortunately, the last time Mark was on the mountain he climbed it in rubber galoshes--jungle boots, and he just couldn´t fathom the thought that we would encounter lots of hard snow. We putzed around for a bit, looking for a way around the hard packed snow, but it soon became obvious that we would need to turn around.

The hike out was much quicker than the way in, though again, we were soaked by the constant rain. Arriving back in Quito in enough time for sushi night with my wife, I was pleased with the new friends made. Mario and I spent the trip trading NC climbing stories. Patricia and I tortured each other with thoughts of Colorado beer. Jeff and I swapped analysis of the latest tent designs. Caroline and I traded journalism stories, and Mark and I spoke about the remodel of his bosses house in Boulder that my best friend Glen worked on. What a small world the climbing community is, and what a pleasure it is to be a member of it.

If you would like to see all of Caroline's gorgeous photos from the trip, they are here. When I first looked at these, I wondered if she was on the same trip as me...I don't remember these kinds of views...I just remember clouds and rain! Also, her website is at www.carolinebennett.com

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Happy Birthday, Ecuador Reporter

The newest issue of the Ecuador Reporter has hit the stands, and it's the one year anniversary issue. I've really enjoyed writing for the paper; mostly because the editor allows me to write about whatever I want! It's been a good place to reflect more deeply on the experiences here, and my latest entry has some serious reflection. After finding ourselves this summer in many instances of negotiations, I finally had to write an editorial on the art of arguing in Latin America. Enjoy, it's a pretty funny one.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Overseas Voting Questions and Answers

I just got this email from OVF:

Overseas Vote Foundation
Be Prepared: Read the Answers to these Top 5 Ballot Questions
  1. What if my ballot is late?
  2. How can I get my ballot back in time?
  3. Is my ballot on the way to me now?
  4. Can I still request my ballot?
  5. Where can I get more information?

Ballot Question #1: What if my ballot is late?

If you don’t have your ballot by mid-October, OVF can provide you with one.

OVF’s new Vote-Print-Mail Ballot system automates the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) process. Dynamically-generated candidate lists allow you to point, click, vote, and then PRINT your ballot and send it to your election office.

Watch the Video: take 3 minutes to learn about the new Vote-Print-Mail Ballot system from OVF and you’ll have your back-up ballot plan in place.

Note: The following states: AZ, IA, MT, ND, NE, OR, SC, and WA will accept the FWAB as a simultaneous voter registration application and voted ballot; or have no voter registration requirement.

Ballot Question #2: How can I get my ballot back in time?

Express Your Vote – OVF’s new ballot delivery solution supported by FedEx® Express will get your ballot back in time to be counted. Highly-discounted rates or even free shipping for overseas and military ballots - brought to you by Overseas Vote Foundation.

Express delivery service, low rates, ballot tracking and automatic confirmation of ballot delivery are key benefits of this special program. Available now. Visit: www.overseasvotefoundation.org/expressyourvote.

Ballot Question #3: Is my ballot on the way to me now?

Your election office sends your ballots. To confirm the status of your ballot request, please look up your election official in the OVF Election Official Directory. Contact them directly to confirm that you are on the voting rolls and when your ballot will be sent.

If your ballot is still not with you by mid-October, refer to Questions #1 and #2.

Ballot Question #4: Can I still send in a ballot request?

Check the OVFState-specific Voter Information Directory for the filing deadlines in your state and get going! Remember you must PRINT and send in the Registration/Ballot Request Form that you generate from the site.

Ballot Question #5: Where can I get more information?

The OVF Voter Help Desk provides instant answers to your questions. Check out the updated Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot section today.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Time to look for your ballot!

Hey, you, American overseas voter. Remember that country you're from? Well, you should be receiving your absentee ballot very soon; and you should turn that baby around quick! Can't get it counted if it doesn't get there in time! Check with your embassy, will they send you ballot home via the much more reliable embassy mail? Do you live in a country where Fed-ex will send (AND TRACK) it back home for free? Is the ballot not showing up and you need to use the emergency Federal Write in Ballot?

Check on all of these things, plus, find the phone number of your local polling station to call and ask questions at the Overseas Vote Foundation.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Quito Fest

Last weekend we made our way out to Quito Fest in Parque Ichimbia. The concert is exceptionally well run, safe, good volume, tent full of CD's and t-shirts, and great bands. It happens every year, so keep your eyes peeled next year. Friday night was thrash metal, Saturday was rock, and Sunday, my favorite, funk, and hip hop. Que chevre!
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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Osprey Packs

Look for us in an Osprey catalog or add coming soon to a gear store near you.
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What's the old rule about chainsaw length and safety? It shouldn't come above your hip...or, was it your neck? Shit, I forget.
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Pig on a Leash

Pig in a blanket? Nope, pig on a leash.
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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Flowers and Voting

Here's a little slideshow from some photos I took while hiking in Cajas National Park this summer with Luke and Erin. Cajas is one of the treasures of Ecuador, as is the town that borders it, Cuenca. Unfortunately, rain was the norm this summer, but that just gives you a better chance to take some pictures of the vegetation without the equatorial sun bleaching out the pictures. Our new Olympus 1030 SW camera also has a handy led light that provides just enough light for a macro shot, without the intensity of a flash. Cool huh?

Also, the new Ecuador Reporter is out, with an article on voting overseas. It's not really typical stuff for my column, but if you live overseas and are trying to register to vote you should check it out here. What can I say, I've felt moved this year. If you just want the quick link to the Overseas Vote Foundation, you can check them out here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The many faces of Justin "G" Kleiter

We met Justin in Nicaragua several years ago. Since then, "G" has joined us on several adventures. Most recently, he and his girlfriend, Leila, visited us in Ecuador for a month. Justin is a great guy, with a gregarious personality that suits itself well to the camera (and playing with his food)...witness:

Drinks at Uncle Ho's
Shrimp head at Noe Sushi (yes, he ate it):

New T-Shirt, at, of course, Uncle Ho's:

Riding on top of the truck, four-wheelin' outside of Quito:

Clubbing at Aguijon in Quito:

Underwater at Papallacta Hot Springs:

Devouring a meat platter with Luke Stollings(whose blog you should check) in Cuenca:

I think we'll end it on that note. See ya, from the beautiful town of Cuenca!

You can put lipstick on a pig...

...but that still doesn't change the fact that while you were busy talking about beauty products for a pig, both Venezuela and Bolivia cut off diplomatic relations with the United States, kicking out ambassadors, and creating something near a crisis in the barn right next door to this funny farm. No big deal? Venezuela is American's fourth largest supplier of crude oil.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Foreign Policy Blog

My sister introduced me to the FP Blog, one of the best, quick, pieces of reading I do every day. Today there was a note on interesting research being done on the albedo, or reflectivity, potential of white roofs in off-setting CO2 emissions. From the blog:

Stop the climate negotiations. There's a better answer. Two words: white roofs.

If stats from a paper by Hashem Akbari of the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory are correct, re-roofing 100 global cities could stop 44 metric gigatons from entering the atmosphere -- more than all the countries in the world combined emit now.

A white-out never looked so cool.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Close Encounters

I remember, when we first moved to Boulder, we were immediately star-struck. All the skiers, climbers, riders, and for that matter, places themselves that we had been reading and dreaming about for years while sequestered in the rainy South East were suddenly a reality. When we first got to Boulder, Erin, within a month had already nearly sealed the deal on an internship with Freeskier ski magazine; and was out rubbing shoulders with Glen Plake and the like in downtown Denver. (If I can dig up the picture of little Erin and mohawked Glen, I'll post it later) For my part, my job at Chilis was not as glamorous, but just going to the climbing gym or Eldorado Canyon and hanging out with the hero's of my high-school-climbing-mag-romanticism was enough to make me feel a bit of the red carpet.

It's one of the things I truly love about the climbing world. If I was a basketball player of average ability, there is no way I would ever find myself eating breakfast with Michael Jordan...but, even though I'll surely never grace the cover of Climbing or Rock and Ice magazines, I have managed to climb, befriend, and even dine with at least 6 people who have! (Our own Katie Girl Blue is one, and my long-time friend John Heisel is another.) But what happens when you move away from Colorado, the Hollywood of the outdoor world? Well, you still meet amazing people.

This summer, an Ecuadorian climbing partner of mine called me up to attend a party for Ivan Vallejo. We went to the local sports bar and gobbled up free wings and beer while Ivan spoke about his recent conquest of all 14 8,000 meter peaks. Being only the seventh person to climb all 8,000 meter peaks without supplementary oxygen, Ivan also did so without any of the media glory and sponsors (Rolex!?!) that climbers like Ed Viesturs are lucky enough to have. It was humbling just to be invited to attend his party.

Another Ivan, Ivan Kashinsky used to be our neighbor when we lived in the bohemian Quito neighborhood of Guapulo. Ivan is a modest guy, a surfer and photographer who just finished shooting a full spread article for National Geographic on the female wrestlers of Bolivia. He and his wife, Karla, are now planning a photography tour to the southern tip of South America. Grab a National Geo and check it out!

Finally, we come to my favorite kind of celebrity...the cooking kind. Ever since my trip to Peru in 2004, my mouth has been watering for both the Cordillera Blanca Mountains and the Thai food prepared at Siam De Los Andes by owner and chef Naresuan. As the guidebook says, it's acclaimed across the country as the best Thai in Peru; and this is no exaggeration. While back in Peru this summer, Erin and I found time to visit Naresuan and his family, and it was just as I remembered it...fresh, spicy, balanced, rich, and perfect. But the real treat? Last week Naresuan was in Quito, on his way to his summer home in Columbia. He stopped over at a friends house to stay the night, and to blow our minds with a Thai feast beyond description. That night, devouring my third dish of red-thai-curry, I looked around the table of amazing people gathered for Naesuan's gift of food and realized that you don't have to be in Boulder to meet great people, you can be starstruck wherever you go.

Naraseuan and me at our friends' house cooking up some down-home Thai.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Back "home"

For the past two weeks we've been traveling around Southern Ecuador and Northern Peru, trying to get out of the city for a break before school starts. We're back in Quito now, and I'll post some pics and a short story about our trip soon, but until then, here is the latest dispatch from the Blue Footed Booby. I think it's a good one, though (for now) the pictures online don't quite match the article...I wish I looked that good in a bikini!

The Blue Footed Booby...swallows his pride.

And, also, a link to a facebook photo gallery of our trip to Peru.

A Short Trip to Peru

Saturday, August 2, 2008

In a Catholic country? For Real?

Well, Ecuador's new constitution has been written...and lo' and behold, there is a bit of controversy. I imagine we'll be getting some "political unrest" days out of this when the voting commences in September. Those are kinda like snow days, but, with road blockades and tear gas instead of snow drifts and frostbitten appendages.

Particularly interesting for a Catholic country, is the inclusion of same-sex marriage rights, and an ambiguously worded clause about abortion that is not definitively pro-life. The Ecuadorian Archbishop has got his habit in a wad over all of this.

Also, finally, indigenous languages are officially recognized...and some traditional phrases have actually been woven into the wording of the new constitution. Finally, the US Air-Force base in Manta will not be allowed to renew it's 10 year lease on the land. But hey, given the trend in the states, they were probably going in to foreclosure anyways:)

Read more here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Camera and Old Friends

Our friends Jess and John E. Johnson recently spend a month with us. It was great to see them, and we are continually impressed with the number of visitors who make the trip to Ecuador. We'll have to write more about their trip soon, but along with six cans of Dale's Pale Ale, they also brought us a new camera we had ordered. It's pretty cool--waterproof, freezeproof, shockproof...in short, every proofing I need for something delicate. We had a bunch of fun rappelling down waterfalls with it, and swimming out and taking surfing shots while they were here...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Though our mighty editor was off gallivanting around England all month, we still managed to put together a new edition of the Ecuador Reporter. This month has an interesting article on volunterism in Ecuador, eating guinea pigs, a spread on the butterfly capital of Mindo, a production of the Vagina Monologues, and several other good articles for travelers and locals alike.

Tomorrow, refreshed from his vacation, our editor sets off for a meeting with the Ministry of Tourism! Anyway, my new article in the paper reflects on the myriad of difference in pre and post race schwag between races in the states and races here. You can read it here.

Monday, July 14, 2008


The end of June marked several occasions. One, our third anniversary on June 25. Two, Erin's successful completion of her first year teaching. Third, the successful completion of a long goal of mine to teach in international schools. Clearly, it was time to celebrate. I was racking my brain for something unique to do, something else than climbing mountains or surfing waves and camping, something we would never ever do normally. Then it came to me...spend money, we never do that!

Leafing through the now well-worn Lonely Planet, I happened upon a Hacienda-Ranch-Hotel near Cotopaxi. This place had everything Erin and I would never ever pay for ourselves...gourmet meals provided, llamas walking around the ranch, luxurious acomodations (fireplaces in both bathroom and bedroom, cotton robes, down comforters, hot water bottles in the beds, etc.) Not to mention that the whole place is built around Incan Ruins from a guardhouse that sat along the Incan highway from Cuzco to Quito! Truly, your head rested against a 15th Century Incan wall while you slept, you ate in an Incan Dining room, and, although the mix with Christianity is kinda weird, you could get married in a chapel made from Incan Walls.

We went for it, we stayed a night and maxed out our credit card at the Hacienda San Augustin De Callo; but what the hell, when do you get to sleep in an Incan House that also housed Alexandar Von Humbolt and Edward Whymper?

If you've got some cash, I highly recommend this place, when you include the meals for two people, and tours, it's not much more than a fancy hotel in the city...and it has so much more to offer. While we were there, Rob and Lisa Howard were photographing the place for an upcoming article in Conde Nast Travler, so keep your eyes peeled.

Interesting side notes:

The photographer we met, Rob Howard, who, besides being an extremely amiable guy, also has made some amazing trips. He's been taking pictures forever, and now works for all the big names, Men's Health, National Geographic, Conde Nast, etc. He's been in the Columbian jungle with the FARC, been held up by Kurdish rebels, and has taken photos of most of my climbing and skiing heroes. We had a great time with he and his wife.

The owner of the Hacienda, Mignon Plaza, is the aunt of one of my students. He and his family own the private (and rumored Incan burial grounds) Hacienda next door to hers. The Plaza family is very influential, Mignon's Grandfather was President of Ecuador in the early part of the century; and the current Plaza's continue to do many things for the people of Ecuador. On the bus out of town, I met a gentleman who confirmed this "The Plazas are good people, they help everyone from the churches to the schools, to the farmers."

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Pirated CD´s and DVD´s are a way of life outside the borders of the U.S. Like it or not, there is no stopping the pirating of electronic products. Like a Starbucks on every corner in the states, you can´t walk a block without finding a DVD shop in Ecuador hawking your favorite Alf episodes or the most recent Hollywood release filmed (usually surprisingly well) in the back of the theater. Don´t want to fight the crowds at that Sex and the City premier? Go buy the DVD for a buck fifty from your local neighborhood capitalist.

Strangely, though, it´s mostly DVD´s that are sold, and it is difficult to find music. (Though there are plenty of music DVD´s). That is, until I found the Russian Mob. My friend Carl turned me on to an MP3 store run by a Spanish speaking Russian ¨family.¨ They sell their CD´s for 4 dollars, and each one contains between 10 to 15 albums, bootlegs, rare-cuts, and live concerts of your favorite artist. From Willie Nelson, to Jethro Tull, to Miles Davis, this is truly impressive. For 40 dollars, I just transfered 6 gigs, 1411 songs, and 3.2 days worth of music to my computer...including (John Newkirk and Rhett Baker) the entire Bad Religion collection. It almost makes me forget that the only beer I can get is a cheap lager.

Friday, June 13, 2008


God bless the internet. Because of those little gerbils running around inside my computer, I can download and listen to the best radio station on the planet...88.7 WNCW out of Asheville, NC. When my family first moved to South Carolina we stumbled upon this little NPR gem muddling through it's first year on the air. We've been devout fans ever since. In fact, I would say that listening to WNCW gave our family a lot of direction, in a way it gave my parents a whole new set of friends, and it gave my sister and I something to hold on to from our Appalachian Roots. Through its music diversity, the station has further connected my family. Each of us listens to the station every day, and I suggest you do too. Download the web-stream here.

I keep track of my favorite songs that I hear while at work, and at the end of the school year I've rewarded myself with the purchase of these songs on itunes. Here is is, my list from the

WNCW listen at the desk while grading papers in Ecuador 2007-2008 Best of....

Song Time Album Artist
Southern Suggestions 5:00 Southern Son Michael Reno Harrell
Dangerous Times 4:48 Color Came One Day Chuck Brodsky
How Will You Shine? 5:11 Noble Creatures The Gourds
Wagon Wheel 3:52 O.C.M.S. Old Crow Medicine Show
After Midnight 4:52 After Midnight The Seldom Scene
From Now On 3:23 Secrets Sierra Hull
City That Care Forgot 5:36 City That Care Forgot Dr. John with Eric Clapton
and Ani Difranco

Summertime 3:08 Honey Songs Jim Lauderdale
Floo-id 3:57 Daydream Turbo Pro Project
Steam Powered Aereoplane 4:16 Leftover Salmon Live Leftover Salmon
Falling for It 2:54 Airstream David Wilcox
This Is My Life 3:42 The Golden Hour Firewater
Wine 3:35 Mission Door Peter Cooper
Twenty-Four Hours a Day 3:18 Elana James Elana James
Hard Livin' 4:55 Amen Corner Railroad Earth
King Ebeneezer 6:34 Mountain Tracks, Vol. 5 Yonder Mountain String Band

I also REALLY wanted this Peter Cooper song, comparing Pearl Jam and Nirvana...but alas, it's not on itunes.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I've Been Tagged!

I was tagged by dear Katie out in Salt Lake City (a possible location for our back-to-the-States retirement), and I must admit, it's the first time I've been tagged. This is a cute, fun way to learn more about people, so I'm answering the call, tagging others, and also using this post to shamelessly plug my new blog. But you're going to have to read through the "ME" game before you learn about my newest internet ramblings.

1. What were you doing 10 years ago?
Oh my, the "dark time." I had just finished my first year of college at UNCG where I was studying Psychology and English, but mostly that year revolved around a completely unhealthy and dysfunctional situation with my Cross Country and Track teams. No need to go into specifics. It was bad enough the first time around!

2. What are 5 non-work things on my to-do list today?
Email my bank info to Tie-Care so I can get my health insurance reimbursement.
Order some new trail runners
Get a shopping list together for our July visitors: Jess and John E. Johnson
Squish Bali--and do a family squeeze with Tim too.
Figure out what time the open mic fundraiser begins tonight at Cafe Libre.

3. What snacks do you enjoy?
I'm having a hard time remembering what I used to snack on regularly in the States. Here's what I snack on currently:
Pan de yucca (bread made from yucca flour and bit of cheese)
Dark, jungle chocolate
Tim's fresh fruit and yogurt smoothies (he is the master)
Chiefles (plantain chips)
Can coffee be considered a snack?

4. What would you do if you were a billionaire?
Tim and I were just talking about Bali would do if she were a millionaire, and there were some pretty cool things she'd do, so first, I would make Bali a millionaire.
Invest/save lots
Lavishly retire our parents
Give much to friends and charities I appreciate
Send Tim to get his PhD in whatever educational field he chooses--or all, if he so chose
Buy my brother a house and set up a trust fund for the college education of his future children, of which I'm sure there will be several.
Travel the world!
But I would still want to do this international teaching thing for awhile. This job rocks and would so even more if we didn't have to worry about money and how much we're making.

5. Where have you lived?
Boone, North Carolina
Greensboro, North Carolina
Boulder, Colorado
Quito, Ecuador

6. What jobs have you had?
Ski Instructor at French Swiss
Logistics at NC Outward Bound
Coffee/Counter Manager at Spruce Confections
Executive Assistant/News Editor at the AAC
Education Coordinator at LNT
Full-time Graduate Student and Substitute Teacher
Teacher--Psychology and Theory Of Knowledge in Ecuador

Well, that was fun. I tag: Amanda, Karen, and Jessica to help her get started on her new foray into the blog world (Jess, it's okay to post twice in one week--or one day, for that matter).

Speaking of the new foray (shameless plug! shameless plug!), Jess is going to be an author on my new blog, which Tim will have to add to our friends' list here. Beyond doing a race here and there, keeping up the mileage in the summer and hibernating in the winter, I have not run regularly or with a major goal in mind since college. But next summer I turn 30, and I wanted a major running goal. I've always said I never wanted to do a marathon because of various injuries and what-not. Now I want to try. But not only do I want to try a marathon, I want to try an ultra marathon next July. I guess I just want to know if I can do it. I love trail-running and think it's something I could do all day long. The problem is that I don't really have regular running partners here, so it can be hard to motivate when it's such a solitary pursuit. I created the blog so I could make what I'm doing public, to hold myself accountable for a training schedule, and also to try to entice others to join me--if not in my distance, then at least in some goal of their own so that we could support each other via the web. It is my greatest wish to grow it, so that many women are posting, commenting, getting the advice they seek, and feeling good about supporting friends in reaching their goals.

So consider this your official invitation. If this sounds like something you want to join me in, if you have some running goal that you're struggling to meet or if you want to start on one and think the help of other chicks in the same boat would be a benefit, please drop me a line. You can comment here or there. We'd love to have you. In fact, we need you. I have room for 95 more authors. http://www.friendsrunningforum.blogspot.com/.

Cafe Velez

My summer employer, Outward Bound, runs trips in Ecuador during the fall and spring seasons. Of course, with my teaching schedule, I´m unable to work any of these trips; but better than working a course down here, my boss at OB introduced me to Jose Niccolas Velez. Jose, or Peppinico as he is known down here, is a mountain guide working for everyone from the Colorado Mountain School to the American Alpine Institute...and of course, Outward Bound. Lately though, Jose has been trading in his crampons and ice axe for jungle boots and a machette. You see, Jose has begun roasting, distributing, and farming the best organic coffee here in Ecuador. Historically, Ecuador has not been well known for producing good coffee. It´s a huge export, but it mostly goes towards McDonalds and Folgers, not Starbucks or Whole Foods. Jose is changing that. He works with local producers to increase quality control, and then he takes the beans home and roasts them in his Ferrari of coffee roasters, imported directly from Idaho!?!

I facilitate ordering coffee for our teachers at school, and what started as a grocery bag of coffee delivered once a month to school has grown into a box of 20 bags distributed every two weeks! Two weeks ago, Erin and I visited a farm Jose just bought. He´s making the next step...farming his own beans.

Enjoy the slideshow, this is where your morning addiction starts....

(remember, you cam click on the slideshow to view it full size)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

More Ecuador Reporter

My third article (this one on coffee and sugar cane production) has just appeared in The Ecuador Reporter, and I´ve been told I might even be getting a fancy business card....que rico!

Even better, my editor is actually getting me assignments that involve drinking!

Dear Sir, We are currently writing a monthly newspaper here in Quito for tourists and travellers that come to Ecuador. Would it be possible to write a column on the vineyard there in Yaraqui? I'm looking to send a journalist there in the coming weeks so as to get the story in there for the July edition.

Best wishes,

Tom Nicolson
The Ecuador Reporter

We´ve also had some nice complements lately on the paper, the Ministry of Tourism complemented my column directly, and this email came in from a CBS News Producer:

Hi Tom,
I am a CBS News co-producer and news writer who happened to pick up a copy of your newspaper in a restaurant called "The G Spot" last night. I wanted to let you know that I think you and your staff are doing a wonderful job! Keep up the good work. As I´m sure you´re aware, there´s no other media like it down here.

Now if I could just figure out how to get paid....

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bird Watching and Mindo, a Moon guidebook "pick"

Last month we finally made our way down to the hamlet of Mindo. Mindo is known for being a quaint little get-away, close to Quito, with the above said birdwatching galore. To here birdwatchers tell it, I couldn't wait to find ostriches wandering the streets, parrots streaking though restaurants, and hummingbirds sipping at my white russians. However, though the birds would be a nice icing on the cake, Erin and I were primarily drawn to Mindo for a wedding celebration of two fellow teachers, Daniel and Tanya. We had a a day off on Friday, and so we made a two night stay of it.

A teacher at school and his wife own the newest hostel in town, The Hummingbird; but the wedding celebration brought quite the crew of teachers out to his hostel so we found ourselves at the equally nice Caskaffesu.

Arriving on Friday, we found, of course, rain. That's been the soup du jour lately, but it feels kind of appropriate in a cloud/rain forest. After the rain passed, Erin and I decided to venture out and find the birds. Strangely, there were none at the hostel...even though it was named The Hummingbird. We found a nice trail behind the hostel, and we walked it's length, taking in flowers, dogs, a river, kids playing, but no birds. Damn, you must need to get up earlier for those things...that's what the pros say, anyway. We made plans for a 5Am wake up the following morning. Hey, if that's what you have to do to see flocks of Eagles and Macaws, so be it.

The next morning came plenty early, but to see the sky blackened by the wings of 1000's of colored birds was going to be worth it. We walked through the sleeping village, and towards some waterfalls that would supplement the experience of a parrot landing on my shoulder. We walked. And walked. We passed two professional birders, noting their binoculars. We walked. We stopped and ate our breakfast. We walked. We looked at trees through squinted eyes. We walked. We found a dog who followed us up the road and named him Pancho. We asked him where the birds were. He had no answer. We listened, we looked, we walked. Finally, we arrived at the entrance to the waterfalls...and their they were, soaring across the jungle, six parrots. They were...oh, how can you put it into words, well, they were six green birds flying in the air.

But hey, we saw them, and that was good enough.

I'm pretty sure there are some amazing birds in this photo, really spectacular.

With the bird show all wrapped up, we finally took in our "trailhead." The actual start to the trail was on the other side of a massively deep jungle ravine, and more impressive than the six small green birds, was this contraption which would take us there.

The term: Cable Car really does apply well here, because there is only one cable for support, and, it's powered by a Nissan car engine.

Yes, that thing has a gear shifter, gas pedal, clutch, brake; and yes, I mentioned to him that Toyota was a better motor. He agreed as I nervously boarded the car. Anyway, Erin and I had a calming ride across (the car goes surprisingly fast, he definitely shifted into another gear when we were in the middle of the ravine), and we had a good time wandering around looking at the waterfalls and playing Tarzan in, not of, the jungle.

Having had all the bird watching, vine swinging, and waterfall excitement one can handle in a day, we hitched a ride back to Mindo in time for the wedding celebration. Of course, it rained, but Todd and his wife have a beautiful hostel, the white russians were flowing, we found gnnochi for lunch, and a raucous game of frisbee was being introduced to the town kids, who truly do play in the street. Tanya and Daniel treated us all to a great dinner, and we partied into the evening, somehow waking up at 6:30 for the bus ride home.