Ecuador part-time. Ecuador a medio tiempo.

OFF TO ECUADOR WE’ll GO:    

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See family, have fun and save some money Every summer, back to my country with my kids, 11-year-old daughter Isabela and 8-year-old son Sebastian, we go. Initially it is just us, for a month or two, and then my husband joins us. From beautiful San Francisco, where we reside, we go.   For many reasons we go:

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  • To immerse the kids in both the language and the culture of Ecuador. See articles: Mama’s don’t cut your umbilical culture or Familia Trilingue, that explain our trilingual live in San Francisco.
  • It is also important for me to maintain alive the connections with my friends and family.
  • To create a bond between my kids and their Ecuadorian family and cousins. (A long term bond with her cousins that thanks to Skype my kids keep and cherish: it is funny to see them dance to the same tune with their cousins miles away)
  • To save money and not have to kill ourselves with two full time jobs. Because living in Ecuador is at least one third cheaper than in San Francisco. Summer camps for the kids, if we do any, are also a third of the price

 

I would say that for the past 11 years, we’ve lived at least one forth, sometimes even one third, of our lives in Ecuador. The startup I worked for, when I had my first child, went out of business and I stayed as the main caregiver for my kids working just part-time or as a consultant. We’ve managed to stay living in the city with a salary and a half thanks to:

  • Living in the same apartment we bought 20 years ago when we both worked full-time
  • Sending the kids to public schools
  • Living modestly so we can travel as much as possible
  • Spending everything in the credit card so we could travel getting the tickets with miles we used to reserve a year ahead. Unfortunately, this won’t work as well any more as American Airlines has doubled the amount of miles needed for summer travel.
  • Subletting our apartment for the month my husband is in Ecuador as well.
  • Frankly, thanks to the fact that I have a place to arrive to in Ecuador.

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As my kids get bigger, expenses are greater and we need to save much more than we do now for college, so I will need to and want to work full time. Also, as they get older, we will have less flexibility go, or they may not want to as much. For now, I’m very happy with the time dedicated to the kids and the exposure to diverse cultures we’ve given them.

Ecuador not only has a gorgeous countryside, but for a small country, it has one of the greatest per square foot vegetation, climate, culture and environmental diversity in the world. Therefore, it is an awesome place to travel around and visit diverse ecosystems and cultures. See video from Ecuador’s Ministry of tourism   For more information about traveling in Ecuador see Viva Travel Guides

 

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The Intended trip from Quito to the Amazon Basin and Cuenca

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This summer 2014, some friends and their kids will be going to Ecuador with us (see future post about our part time living in Ecuador).  Aside from visiting Quito (Keep an eye for the future post Hola Quito), it’s museums, old town, parks, surrounding areas and doing trips to our usual destinations: cloud forests, parks, the beach (see some of our trips at InCultureParent.com), we’ll do some longer trips (in which everything will be “perfect”) such as the following:

TRAVELING EAST FROM QUITO TO THE AMAZON BASIN, AND

THEN SOUTH TO CUENCA -Stopping at some awesome spots in between

Total Number of days: 11 days

Summary of our trip

We’ll visit the edge of the Amazon basin –there are two different entries via car, Papallacta and Baños. We’ll go in via Papallacta. We’ll stay in Papallacta hot springs for 2 nights, and hike in the Cayambe-Coca reserve. Then, we’ll go to Misahualli, and return via Puyo and Baños. We will then drive south to the city of Cuenca, via the Incan ruins of Ingapirca, visit Cajas National Park, and then drive back to Quito stopping in the town of Riobamba. We’ll visit other areas of interest as we go.

Itinerary:

  • Papallacta hot springs (1 1/2 hours from Quito) – 2 days and 2 nights

Activities:

    • Hike the surrounding mountains
    • Enjoy the spring pools and sleep there. Leave midmorning the next day

 

  • Misahualli (about 2 or 3 hours from Papallacta: maybe less since the roads are now all paved) – 2 ½ days and 2 nights
    • Stay at Casa del Suizo hotel
    • Enjoy the pool and the views from this hotel located at the junction of two rivers that flow into the Amazon
    • La Casa del Suizo offers canoe visits to a few places including AmaZoonico (a rescue place for amazon animals), Anaconda island, and others

 

  • Baños (3 hours from Misahualli) – 1 day and 2 nights
    • Visiting Puyo and areas of interest on the way out
    • Stopping at the magnificent: El Pailón del Diablo waterfall
    • Visit this colorful town, hike in the surrounding areas, and stay at one of the many hotels available in the town. Just to mention one of the nicest but fanciest ones:
    • Hotel and Spa Luna Runtun, above the town of Baños (with fantastic views of Baños), located in the slopes of the Tungurahua active volcano.

 

  • Cuenca (5 hours from Baños) – 3 nights and 2 ½ days
    •  Stay at Hotel Santa Lucia (a boutique hotel in the middle of the colonial town)
    • Visit the colonial neighborhood of Cuenca, UNESCO’s Patrimony of Humanity
    • Visit the Cajas National Park

 

  • Riobamba (4 hours from Cuenca) ) – 2 nights and 1 ½ days
    • Stay in the outskirts, at La Andaluza Inn, or in town at xxx Hotel
    • Walk around the old downtown
    • Drive to the Chimborazo refuge, and hike nearby
    • Train ride to La Nariz del Diablo (x hours back and forward): a scenic ride in an old train line that zigzags down the Andes. See old and beautiful re-enabled train routes at: Ferrocarriles del Ecuador 

 

  • Return to Quito (3 hours from Riobamba)
      • Hike in the Cotopaxi National Forest
      • Lunch At Café de la Vaca in Machachi. This is not only one of may favorite little local chains (I   think there are 3 around Ecuador) of Ecuadorian food from the mountains (coastal food is very different), but their locations have a huge grassy area for kids that includes a mini zip line

The Mission – San Francisco

Low Riders in the Mission

How incredibly awesome it was for me to be able to see with my 7-year-old a low rider car procession going by 19th street and Valencia, in The Mission District of San Francisco. The cars rode today April 12, 2014, together with bikers, dancers and marchers, as part of a post-birthday parade celebration in honor of  Cesar Chavez.

I felt like we were witnessing history in action and as if we were casts of the film La Mission.

 104090045I was lucky to bump into the procession after delivering my 11-year-old daughter to our local theater academy,  The Marsh*.

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I loved the parade and it was awesome to see, in this now gentrified hood, the traditional players of The Mission parade with so much pride and vibrancy.

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Unfortunately my daughter missed it, but took her to Dandelion Chocolate for some hot cocoa as a consolation.

Gorgeous Parade!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

*The Marsh: Mission District performance space and academy which offers acting, dance, and design classes for kids and adults. http://themarsh.org/

Raquel’s Pain Perdu recipe for breakfast

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My Spanish/French friend Raquel came back after living in Spain for a couple of years. It is not only awesome to have her family (including her two kids that are my kid’s age) back, but now that the kids are 10 and 7, we can do sleep-over trades.

One of the best thing about our kids sleeping over at her house was learning to make Pain Perdu, and the other was finally for my husband and I to have a night on our own! When we picked the kids up in the morning, we found them happily eating a kind of bread they would have never touched before. Pain Perdu is a recipe that uses the left over bread, or the ends of a loaf of bread, something that the kids never want to eat…

I recreated this recipe at home and added thawed berries to the bread -to make it a little bit healthier.

Not sure if I got the recipe 100% right, but here is what I did, and now and my kids love:

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1.   I submerged the leftover pieces of bread in a bowl of milk, that I had previously mixed with cinnamon and a little bit of brown sugar.

2.   I lightly dipped the “milky” bread in a bowl with beaten eggs.

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3. Fried the bread in butter.

And VOILA!!!!!!!! Delicious…

School Hopping

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As I leisurely walk from home, towards one of the few schools I’ll be visiting before sending my daughter to middle school, I remember my insane K school research. I remember the stress that I and my friends experienced while selecting a K school in San Francisco, including:

  • Visiting dozens of schools, both private and public.
  • Thinking that we had to do private school, because we all loved those beautiful schools we visited and wanted to do “the best” for our kids.
  • Thinking whether to do single language, immersion, or bilingual.
  • Thinking that we wouldn’t have any luck in the public school lottery in San Francisco. A lottery that people deem impossible to get through (before really trying).
  •  Researching like crazies in blogs and web sites like Greatschools.org
  •  Getting books from the library about schools.
  • Endless discussions with “battle-hardened” parents with older children who had gone through the process.

Six years ago, when my daughter Isa was about to get into Kinder, my husband and I were some of those stressed people.  We 741applied to 6 of the 20 private schools and got into one. We also applied to public schools and after visiting about 20 as well selected the seven to be put in our list and got none of our public choice schools.

907I’m from Ecuador and speak only in Spanish to the kids since they were babies. I also do trips to Ecuador twice a year to maintain the Spanish Immersion. See some of my Ecuador stories in my blog at IncultureParent.com magazine. My husband is American and  studied history of Asia in college and was interested in exposing the kids to an Asian language. So, most of our school public school applications were for immersion schools with our top choices in the Asian languages.

Since we did not get any of the public schools of our choice in the first round of application, we resubmitted our public application, and got ready to start our daughter in the private bilingual school to which we were accepted. After a couple of days of private school, we got a notice from the SFUSD that we were accepted into a mandarin immersion program. We had the difficult choice of deciding between leaving our daughter in the school we had already payed for (and got a partial scholarship for), or move her to public. I had a hard time with the decision, but thanks to my more practical husband we decided for the latter.

After 6 years with my daughter, and later on my son, in a public school, I have nothing but good things to say about our choice. Thanks to that decision and to the fact that I didn’t have to go back to work full time:

  • We didn’t become stressed parents who had overextended beyond our means to be able to afford private school.
  • Our kids learned a third anguage for free. See our Una familia treslingüe: Español, Engles y article at the Miparentscounsil web site.
  • We have been able to, with the money we saved from private schooling,  go back to Ecuador every year for two months. We have been able to expose the kids to Spanish immersion and visit that culture and live with their Ecuadorian family.
  • We have been able to take time off to go camping for weeks, or go to other places within the US ( like our road trips from San Francisco to Phoenix, or Williamsburg to Miami, or DC to NH among others) or internationally (aside from Ecuador, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and hopefully soon Costa Rica).
  • We have provided our kids with a down-to-earth experience about life, thanks to the exposure to more cocioeconomic and racial diversity.

As my kids get older, I don’t rule out the possibility of doing private school in the future.  I feel though that aside from whatever school you choose, it is highly important for parents to be present in their kid’s lives.

Celebrating Thanksgiving with kids in a tent

793Though I’m from Ecuador, where I didn’t grow up celebrating Thanksgiving, I’ve embrace the celebration fully since I came to the US. I love it as a time to leisurely spend with friends and family, cooking together during. Since I had the kids, I have often hosted it at my house and had friends and family over for dinner (and have always ended up inviting more people that I originally planned: to the amazement of my American husband). Every thanksgiving I had improved little by little my turkey cooking skills. I love to cook and now I have the turkey preparation nailed down, which is a distance from my initial either never ready on time or not very tasting turkeys.

This year, since the kids started school, my family has had an extremely hectic schedule. Don’t you guys feel like you have crazy schedules and activities as well?

We have been juggling my husband’s intense work schedule, my part time work, transporting the kids to and from soccer practices and games, dance classes, WuShu classes, mandarin conversation classes, and more. Not to mention that activity with questionable value for the kids, but certain torture for the parents and their relationship with kids called homework. What do you guys feel about homework? Also, my mother in law is coming for Christmas, so we’ll be cooking a turkey then.

During these thre790e months of hectic schedule, there was a pause when we felt really zen and it was when we went camping for a long weekend with another family to Bothe-Napa State Park. While doing one of my drives to a location of sorts with my kids, I was thinking how nice it would be to not have to cook and just be gone for the Thanksgiving holiday. I thought it would be so nice to stay in one of the yurts of Bothe Napa, since a tent would be too cold this time of the year. I mentioned the idea to my 10 year old Isabela and my 7 year old Sebastian, and they said they would like to go, but if another family would come too as otherwise it would not feel like Thanksgiving.

I have a friend, whose kids my kids love, and who has been crazily moving houses again on her quest to get into the best possible public school in the east bay. As I was catching up with her on the phone, I mentioned my desire to go away for Thanksgiving. She immediately said her family would love to go somewhere outside of the city as well. The next day, she e-mailed an online add from Sunset magazine about a place near Santa Barbara called El Capitan and where there are tents with 2 double beds that house 4. They tents are supposed to have heat and you don’t have to pack for winter camping in the outdoors.We like to do real tent camping, but since its winter!. We love to do road trips in which we go off for long drives (we’ve done several awesome ones, that I’ll be mentioning in the future) listening to stories on tape and stopping where we’ve felt like. So, we immediately made reservations and off we are going to Santa Barbara. I would love to know of other places that are not outrageously expensive where one could scape during the winter months. Do you know of any?

Halloween: listen or lose it

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Halloween has become the time of the year when the witches remind me to listen to my kids and try to understand who they are. 

I was raised in Ecuador by a lovely mom whose personality is always positively changing with the times. But when I was a child, parenting was more about following the rules, than listening to the individual needs of the children.

I have made it a point to try to see my kids for who they are and listen to their needs, but I guess sometimes I’ve forgotten to do so.

A couple of weeks before Halloween, my 10-year-old daughter, declared that she wanted to dress up as a pirate for Halloween. I like to help her fabricate her own costumes, sometimes very successfully(like when she was Pippi Longstockings) and sometimes not so much….

A week before Hallo020ween, at my neighbor’s garage sale, my daughter found a blonde wig, a little long performer dress and a white fake boa scarf. She loves to dress up, so she put it all on immediately and made several poses for the camera. I told her she looked fabulous and that maybe she could use it for Halloween. She agreed and we bought the costume.

During Halloween morning at the school parade, after wearing the attire for a bit it, she said it itched and took it off.  She told me then that she really wanted to be a pirate that eve. She said that since I loved so much how she looked with the wig costume,  she had wanted to please me by wearing it. I was about to get annoyed about having to fabricate a new costume that afternoon, when I remembered a Halloween parade years before when I failed at my goal of listening to my kids. So,  I told her I would help her make a good pirate custom for that afternoon and we came up with something.

Years before, at a Halloween parade at her preschool, my then 4-year-old daughter, dressed up as Dorothy. Parents were asked to dress up, so I thought I could dress up as a scare crow. When I told her about my intention to dress up as a scarecrow to her, first she it would be great and then said it may be scary. I later on wore the costume anyways (bad mama) thinking she would not be scared if she knew before hand it was me. When I went to the school (I had dropped Dorothy off earlier), I first went to say hi without my face scare crow make up. She seemed to be fine with the costume. But, when she saw me fully dressed she had a fit. I had to go to the bathroom and get changed before she would go in the parade.032

That incident told me a lesson, to listen to her when she says no and to hear my kid’s needs   and understand where they are coming from.  It doesn’t mean they don’t have to obey to the many rules I do set for them.  But it means that when it comes to their personal life, like their Halloween or their passions, careers, loves, I have to listen to what they choose.

Diving into a pool at 11.000 feet with my kids in Ecuador

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Taking a dip into the hot springs in the town of Papallacta, Ecuador, nested in the Andes at an altitude of 3300 mts, is one of the things I look forward to doing the most with my family every year when I visit Ecuador.782

Papallact755a has beautifully crafted natural hot springs, surrounded by some of the largest peaks of the incredibly gorgeous Andes Mountains. It also has nearby parks where you can hike for hours on end before you dive into pools. Restaurants that serve locally caught trout for lunch or dinner. Does that seem like paradise to you? To me it does and so to my kids.

When I go from San Francisco to Ecuador with my 10 year old daughter and my 7 year old son, on my yearly visit to my family, I make it a point to go to Papallacta at least a couple of times during my stay.  It is such a pleasant trip that my mom, sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins, etc… often join in, so it becomes not only a visit to an incredibly relaxing place, but an opportunity for us all to share a day and sometimes a couple of days of family time.

The drive from Quito to Papallacta takes only 1 hour and, once you pass the busy metropolitan area, you find yourself driving through 709an spectacular scenery. You drive up the mountains surrounded by farms and forests. When the days are clear, you can also see the permanently iced peaks of several high altitude volcanoes, including the Cotopaxi.

We usually arrive to the Termas Papallacta lodge. The Termas Papallacta lodge is a facility that includes a lodge, a cheaper set of pools for day use, and a spa that includes several large pools with different temperatures in the water and Jacuzzi style and a massage facility in the pool spa area.

During this past summer,   I drove there with my sister, my kids, and my niece. During the afternoon we went hiking in the trails of the Coca-Cayambe ecological reserve (a nature reserve next to Papallacta encompassing an area of 996,090 acres), then went to stay for the night at the Papallacta lodge and used the small pool facilities at the lodge at night before going to slept. Since the place is so close to Quito, my sister’s husband drove there at night after work to join us.

Needless to say we all slept like babies. The following day we went to the spa and my mom, sisters and more nephews and nieces came to spend the day with us and we all had either grilled trout or trout soup for lunch. We had one of those truly unforgettable moments life sometimes brings to us.

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