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I’m not a birder but Mindo is a birders paradise and we visited Mindo with friends from Quito. So I guess I’m a birder for a day.

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Birders log their bird sightings on ‘the list’. The Toucan

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Oh, and we also played with a gazillion butterflies in Mindo. Quite the magical pueblo in a very magical land.

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Patience

We visited the northern highlands for three weeks in February and never saw the neighboring volcanoes from head to toe.

Now, as we prepare to head home we visited the northern highlands for one last try to see some of the Andes most beautiful mountains. What a treat and final sense of awe for a rich and beautiful country.

Heading north out of Quito; Volcán Cotopaxi.

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From Otavalo, Volcán Cotacachi.

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And from a small pueblo outside Otavalo, Volcán Cayambe.

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While I’ve met many of my personal goals for this journey, today I appreciate the time and adventures spent tuning up my body for my upcoming backpack trips into our high Sierras.

I’ve had good luck connecting with bakers the past few days.

This morning I learned about a small coastal village, Cadeate, from our hostel host, Monica. The town is filled with bakers and their staff (families) who make up about two-thirds of the total residents and supply all the nearby villages and towns with bread!

Franny and I stopped to visit with three bakers and passed another dozen bakeries on our short walk through one end of town.

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We spoke with Luis, a baker who specializes in 3-4 breads; his favorite is Pichitos, a small round roll. He bakes with a pizza style rack oven. He retired his brick oven some time ago due to his age and the work involved in cutting, chopping and hauling wood.

After the baking is complete, the bakers pack up their goods in cardboard boxes and baskets and head out on local busses or motorcycles to deliver.

I thought about 50 bakers in a village supplying other villages with bread. Then I think about how our small family bakeries were consolidated out of existence by chain supermarkets in the 50s and 60s.

The impact of this change in our communities has been absorbed, has become insignificant and is now forgotten as our cities have grown and we have aged.

But travel to a country like Ecuador and suddenly I am reliving our past and witnessing and appreciating the benefits of small traditional bakeries in a community; the connections they create and the job fabric they help weave.

Ah, the stories they could tell!

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At a bus stop, in the small town of Jipijapa, known for its supply of toquilla for straw hats, stood a baker with his mobile unit; much smaller and more economical that your standard foodie truck. With him was his assistant (wife and general manager) and his tasty product, Pan de Almidón.

His oven, fueled with propane, sat on a metal cart and was covered with a light metal awning.

Franny spotted them first and by the time I arrived they were making a fresh batch of these tasty little savory treats by; pressing dry-ish fresh cheese into the center of a small ball of pizza-like dough, and then palm-rolling the stuffed dough into balls. These balls were then arranged on a baking sheet

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How simple, how fresh, how lucky are the baker and his customers to have freshness and unique flavor baked and delivered so simply.

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The week’s forecast called for nothing with intermittent meals, walks, swims and drinks.

The beach cooperated by providing minimal distractions; frigates, pelicans and blue footed boobies.

Fishing boats gave an occasional glance as the sun ricocheted off my Ecuadorean straw hat.

Even with this level of natural cooperation my mind raced laps around my soul with only periodic defensive breathes to fake a calm state.

My mind stayed calmest, for longest, as I walked with a comfortable gait along the beach in ankle deep water, ebbing and flowing.

I must remember to walk, often.

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Fish tales

A six day outing to a small beach town in northern Peru is a perfect compliment to a couple month (so far) adventure through the Andes highlands and the Oriente jungle.

Today was full of fish, a good day all in all.

We walked through periwinkles rolling and tumbling in the sand and sand crabs shifting quickly, as light as feathers, to and fro their tunnel homes; on our way to the pier which was surrounded by fishing boats unloading white fish of several varieties. As we walked down the pier we watched fishermen fillet out small fish with sharp knives, dosing them with lime juice, and smiling broadly as they chewed the ceviche-like flesh.

As we departed the pier, a blue-footed boobie sharply watched our gait as Franny turned and noticed her. All is good for the moment.

We continued our beach walking. The air returned to cool on the water after our bodies heated up on the pier. The daily temperatures range from a nightly 70f to a daily 90f.

Time for a dip, we said. Franny took the lead and I followed with my normal temperature adjusting steps. Suddenly I felt a small ‘bite’ on my foot and I noticed a small light colored disk-shape flash away.

After a brief swim and a short walk my foot began to throb in pain. As we approached a young local surfer, Franny walked ahead, stopped him, and I caught up and showed him my foot. He quickly came to the conclusion that i had been stung by a stingray. Lots of pain, but I’m on the mend and likely won’t die!

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Tonight we finished our tale of fish with two plates prepared by our host; fried fish with yams, yuca and rice and fresh, really fresh, ceviche.

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The day ended well as the sun closed out behind our village armada of fishing boats.

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We traveled to Giron today to see and feel some spectacular waterfalls. This destination alone would have made our day but there’s more. Fate played her hand incredibly.

From the bus we picked up a cab to drive us to the falls. as we drove through town we spotted a statue of a woman with a basket of pastries!

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Turns out the pastries, galletas de Almidon de Achira, are a specialty of Giron. The key ingredient, almidon de Achira, is starch made from the tuber of a cannes plant.

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We tasted one of these gluten free treats at a shop near a museum we toured. The cookie was rather dry, maybe old, with a simple molasses flavor. The shopkeeper gave us a basic description of the process of making the flour and cookie and sent us to a bakery to find the flour.

We found the baker. His cookie was a whole bunch better and he sold me a pound of harina de Achira. How exciting for me; finding a good example of a local tuber used in a cookie!

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Later this evening, after returning home, Franny and I made our first attempt at baking a local favorite, the quesadilla cookie (see previous blog).

As I perused the ingredients . . . . i couldn’t believe my eyes. The recipe called for harina de Achira. And I was now the proud holder of one pound of the flour! A minor miracle , a twist of fate or just plain lucky?

I can overlay this story onto my life and remember many other unplanned sequences of events that made my life work better. Today I am reminded to keep active, stay engaged and be present. Good things will continue to come my way.

Here’s our first test result for the galletas de Achira (with very limited measuring or mixing tools)! Ciao.

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