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Archive for March, 2013

The high Andes mountains welcome me, just as their relations in California’s high Sierras and those in California’s Death Valley also hold themselves out broadly for me.

Over the years I have developed intimate relationships with these environments filled with diverse and highly spirited cultures and communities of worldly life; from rocks and trees to birds of prey and trout to the stars above me.

They are dependable and passionate friends filled with beauty and adventure.

And why do I return for frequent visits? What are their biggest gifts to me?

It’s all about the power of the silence. Within these communities of nature, I find the shemamas and shamans of silence. As I spend hours in their lodge of silence, enveloped in the pulsing of the natural spirits, I feel the deep connection of our friendship and I am nourished by their calm, compassionate and relentless silence as they fully live their lives; in centuries past, in my century, and for centuries to come.

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A personal high today; fly-fishing a lake for rainbow trout at 13,300 feet.

The weather brought its personality up front and in my face. A cold wind cleaned Paramo tall grasses as it hustled down the steep backdrop. Mixing it up with the wind was air filled with misty notes and a damp smell of wild mint.

My flies pushed like winter Big 10 lineman trying to create openings for my flies. But the flies were often pushed back to one side or another, sometimes out of play.

With relentless vigor I served up a few flies to the big rainbows that connected and the catch and release transitioned seamlessly.

As with all my fishing adventures, my day is most satisfied by the warm hugging of my spirit with the spirits of all life around me.

Slow mountains, fast skies. Fish on!

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Groups of all types from religious to youth to habit-reformer groups sell baked goods to support their causes.

The nuns from of Monasterio de las Conceptas in Cuenca are no exception. What these nuns bake is a bit of a mystery until you buy one. True, they have a chalkboard list of items for sale, but the actual baked goods are cloistered (out of sight) with the nuns.

Franny selected a Quesadilla, a sweet cookie, which is filled with a sweet cheese batter nestled in a very thin pastry shell. We’ve tasted quite a few cookies around Ecuador and this is one of the best.

And I’m bringing the recipe for the cookie (which has been in circulation in variations for hundreds of years) back to Sebastopol with me!

I’m looking forward to creating this cookie in both gluten-full and gluten-free styles.

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We started our ascent into Parque Nacional Cajas on a local bus. In this case the bus doubled as a freight truck hauling all the produce, sodas, toilet paper and other necessities of the folks traveling to villages above and beyond Cajas. While the process of loading these goods delayed our departure, I found the utility of the bus as a freight truck refreshing; that folks found viable community-based work-arounds to personal vehicle ownership. BUSES IN ECUADOR ROCK!

Our hike for the day took us through a dense forest of ‘pigmy’ Polylepis trees. This specific type of tree has adapted well to high altitudes such as the one we’re hiking in today.

After lunch a big storm pulled in dropping lightning, hail and lots of rain. It was beginning to get late. Amongst all this action we managed to lose the trail which lead to a few kilometers and some ‘nipping’ back and forth as to the correct direction to find the path. Bushwhacking was sometimes trying, always wet and truly adventurous. We did find the path . . . eventually . . . . and marveled at our ability to keep our cool under a bit of stress, while sipping a local beer.

Franny talked our way into the back of a covered truck for our ride back to town.

By now some of you, particularly those in long relationships, may be wondering how Franny and I doing . . . as constant travel companions. We’re doing very well and I’m learning some spanish!

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Craftspeople, who are very good at their trade, who are productive, who are passing their skills on to others, who are recognized by their communities and their customers, who are in love, who have souls that permeate their products, their studios and shine through their smiles and eyes ….. are a treasure …… a gift to the world …… for which l was a witness.

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The history of Panama hats is rich with stories about the materials, the weavers and the worldwide consumers of these Ecuadorian hats. These stories are too easy to find, so I’ll tell our simple story of touring a Panama hat museum and factory in Cuenca.

The toquilla straw comes from Montecristi, Ecuador. The straw eventually arrives in Cuenca where it is cooked and ‘shredded’. The straw is then sold to weavers who produce a circular ‘mat’ of finely woven straw. These mats are sold to the hat factories where they are shaped and brims ‘cleaned up’.

Tools used in shaping the hats have changed over the years. Nowadays they use metal hat forms and a heavy hat press. Irons are still used to flatten the brims.

I am always fascinated with the art of hand crafts; whether its leaded glass, needlework, baking cookies or tying flies. The soul of the work permeates the air and quickly wraps itself around my body.

Walking out of this Panama hat museum, hatless and smiling, i carried in my heart a little bit of Ecuador that had previously eluded me.

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This afternoon we toured a cacao and chocolate history centre in the Ecuadorian jungle near Misahualli. The owner, Elizabeth, has developed a lodge and restaurant to accommodate serious students of chocolate and curious chocolate lovers who want additional time to explore the area.

We walked a portion of the grounds, viewed a couple different types of cacao trees, learned about diseases, the best types of beans and received the bottom line; fruit is tough to bring to maturity (ants kill many pods) and the best type of cacao is Ariba.

Many of us had our tour of Sharffenberger in Berkeley (pre-sale to Hershey) so we’re pretty up on the chocolate making process. On this tour we roasted beans in a clay bowl on an open fire. We then ground the beans in a hand grinder (the kind we would use to hand grind wheat to flour) and used that chocolate paste to make hot chocolate.

The new thing for me was to suck on the coating that covers the cacao beans straight from the pod; a very refreshing blend of sweet and tangy. That coating is normally left on the beans as they dry to aid in the fermentation process.

We returned late in the day, still bloody hot, on a canoe up the Napo River.

Check out Elizabeth’s operation at http://www.ecuadorjunglechocolate.com .
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