Monday, August 14, 2017

Imagination, Moats And Drawbridges

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. 
--Albert Einstein

When you were young did you dream of living in a castle with a moat and a drawbridge? Maybe you imagined you were a prince or a princess and your dog was your pet dragon, guarding your drawbridge.

Some kids in Ecuador's rice country have bridges over aqueducts leading to their homes. Parents build the bridge to get from A to B.


Imagination turns the bamboo walkway into a drawbridge (albeit one that does not raise) over a moat protecting the family castle.


I imagine kids who live here playing on the bridge, calling out "Who goes there?" or whatever it is royalty calls out to visitors. Perhaps they send their dragon over to determine if it is a friend or foe.


I hope that their imagination takes them on all kinds of adventures with their bridges over moats.

What would your favorite game be if you had your own bridge and moat?

Monday, August 7, 2017

When The Rooster Crows

“Where the rooster crows there is a village.” 
-- African Proverb

I spent most of my life thinking roosters only crowed at dawn. I was wrong. I had not lived among roosters before moving to Ecuador. These roosters are truly free range. They and their hens live in the open, without fences or cages, in every village.

Roosters, hens and chicks run around the neighborhood like dogs and cats during the day. They return home each night to sleep.

In Ecuador, roosters crow at any time of the day or night. This curious habit made me wonder what makes roosters crow.

Hey Mister Rooster - Why do you crow day and night?

Why Roosters Crow

  1. Approaching dawn. Roosters may crow at the first sign of a brightening sky. (This is the only one I knew about previous to my Ecuador experience.)
  2. Bright lights. Roosters may confuse bright lights with dawn. 
  3. Threats. Roosters will crow to warn their hens about perceived threats.
  4. Personality. Some roosters just like to crow. They crow when they feel like crowing.

Number three, in my opinion, explains most of the overnight crowing I hear. I suspect that they are warning their hens about dogs.

Roosters and hens in an open yard
One rooster is walking back and forth in front - watching for threats?

Dog Threats

Most dogs have an owner but are free to go anywhere they like. They return home to eat and sleep. They frequently have friends in the neighborhood and those dogs form packs. At night, they do not like other dogs to enter their territory.

In addition to the dogs who have owners, there are dogs who have no owner. These street dogs live off food scraps and baby animals to survive. Chaos erupts when a street dog searching for food enters the territory of neighborhood dogs. The pack chases the street dog away loudly.

The chaos caused by the dogs alarms the roosters. They begin crowing, causing other roosters to crow. In turn, more dogs bark. Pretty soon, the town is alive with a chain reaction of barking and crowing. This happens at any hour of the night.

Occasionally a chicken will go missing and neighbors search their yards, hoping their dog is not to blame. If it is, they owe the owner the value of the chicken. If the dog is a repeat offender, it may be forced to leave the neighborhood. I have walked around searching for a chicken with a neighbor. We found no trace of it.

Feline Friends

Cats, chickens and roosters all seem to be friends. It is pretty common to see a group of roosters, chickens and cats together.

Cats, chicken and rooster hanging on a street


Rooster and cats hanging in an open yard

Perhaps it is their shared fear of dogs that keeps them united. The cats probably appreciate and heed warning crows provided by roosters.

Midnight Rooster and Dog Show

In Bahia de Caraquez, there live a rooster and dog who perform a nightly comedy show. When Scott and I are there, we stay up late just to hear this pair. Every night, the rooster crows. Seconds later, a dog howls an exact imitation of the crowing. The rooster responds; the dog responds. They go back and forth like that several times before there is a few minute pause. Then the rooster crows, the dog howls and we are treated to another round. Their neighboring animals must be used to them because no other dogs or roosters respond. It is one of the funniest things I have heard.

No Crowing at Dawn

One interesting note is that when dawn arrives, I hear songbirds, not roosters. I imagine the roosters are sleeping after a long night of protecting their hens.

When does your rooster crow?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Tree Stump Art

"We have those in Houston now, too." 
-- My Mom when I told her about the chainsaw tree stump art in Cuenca

Many years ago, when my husband and I cut down a tree in our California backyard, we left the tree stump about 6 feet tall. Scott built a bird feeder on top of the stump. I planted flowers at the base. Birds enjoyed the feeder year round. It never occurred to either of us to take a chainsaw to the stump to create something beautiful.

Tree stump art was not a thing back then. Most people we knew struggled with removing unwanted stumps. We were glad to find something useful to do with ours. In recent years, people have been turning stumps into works of art.

City Park in Houston, Minnesota

During a recent visit to my hometown of Houston, Minnesota, Mom and I stopped to look at the tree stump art in the city park. It was something I had also seen in Parque de la Madre in Cuenca, Ecuador. Art is now found where trees once stood. The trees in both parks had to be removed due to disease. The parks kept the stump tall enough to transform it into beautiful chainsaw carved works of art.

Houston (population 978) is home to the International Owl Center, the only one of it's kind in North America. It advances the survival of wild owl populations through education and research. Around town, various owl themes can be found. In spring 2017, artist Molly Wiste carved four owls into one trunk in the city park. The level of detail in each owl is impressive.

Tree stump owl art, Houston City Park

Parque de la Madre in Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca's (population 400,000) Parque de la Madre (Mother's Park) celebrates (surprise!) mothers. The carvings in this park began in 2015. Several artists were commissioned to create four pieces each. You will not be surprised to learn that much of the tree stump art is shaped like women.

Pregnant woman, Parque de la Madre

The artists did not forget about men. The man and woman in the photo below are standing on what looks like a hibiscus flower.

Man and woman, Parque de la Madre

Benches were created with some of the cut trees, too. They come in decorative shapes as well as animal shapes. The absence of grass in front of each bench is testament to how frequently they are used.

People lounging on a carved bench with stump art in background

The bench with horse heads carved into it is my favorite relaxation location in the park.

Emily in Parque de la Madre

A stump with an owl carved above a woman's head reminds me of the carvings in Houston.

Woman with owl, Parque de la Madre

I am thoroughly impressed with the chainsaw artists who create these beautiful statues and benches. Steven Gordon posted this short video on You Tube showing one of the artists carving in 2015.

It would have been cool to have had something like these in our California backyard to go along with our bird feeder and flowers.

Have you seen tree stump art near you?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Orphanage Teens Learn to Express Themselves Through DJing #WATWB

Welcome to July's installment of the We Are The World Blogfest, where we share positive stories on the last Friday of each month. The basic rules are:
  • Keep the post below 500 words. 
  • Link to a human news story that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood and share an excerpt.
  • No story is too big or small as long as it goes beyond religion and politics.
Thank you to this month's WATWB co-hosts:  Simon FalkRoshan RadhakrishnanInderpreet Uppal, Damyanti Biswas and Sylvia Stein. 

I previously wrote a couple of times about the Olon Orphanage (here and here). It is one of the happiest places I know. I love spending time there.

I was thrilled to see this story in the Huffington Post. Cynthia Cherish Malaran (DJ CherishTheLuv), a breast cancer survivor, recently spent three weeks in Ecuador. She was introduced to the orphanage by Erwin Musper, who works tirelessly to improve lives at the orphanage.

Cynthia came to teach young girls how to DJ. From the article:
“Actually, I taught these young teens how to express themselves creatively and loudly, under the guise of DJing. These girls have been traumatized. Silenced. Teaching them how to express themselves gives them the green light to ask for what they want. To say ‘no!’ To ask for a raise at work. It can change their life. Even save their life. I went there thinking I had something to teach them. But actually, they taught me… I came back a few days ago,” Cynthia reports, “and I was looking at all these sad, unhappy faces here in our awesome New York City, and I was so confused. I came back and realized we have everything. We have everything and yet, we’re not happy. The girls at the orphanage have the bare minimum, yet they are so happy. Why? Because they have each other.”


Cynthia teaching DJ techniques
Image from Huffington Post

Later in the article:
“I packed my portable Pioneer mixer, thinking ‘OK, I’m going to gift these kids ME,’” Cynthia laughs. ... And then you realize it’s you who has the deficits, and they gift you so much knowledge, understanding, eye-opening love. I think in the past 2.5 weeks, I’ve gotten hugged more than in the past two years.”

Cynthia shares how teaching the girls– products of rape, abuse, neglect, subject to silencing– how to express themselves was profound in so many ways. “I don’t speak Spanish; they don’t speak much English, but music is the universal language, and rhythm transcends words. The kids had never heard a song sped up or slowed down before, they were totally shocked! I didn’t want to teach them how to be a DJ, but how to express, how to experiment, how to feel free.”

Cynthia with some of her DJ students
Photo from Huffington Post
Cynthia and Erwin made a wonderful 30 minute video about the orphanage. You can view it here.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Inca Ruins in the City

"Everything has crumbled and in ruins but you can still appreciate how grand it was."
-- Pedro Cieza de León, 1547, chronicler of the Spanish conquest, speaking about Tomebamba

Northern Inca Capital

The Inca conquered the Cañari people in 1470 and established the city-state of Tomebamba (Large Plateau) high in the Andes mountains. Emperor Huayna Capac (ruled 1493-1525) selected Tomebamba, where he was born, to be the Inca northern capital.

It was a short lived capital. A civil war between Incan brothers in the 1520s led to it's destruction. When the Spanish arrived in 1532, it was already in ruins. They established the modern day city of Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca, burying most of the ruins under new buildings.

Pumapungo Archaeological Park

Today, the remains of the old capital are in the historic center of Cuenca, Ecuador's third largest city. Visit Pumapungo (Puma Gate) Archaeological Park, located near the Tomebamba river, to stroll among Inca ruins in the middle of a city.

The features include footprints of buildings, a pool, ovens, gardens, terraces, canals, and a mausoleum.

Acllas (also called Chosen Women, Virgins of the Sun, and Wives of the Inca)

On top of the terraced hill are footprints of acllawasi (house of the chosen women) buildings where sequestered young women lived and learned. The acllas were selected when they were between ages 8 and 10. Families whose girls were selected saw their own social status rise. During their 4 years in the acllawasi the girls learned to produce luxury items like fine woven cloths, to prepare ritual foods, and other skills to service the social elite.

Once trained, some of the acllas were given as wives to warriors who distinguished themselves in battle. Others were concubines for the emperor and a few lived out their lives in the acllawasi. Those deemed most perfect were selected for human sacrifice during religious rites.

Footprints of acllawasi
Next to the acllawasi remnants are two huge ovens. One can imagine wood burning in the middle layer with food on the top layer. At the bottom right of the photo below is a door leading to the outside, where ash could be emptied and wood inserted.

Looking into an Inca oven

Pool, Terraces, and Gardens

The artificial pool at the foot of the terraced hill is spring fed and canals carried water from the pool to the gardens.

Terraces behind the pool
The pool and the gardens are some distance from one another. A long canal leads from the edge of the pool to the gardens.

Canal from pool to gardens
At the other end of the canal, the gardens are shaped like a large cloverleaf. Gardeners today keep the gardens alive with vegetables that were grown in Inca times.

View of terraces from gardens

View of gardens from terraces

Mausoleum 

While walking up the hill from the garden, a locked gate is in the middle of a terrace wall. A tunnel leads to a room high enough for humans to stand and more than 30 meters (100 feet) long. It was a mausoleum where mummies were held for worship and veneration.

Tunnel leading to mausoleum

Admission

A great aspect of this park is that admission is free. Since it is in the middle of the city, residents can walk to the park or take a city bus. I have seen groups of teenagers, couples and families walking around. It is popular to hang out on the grass, enjoying the surroundings. Everyone seems to be respectful of the rules to stay off the stone walls.

Did you know there are Inca ruins in Ecuador?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Painting A Tall Building, Ecuador Style

"The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it."
-- Pericles

Painting tall buildings is not a job for which I will ever submit an application. Heights and I no longer get along. Perhaps Pericles would say I am not brave enough.

These four painters in Guayaquil, however, are. I hope they had a clear vision of what was before them when they accepted the work.


These guys are each hanging from a single rope, sitting on a short piece of wood, painting the side of the building, bucket of paint hanging next to them.


The building they are painting is tall!


They must be grateful at the end of each work day to put their feet back on solid ground.

Would you consider applying for this job?

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Drive Up the Andes


"I can speak to my soul only when the two of us are off exploring deserts or cities or mountains or roads."

-- Paulo Coelho


Driving through dense fog is a stressful challenge. Breaking through that fog and getting above it can make for a relaxing drive, especially in the Andes mountains. These mountains are gorgeous.
Driving above the fog in the Andes

Taking the road less traveled

The route Scott and I take from the coastal city of Guayaquil to the Andes mountain city of Cuenca is generally less foggy with fewer cars than the shorter and more popular route through El Cajas National Park.

Our drive goes from sea level to 3400 meters before we descend into Cuenca, which is at about 2500 meters. Fog has occasionally made our five hour drive take seven or more hours.

Neither of us is a big risk taker when it comes to roads. We only drive during the daytime. We leave Guayaquil by Noon so we are likely to finish the drive before 6:30 sunset. If our business takes us past Noon, we stay an additional night.

On a recent drive, the fog played with us. We began as usual, in the sunshine of Guayaquil. As we approached the mountains, a low cloud cover settled in above the banana, sugar cane and mango fields.
Banana field under the low cloud cover
The thick fog started earlier than usual - just as we began to climb the mountains, shortly after La Troncal. It portended a long day in the car. We have done this drive many times. If there is fog, it typically hangs around until the road curves to the east side of the mountains at Biblián.

Ecuador road hazards

It is not uncommon in Ecuador for cars to pass slow moving vehicles on blind curves. Not all of them use their headlights. We always watch for cars in our lane going the wrong way.

There is a risk a fresh landslide might be around the next bend. Most people who live along the road do not have cars so they walk on the shoulder of the road. Dogs, chickens, cows, sheep, horses and pigs all live along the the road. Some are tied up, some are not. It is stressful driving despite being lightly traveled by autos.

Rising above the fog

Not that far into our climb, we entered bright sunshine. What a shock! We were above the fog! We were not even to Suscal yet, where the fog sometimes begins. The blue sky was such a refreshing sight to see.
Above the thick fog

Picture perfect Andes

The rest of our drive was in perfect conditions. No landslides were in the way, people and animals stayed on the shoulder of the road and no one came close to hitting us while passing on a blind curve.

The mountains are beautiful with fluffy clouds floating above them.
Homes are sprinkled here and there along the way, as are reminders of recent landslides.
Farming is popular along this route. Planting and harvesting of crops is done by hand, often on steep slopes. Click on the photo below to increase the size and you can see the fields in the center. Fences are often made with freshly cut branches that grow roots and become trees, which make the field dividing lines living fences.
Small communities and towns each have their own stunning backdrops.
We made it to Cuenca in five hours and were relaxed when we arrived. The fog at the beginning of the mountains was a distant memory.

Do you take longer routes to avoid hazardous roads?