Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Final Photos

Well, folks, we are back on American soil, having arrived last night. We are wandering around pretty dazed, to tell the truth. Six weeks can be enough to form habits. Where is my fresh baked bread and jugo de papaya? Here are a few more photos before signing off.


A Roadside View on the way
down out of the Andes

Guayaquil Malecon exercise circuit

Guayaquil Rotunda: a reenaction

In front of the amazing tropical garden on
the Malecon in Guayaquil

Around Quito

Old Town Quito

Since we were in Quito last, the city cleaned up
it's colonial section, Old Town. We enjoyed this
part of the city immensely. It now rivals the
beauty of Cuenca, even surpasses it, with fine
architecture, fresh paint, and a number of
pedestrian-only boulevards. On Sundays, they
close off a whole section of Old Town from all
automobile traffic.

The Basilica

One of Many Churches

View from our Hotel Window

Plaza San Francisco at Night

A new tourist attraction, the Teleferico, is
perched above the city of Quito.

It is basically a mind-boggling gondola ski lift,
from which you see the entire city as you ascend
to an altitude of 12,000 feet, beside Vulcan
Pichincha. The girls posed by the lookout point,
breathing very thin air.

From the other direction: Boy over Quito

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ecuador by Bus

With the exception of the famous train ride from Riobamba to Alausi, when going from city to city thirteen years ago, we traveled by airplane. This time, with four children in tow, the only economical thing to do was travel by bus. Having traveled by bus, I get it. I get Ecuador now, and I am blown away.

The Andes aren't like sprinkles on a cupcake, scattered here and there around the country, providing an occasional vista and challenge to transportation, then flattening out again for your driving pleasure. The Andes are the big dogs, and they wait for no one. They don't move out of the way, from the northern most province clear down to the bottom of the country. (They really don't stop until the bottom of the continent but that's another adventure altogether.) You think you've seen mountains...the Sierra Nevadas, even the Rocky Mountains. You aint seen nothing until you've seen the Andes.

Traveling the roads, wherever we went, we experienced the Andes. At the beginning of our trip, just to get from the port city Guayaquil, to Cuenca, we climbed up into the Andes and crossed the continental divide. To go down to Loja and Vilcabamba we alternated between being wedged into impossible chasms the tops of we could not see, to the snaking and and teetering along tops of said chasms, for five hours straight. Up to Riobamba, we curled and climbed to heights and views that my brain could not register, they were so vast. Even just a one-hour trip to Yunguilla Valley outside of Cuenca was merciless. I was forced to let go of my life and trust. These bus drivers do this every day without consequence, I must trust, I would reason. So much of the time, it was me the control freak, with no means of control. (I think I'll sleep for days upon returning to the states, from this aspect alone.)

The road is not a permanent unchanging thing in Ecuador. Nature here wields great force. Fallen rocks, water damage, potholes, and mudslides are routine. Perhaps there are things the Ecuadorians could do to prevent these things; but I'm guessing the cost is prohibitive, because there is just so much they'd have to reinforce. The drivers just compensate for it, are ready for it, and incredibly skilled.

I recently picked up a book called Railroad in the Sky by E.H. Brainard and K.R. Brainard, an account of the construction of the Guayaquil & Quito Railroad at the turn of the century. This project was considered impossible, having met failure many times before, for the reasons that I discovered on my own, experiencing the terrain by bus.

Although the project was completed in 1908, championed by Ecuadorian president Eloy Alfaro and two American brothers, Archer and John Harman, it was an extremely difficult task, physically, economically, and politically. I suppose it made a difference at the time, expediting transit of goods from highlands to coast, uniting Guayaquil and Quito. But political differences were deep-seated, and turmoil continued. Earthquakes, landslides, and El Nino have destroyed large portions of track over time, and there are only sections left of it. The Andes remain.


Shy Volcanoes

Although wrapped in their blankets of
clouds, these massive landforms loomed
impressively over the towns that we
passed through on our way to Quito.

Vulcanes Illinizas

Vulcan Cotapaxi

Vulcan Chimborazo

Views from the Ark

Front Entryway of the Ark Children´s
Home. Recently, the baby house was
closed and they moved all the babies
here with the rest of the kids. An
addition was underway for 5 more bedrooms.

View from Living Room Window of
the volcano El Altar

During the summer, teams of college-aged
volunteers from Verbo Church in Cuenca
come to Riobamba for a one-week stay.
Each day they come to the orphanage
to do crafts and activities with the children.

Outside after craft time. Since it was
Friday (the team´s last day) a treasure
hunt and bonfire was planned for later
that evening.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Inspiration in Riobamba

We’re a week away from leaving Ecuador and my personal feelings are mixed. I came here expecting to be pulled and tugged in various directions to help the needy and the poor. What I encountered were several businesses in needed of marketing services. In one instance the owner of an “Extreme” sports park entitled “Parque Xtremo” wanted a meeting to go over his plans for expansion….strange stuff. But, my heart wasn’t in it, I felt like I could do the same job in the US as in Ecuador, so why do it?

There is one area (idea) that Trudy and I toss around like a ping pong ball that tugs at our hearts…but are we the right people?

My first encounter with an orphanage was filled with questions. I wanted to know how it worked? Where did the kids come from? How did it get funding? Were the kids getting the education they needed? Were they fed and clothed properly? What were the sleeping arrangements like? What happens after they reach “of age”?

Unfortunately, not many of those questions were answered on my first visit. The simple reason was that, I don’t speak Spanish very well. So, I went and looked around, played with the kids, gave a lot of hugs and took mental notes of things.

I had made arrangements with a contact in Cuenca to visit an orphanage in Riobamba which was on our way to Quito. On the morning of our intended visit I wasn’t feeling that well and considered sending Trudy and staying in the hotel. Fortunately, the hotel room was one of the worst we had stayed in thus far. So, I figured I’d rather spend my day out of the hotel than in. The taxi driver wasn’t exactly certain of the location but knew the area. As we turned left onto a narrow dirt road and followed the unending brick walls on either side, I had second thoughts and considered turning around. Near the end of the road on the left was an large black iron gate with the name “Allen” above it. This was the place, but from the outside it looked more like a prison than an orphanage. Again, I had second thoughts about knocking on the door of this establishment. But, just as I considered telling the taxi driver to get back in and drive us back, someone came out of the gate. We inquired as to whether we were at the right place and they confirmed. We walked in and found something very different on the inside.

The Allens (Ron and Glenda) are wonderful people and have established a first class orphanage for over 60 kids. In so many ways it was the polar opposite of Chuquipata. The full story of how and why they are in Ecuador can be found on their website ( but what’s not there is an unbeleiveable tale of trial and hardship. They began their journey by renting a house to accommodate the 10 kids of their own and the 6 or so newly acquired orphans. Quickly they outgrew the house and had to rent other houses and hire employees to run the houses. For nearly 10 years they managed up to 8 houses at one time. But, it was spreading them thin and relying on employees to perform tasks was trying. At one point they discovered an abuse at some of the homes and immediately decided to centralize their orphanage. Through generous funding from their home church in Canada (which by the way was a Vineyard), Verbo, and others they purchased a 3 acre ranch just on the outskirts of Riobamba. The ranch had just 3 bedrooms and one bath but quickly Ron added more bedrooms, put in a first rate kitchen and dining room, a constant and consistent electrical supply, proper plumbing and laundromat (60 kids is a lot of washing). With help from a board of directors and elders from a local church they put together a roadmap on how to run an orphanage. The roadmap will be tested with Ron’s son, Isaac, in the jungle town of Macas. Isaac is a 21 year-old “man” who, like his mom and dad, has compassion for children.

Although I could talk about the structures, the buildings, the plans and the location of this orphanage, the intangible things are what truly makes it successful. Ron and Glenda have a heart for God and the kids. Their home is a constant hub of activity, with 60 or more kids being cared for, plus kitchen and baby staff and the occasional physical therapist coming and going…but they chatted with us in the most relaxed manner. It was apparent that the kids love and respect them and the feeling is genuinely mutual. The most special thing about it was that their own kids, all 10 of them, are following along in the ministry in some way. Their love never began or ended with just their own children…and somehow every child in the place knows this.

At one point we were sitting at lunch with 60 hungry kids.Their plates were in front of them but no one dared touch their plate until the meal was blessed. The kids were loud and I could barely talk to Trudy who was sitting across from me. Then Glenda walked in and with the quietest voice, said, “Children, it’s time for the blessing,” (in Spanish of course) and the room went silent. Then Ron prayed, the kids dove in to eat, and all noise resumed.

Ron never asked us if we wanted to start an orphanage. Glenda never mentioned a need in another city. Isaac never asked us if we wanted to help him in Macas. But in some ways we are pulled to do something. We just haven’t figured it out yet.


Road to Puyo

Every day is some kind of adventure.
On this day, we had no idea where
we would be going specifically, just
knew we´d end up back in BaƱos by
night. The road to Puyo, with its
waterfalls, tunnels, views and
backroad attractions, was a
wonderful day trip with kids.

Summit of Tungurahua

At the top of the Casa del Arbol.

Blake and Nathan rode the cable basket
across the gorge. Blake said it was intense.
Nathan wanted to do it again.

In Puyo, Pedro took us to Parque Omaere,
a rainforest botanical garden run by an
American ornithologist and his Shuar wife.
We experienced a dramatic afternoon
rainshower under the shelter of thatched
roof. Taylor sketched a parrot in a tree.