Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Trip

In order to properly communicate my feelings and reflections on my recent trip, I think it is necessary to divulge some of the more important prior expectations. The basic intent was to travel from Quito down the whole continent to Santiago, bus. The plan was to make two stops only to stay with friends in Guayaquil, Ecuador and in Lima, Peru. The other benefits were to be a ground view of the landscape and to save a lot of money on travel costs. With that naive perspective we set out the night of December 2nd on an overnight bus to Guayaquil.

That first bus ride, although it lasted only a short 6.5 hours, was a true revelation. We were introduced to all of the perils and horrors of bus travel as we sped down a two lane highway which descends the Andes. Char and I were the only passengers who didnt sleep a minute of the ride and when arrived we laughed at how startling the trip was. We both thought it was something of an exceptional feat how the driver managed not to get us killed. Being that we made the trip so dangerously fast we arrived before sunrise and before we could think about calling our friend Diego in the city. About 7am Diego came by the station and took us to his home. Diego, Viviana, and their two kids welcomed us very graciously. After a modest nap and some food the family left us to lounge poolside and shoot hoops all day in the warm sun.

We spent the entire afternoon right around here

We felt far away from Quito that first day even though we were just a few hours donw the road. That day and the next we spent with the Matheus family in much needed relaxation, sharing meals and exploring the city of Guayaquil. It was hard to leave Guayaquil after such a wonderful couple of days.

Diego, Viviana, Charlie, and myself

The trip to Lima from there was 26 hours as advertised, which is surprising. We slept, had intriguing company, and even enjoyed the meals. I awoke in the morning to to find ourselves in the middle of the world's driest desert (who knew it was in Peru?). The bus arrived in Lima early in the afternoon, unfortunately too late to connect with our friend in the city. So we hopped a cab to a hostel near the city's waterfront. We spent less than 24 hours in Lima but found it to be a nice place (or maybe I am just thinking fondly about the Starbucks we found there).

We departed the next afternoon in a Business Class bus in hopes of arriving in Santiago 52 hours later. To clarify, a Business Class bus should never be ridden for more than 10 consecutive hours. There was no comfort and no service and certainly no one was conducting business in that thing so I would say the title was misleading. The only saving grace was that we had maintained a positive attitude, and I dont think we fully appreciated how important that was. From Lima to Tacna, Peru (a border city) was 20 hours and we got off the bus and were told we had one hour before departure to Santiago. We ate quickly and found an internet locale which we used to write a few quick emails and to forget about how hopelessly lost we were in a South American desert. This was the point on the trip when we learned how easily a one hour break can turn into a five hour wait. We agonized over how little information and communication was taking place between the driver and the office attendant. All we were told was that the bus had been taken to "maintenance" and would be back soon. Soon does not mean soon in the sense that we know. Soon means whenever they feel like bringing the bus back. I think this is when we realized how much frustration we were going to encounter in the course of all the bus travel. I am still pretty sure our driver was just over at his mom's house having some beers or eating a casual meal.

However it happened the result was absolutely awesome. We boarded that bus as the ONLY two passengers for the remaining 32 hours to Santiago. We laughed for a good ten straight minutes out of excitement and surprise. We enjoyed almost the entirety of that bus ride because we had freedom to roam, we controlled all the DVDs (and put them in English - which cannot be overlooked), and the Chilean landscape looked a lot like California for the last 8 hours. We got into Santiago shortly after 11pm and were met immediately by Kellie Hicks and her surrogate family, los Loyola.

I think the best way to show Santiago and what we did there is to put it in pictures so here they are:

Karim and Carmen Loyola

Out to dinner, enjoying import beers...cant have that in Ecuador

Sushi dinner with Char, Kellie, Leo, and Kay

We taught Chileans the tradition of making ginger-bread houses...mine took 2nd place because they all copied my palm tree idea

A send-off lunch for our new friends Nelson and Barbara

Char and I were given specially made Christmas CDs by Comunidad Vida church

We paid a visit to the port city of Valparaiso to see another part of Chile

A famous house in Valparaiso

One of the many elevators which transport you around the city

Valparaiso neighborhood

There is too much to describe in Santiago and so the photos will tell the story. We met a number of great new friends and got to be a part of a really special community for a week. The weather was beautiful and it was an unforgettable time. The only problem was we had another 4 days of bus travel ahead of us.

The trip back was significantly more difficult than the trip there. We didnt have any exotic destination and we knew how much desert we had to endure. To make matters more thrilling we experienced two bus breakdowns and much more traffic on the way home. Charlie and I were so beyond frustrated that we could not even communicate with one another. We simply endured the return trip and tried to remember how great Santiago was. By the time we got home to Quito (at 3am on the morning of December 23rd) we were so exhausted emotionally and physically that we are still recovering. The trip was well worth the entire array of experiences but it was not all fun by any means. When we continually are asked to describe our trip we have resorted to calling it an adventure, and I think that is what best captures the whole experience.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

On the Road

Charlie and I have been on the road for a few weeks and are winding down the last few days of this "vacation". I will be posting a Christmas edition blog summarizing the many crazy encounters that we have had on this journey.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Don Sixto

This last week was perhaps less eventful than the prior two weeks, but life in Casa Victoria is never bland. On Friday night the 7th of November we had what was essentially a board meeting for Casa Victoria to usher in the new director and to appoint new honorary positions of leadership. We met at the home of former president of Ecuador - Sixto Duran Ballen. He is the father of the home's owner, mama Alicia. Sixto and his wife Fina were extremely hospitable and friendly, they are truly loved here in Ecuador because of their warmth. We were told that to get to his home you only need to find a older cab driver and just tell them "To Sixto's house". This didn't work and we spent the about 10 minutes trudging through the rain to actually find the house. It is in a very normal, non-pretentious part of town. While the meeting went well, it was mostly administrative and not too interesting. Afterward, however, Sixto and I hung out and conversed for a few minutes. He gave me one of his personal cigars which is labeled "Don Sixto". Here is a photo of the man and me:

Wednesday of this last week we then hosted a breakfast for the Ecumenical council of pastors that have gotten together to unite the church of Quito for over 11 years. It has long been a dream of the directors to share our ministry and home with this council in hopes that it can better connect us with the larger community. About 25 total attendees made it and we received numerous compliments about the home and the program. Here is what the dining room looked like:

The week then ended shockingly and the majority of the last two days have been spent glued to the internet and Skype trying to find out about the tragic fire in Santa Barbara. It has been difficult to try and make sense of this from so far away. It is just unthinkable that so many friends have lost their homes and my heart goes out to them. I wish there was something that I could do but from here I can just send sympathies and prayers. Being that the community is just waking up to these realities much more prayer will be needed. I am very thankful that my home was spared but many more friends were not so lucky. The Montecito community does not often need to reach out for help but this is one time where there is much vulnerability. Casa Victoria sends thoughts and prayers.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Long Overdue

Seeing that it has been just about one month since my last post there is much to be covered. I can promise no coherent structure and I can't mention everything but here is what La Vida Loca has looked like over the last 4 weeks.

We invited a new member into the home about three weeks ago. His name is Ivan and he is by far our youngest member at 17. He is also the only guy in the house with a girlfriend so I guess the age thing doesn't matter much. He has been a great addition to the home and he is soaking in everything very well. He is somewhat the archetype candidate for the house because he comes in with great people skills and lots of maturity. He can potentially come out of this experience with great leadership abilities and we are all excited about his presence here. His arrival also spells the end of a short tenure for Ricardo who moved in the week after Char and I. Ricardo has some pressing financial needs that have required him to get a job and look for a place to live outside the house. His addition here was really valuable and he will be missed.

Just in the last week the house has acquired a new director named Carolina Bueno. It is a very exciting time of transition and it will bring about many good changes. Jose Luis and Carolina are excited and grateful as they are busy enough with their 2 year-old daughter Julia Isabel and work demands. They are largely responsible for the success of this house both structurally and idealistically and they will remain involved on a more casual level. The timing is great though for the new director. New vision and energy is always a good thing. Carolina will spend 40 hours a week in the house involving herself in all of the activities and implementing new strategies. This all begins this week.

Two weeks ago Char and I took a day trip to a friend's plantation in the rain forest zone to the west of Quito. The drive took about 2 hours and saw us descend from 10,000 feet to almost 2,000 feet. The landscape was rugged and awesome. The plantation itself was like nothing we had ever seen. He has more than 6,000 African Palms planted between wild jungle which produce the fruit responsible for conventional cooking oil. We got to relax in his pool, swim in the river, eat rotisserie chicken which probably was anything but safe, and fine dine at Arasha (a premier resort near his property). Being that it was the first trip we had taken, Char and I were especially appreciative to our friend Maurizio for generously sharing his home with us.

Just this past weekend we then made our way to Naranjito 235, home pueblo of former Casa V resident Lenin Pavon. We have been spending a good deal of time with Lenin of late and he was really eager to share his home and family with us. Char and I were very excited to get to know the place as it came very highly recommended. We left Saturday morning and arrived by 5pm. The hike into the village from the main road is about 15 minutes and we arrived to a driving rain and a mud covered path. No one fell but we got to Lenin's house thoroughly soaked and with mud-covered shoes. It was a humorous way to start the weekend. We spent the night playing guitar and drinking "el beso del diablo" (the most intense liquor that I have yet tried) with Lenin's extended family. In the morning we awoke to roosters and dogs going crazy, and it was only 430am. We got up later and ate a humble breakfast before gearing up and heading out to hike the mountain behind the village. We left by about 1030am and climbed all the way through the fresh mud to the peak. We were completely exhausted at the top and the three of us shared one beer to celebrate the achievement and the incredible view of the valley. The descent was much drier and faster but very difficult given the severity of the trail. We also got back to find that Lenin's brother had drank all the cold beer that morning with a friend so we were bummed. (The water is not good to drink in the village so beer is the new water when there). The weekend was phenomenal and it proved to be the polar opposite experience of the previous weekend. We ate the same soup for every meal (not breakfasts) and just spent time conversing. We played soccer, drank more "beso del diablo", shared about ourselves, and just generally enjoyed great fellowship with genuinely loving people. The generosity of these people who have next to nothing is an incredible thing.

Charlie and I have been cultivating a great new friendship with the neighborhood baker and his family over the last two weeks. Charlie spent nearly 10 hours with the family last friday helping make bread kids (GuaGuas in quichua) and all the guys in the house took turns lending a hand. the experience really endeared us to the family and we have since eaten with them twice and spent probably at least an hour a day hanging in the bakery getting to know them. We are planning a fishing trip with Edwin (the baker) and then a potential trip to Cecilia's (the wife) home town to meet her family and see another part of Ecuador. They have been exceedingly welcoming and generous to us as well and we are so excited to bring them into Casa V to know the whole house. On friday afternoon we made pizza in his bakery and had their family over to eat it with us and it was a phenomenal time. Just know that Edwin makes the best bread in Quito and if you come to visit you will have a friend in the barrio.

Yesterday, the gringos played in the Quito Turkey Bowl which is hosted by the Alliance Academy, a school in the north of town which has most of the missionary kids and American families living in Quito. Jon, Char, and I played for the Youth World team which comes highly respected due to years of success. We played four games of flag football over about 7 hours and eventually lost in the championship to the teahcers of the Academy. Lots of men went down due to injury but nothing too serious. As I am wiriting this you should know that all three of us are in a world of pain from sore muscles and aching joints. It was a gringo-filled day and it was a great networking opportunity for Casa Victoria among the giants of ministry here in Quito.

On the horizon we have several large plans. On Nov. 24th we have the arrival of Chris and Angela Bouma, a couple from Washington DC who are coming to serve for 1 year in the home. They are great friends with Los Eshleman and having another woman in the house will be a great blessing for Anita. On that same day we have Byron and Robyn Beck arriving for a short visit and we plan on showing them a great time. A few days after their arrival we are going to head out via bus to Chile for about 3 weeks. We are going to stop along the way in Lima and Guayaquil and on the way back we hope to climb Machu Pichu. More to come on that in the coming weeks as we still have no definite plans in place. Look for a new blog next week as well, but in the meantime watch Char's video blogs at his site Ciao from Quito.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Char and I upon arrival to Mariscal Sucre Airport

Casa Victoria from the front entrance

This is Char doing what he does dessert

Dinner with Eshes, Char, and the Landreths

Me...thousands of feet above the world and inches from death

Char's head stitches were the focus of much attention...and laughter

But he still takes his photography this seriously

Of course the bowling had to be documented

Anna's birthday dinner...this chocolate dessert put the Eshes down for the count

As always please visit the blog links on the right for even more information about Casa V and what kinds of shenanigans we are getting involved in.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Reality Check

Yesterday was an unusual day for us here at Casa Victoria. We were in the midst of our normal schedule of morning tasks when we were shocked by the sound of gunshots just outside of the house. Esteban got to the balcony first to find a man laying the street motionless. The man had been gunned down in broad daylight by another man to whom he was in debt. The scene was utterly surreal as almost fifty people stood around the man as he died. Children were among the first reactors the incident and there was no censorship at all. This man's death was a stark reminder or how vastly different this part of the world is to the one that we know at home. Below are a few photos of the shocking scene.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Diarrhea Dialogues

For those of you brave enough to read this it should be a pleasure. I guess I should mention that diarrhea is a really common conversation topic down here. While dissension is rampant right now in the midst of a heated debate over a new constitution, diarrhea is perhaps the greatest uniting principle in this city. I know of no other aspect of life, in this barrio at least, which is more commonly understood. Casa Victoria has met this phenomenon head on in the past two weeks. Anita came down with some very unfriendly amoebas and was bed-ridden for two days until she was able to go to the hospital and receive some heavy-duty medicines. Jon then came down with a cold and a subsequent diarrhea stint as Anita came back around to full health. Char is working on week two of a lingering sore throat and he has had a couple of diarrhea cameos in that time. I had one day of stomach awkwardness that included several ventures to the toilet as well. Meanwhile the Ecuadorian housemates are healthier and happier than ever. They must think we are a weak country with all the illnesses and ailments that we bring up each day. Suffice it to say we are taking on everything that this country has to to offer the digestive system and we are paying the price at times. But this is a very small part of what has been happening here, let me share the good stuff too...

Movie Night - Last Friday night we gave an open invitation to the neighbors to join us for a free presentation of Life is Beautiful. We cleared out the dining room and set up the projector screen and chairs for the film. The expectation was that between 5 and 20 people would show up. In a matter of ten minutes we had 30+ neighbors (mainly kids) packed into the room as we had to turn away all other comers. The movie was great and we had an intermission for free popcorn and soda for all the viewers. After the movie Javier (a housemate) gave a small address about the movie's theme and about our mission at Casa Victoria. The event was a huge success...and the floor was a huge mess afterward but we felt good about providing at the very least some shelter and safety for the kids who were certainly headed for no good otherwise.

The Mago - The following day we hosted a little magic show for all the willing children in the neighborhood. Due to some miscommunication not many kids were informed and the crowd was small. Once again food was provided and the show happened to coincide with the largest rainstorm that I have seen thus far in Quito. Everyone enjoyed the show and especially the fact that we stayed dry through the storm. El Mago has been invited back and assured of a larger audience for his next show here at the house.

Club de Ninos - Every Wednesday we have a "Club de Ninos¨ and a ¨Club de Madres¨ so that basically each of them can have a break from the other. It is supposed to be just an hour but it always runs a little long and usually for the kids it includes some drawing and a video. It always ends with Char and I chasing the kids around the hallway. It turns into absolute bedlam for about twenty minutes at the end of the club and we can hardly push the kids out of the door when it is time to go. It is a great release for the kids and it is a rare time for the madres to have with peers in order to share thoughts-complaints-celebrations-questions or to just talk about life. Wednesday afternoons the house is completely full and running at its best.

Clases de Ingles - Tuesday and Thursday afternoon Charlie and I become profesores for an hour as we teach English to the housemates and several faithful madres from the neighborhood. For many of them not even a word of English is familiar, or if one is they have no idea how to pronounce it correctly. We are starting from total scratch with the class and we are still reviewing the very basics now 5 classes into the ¨semester¨. Charlie and I have a hard time keeping it together when someone tries to pronounce ¨which¨ but it comes out bitch. The rest of the room doesn't get it but we have a pretty good laugh anyways.

Visita Vecinos - Tuesdays and Thursdays are the days when we are scheduled to go out a "meet the neighbors". Many of the neighbors are coldly uninterested about meeting the house and about us, but if for nothing else they at least get to learn why there are gringos walking around the neighborhood during the days. For a good lesser number of them they love meeting us a sharing every complaint they have about the neighborhood and its other residents. Because we are a foundation they feel it is our job to deal all the municipal problems like the trash piles, the urine "problem", and the noise polution. By urine "problem" of course I mean the entire city smells like urine. This is probably due to the fact that men will urinate anywhere and any time throughout the day without the slightest bit of shame. So naturally as a foundation we have to find the solutions to these things. Believe me, we would love to solve all of these problems. We do, at times, encounter a nice neighbor who supports the fact that we are trying to help the neigborhood. These are the neighbors that we can wave at as we leave the house and they will return a warm greeting. It is these people who make it feel like home here in Quito.

In between all of these activities we continue to explore Quito and to get to know the locals. We are teaching them how to throw a frisbee, how to be on time, how to mop a floor, and how to speak english. They are teaching us spanish, how to deal with the community, and how to undrestand their culture. We are not far from being here one month and we have so much more to see and experience. Plus we have some travels upcoming...