All the small things….

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February 11, 2018

Currently I sit here at the kitchen table in our truly lovely AirBnB, waiting for my coffee – not only to take in it’s enchanting taste, but also to warm up my frozen fingers, hoping that warmth cascades down to my toes and maybe even makes it’s way up to my nose. Or, perhaps I can just dunk my nose into the delicious coffee and kill two birds with one stone? Now, please don’t confuse this with a grievance…it is simply information for anyone wondering what part of daily living is like in Bolivia and many, many other parts of South America where there is a lot of rain, morning temperatures of 6-8 degrees and no heating systems outside of a few space heaters that are reserved for bedrooms. Just an FYI.

I have not done a blog entry for quite some time, not because I have had nothing to say (you can corroborate this with my family); but this does leave me at the proverbial “Where to start?” place. I suppose the first thing that stands out for me is that we have been gone for over four months now, leaving us with barely over two left. Without sinking too deeply into my psyche, suffice it to say that that sentence alone causes a lot of mixed emotions!

I have had many people ask me, “Is the trip what you had hoped for?” or something along those lines, and I find that a complicated question to answer. Mostly, the answer is absolutely yes! It has been sincerely amazing! However, the answer does not come without some personal doubts or fears of potential regret for not making it “all that it could have been”.   Uh oh…this is feeling awfully close to the precipice of my psyche, I shall move along 😉

Where there is no doubt in my mind, is that I have had an abundance of experiences in all of the countries that have been remarkable for many different reasons, and those experiences have been shared with my beautiful family. This is what leaves a glorious imprint on my heart. The “things” that I can assuredly say impact me the greatest are those where I feel I am truly catching a glimpse into someone’s life and culture that is vastly different from my own. This can come from walking down a nondescript, residential street in La Paz and catching a peek through an open door to see, hear and often smell what life lives within; or from hiking up the mountains in the Sacred Valley of Peru past a tiny village where they cultivate a small crop of potatoes, and two little girls with grubby clothes and curious, but tentative smiles watch us weirdoes hike past; or from visiting a local, collective farm in Sucre, Bolivia where four women have been certified in organic farming and they share with us their methods before we get to sit with them and enjoy a delicious lunch they have prepared from their vegetables.

I know it sounds obvious to acknowledge how many quirks of South America have become normal for me over the last four months, but it especially intrigues me how these quirks have become normal for the kids. For example, the traditional dress of the women initially was something that warranted finger-pointing and picture-taking, but now we don’t bat an eye at it. It’s things like the little tiendas (stores) selling a complete hodgepodge of items where they have bars on the front that you have to make your transaction through; the shoddy condition of roads; women and their small children selling a small pile of limes on the side of the street; crossing the streets where pedestrians essentially are playing a game of Frogger; buying milk and yogurt from the shelves not the fridge; tons of stray, homeless dogs living in all sorts of places including on top of roofs; seatbelts as optional and often non-existent (ugh); the colourful, crazy markets that I just adore no matter how normal they have begun to feel; Myles completely towering over almost everyone; old women the size of Jasper and Macy walking up steep roads carrying loads heavier than each of the two kids; putting used toilet paper in the garbage, NOT the toilet; 10 people piled into a taxi; homes made from anything and everything that look as though they may fall apart; electrical wiring systems that would scare any average Canadian; and the list goes on…..and on.

These are the things that I have come to find odd comfort in.

All of these quirks and idiosyncrasies of South America are one piece of the experience here that fades into our background of novelty, but will forever bring wonderful memories. What I haven’t mentioned, and perhaps won’t dive into in this blog, is the immense natural beauty of these countries. I have fallen in love with the Andes Mountains and all of the environmental magnificence that is around every corner I turn. Don’t worry Rockies, you will always have my heart and I cannot wait to return to your loving arms!!!!   I have pictures upon pictures of the radiance and exquisiteness of these mountains and skies and rivers, and often I cannot find the right words to accurately define how I feel…but I hope to return one day and walk on the trails and meet the mountains that viscerally seem to be calling me to explore.

That is all for now, as we are off to one of the many Carnaval celebratory parades today!






So, what DO we do all day long?


**Warning…… this is a rambling exposition.

This (the title) is a great question, sparked by one of Macy’s classmates during a Skype chat with the whole class the other day; which, by the way, was really lovely to witness.   One of the kids asked, “Macy, so…like…what do you do all day?”   Brilliant.

I noticed I have felt less driven to write a blog entry the last while, and I suppose it’s because the kids are writing about the “exciting things”, and I default to “what’s left”?  Life is becoming normalized here for us in a way…and…isn’t that what we were going for?  Situating ourselves in one place so that we can carve out a shortened version of a simple, normal, daily life in a totally different culture?

Suddenly I hear a shrieking voice inside my head berating me, “Emily… have you become complacent?!?!? NORMAL?!!? Seriously??  You are wasting your precious time here falling into some safe bubble!  What’s wrong with you?!  You’re throwing this once in a life time opportunity away!!!!!!”   Next, an extended “uh-oh” sinking-type feeling, and then the storm passes with only slight collateral damage that I’d like to believe I transform into motivation.  Eventually, I step back, take a breath, attempt to access my rational brain, and remind myself that what we are doing is pretty incredible.  There simply has to be an ongoing “balancing and rebalancing” of some form of adventure with basic living.  The question then becomes,  what is our basic living like here?

It’s awesome…

….mostly……except…. that although I had ridiculous hopes and visions of my kids turning into complete angels, I still have to parent.  What?!?   I still have to deal with brother-sister asinine fighting…..absent-minded crossing of the streets…..enforce manners… …squash “attitudes”……nag about cleaning…etc..etc.  Also, just quickly – folks who are able to homeschool their children and remain a sane and somewhat effective parent are freakishly amazing.  This could never be something I do regularly.  Wow.

Doing homework

**Kids sitting nicely, doing homework.  Hmmmm….suspicious….

Jasper doing dishes

**Jasper washing the dishes.  Rubber gloves a must as the hot water BURNS!!


What has fallen into the backdrop of our “normalized life here” is the buzzing noise, including the incessant cock-a-doodle-doo of the rooster next door and the traffic hum-drum right outside our door amongst other cacophony.  We have also inserted white noise into our sleeping routines, which has helped.  So, I must admit that we sleep in every day.  (insert shame-faced emoji here).   For instance, it is currently 8:50am and the kids are not up yet.  Granted, they went to bed late….but…….

I enjoy waking up early (relatively speaking 😉  ) and coming downstairs to have my coffee and either study some of my Spanish or write in my journal.  Eventually everyone makes their way downstairs, Myles usually first, and we have breakfast.   Breakfast can be Cornflakes, toast and peanut butter (which is not popular here and incredibly expensive), yogurt and fruit, or a personal favourite of the kids’ – a plate of quail eggs!

After breakfast and cleaning ourselves up, we jump into homework and studying Spanish.  Luis, who is from Spain and has lived in Cuenca for 9 years, comes every Tuesday and Thursday to spend 45 minutes with each kid and an hour with me!  It’s incredibly helpful and I appreciate his informal way of teaching.  Sometimes on those days, as I’m last to have my lesson, Myles and the kids will take off right after their their lessson to go swimming.  Once I’m done mine, I find any excuse to go walking around.  I’ll head to the market (which I still LOVE, but has become “normal”) or the grocery store, or the other day I walked over half an hour to find a store that had rain ponchos.  We all reconvene at the house where I hopefully will have begun some creation of dinner….simple, or a few notches above simple.  Then it’s just hanging out.  Being on the equator, the sun is essentially gone by around 7pm all year round; so although the temperature is fine (jeans are perfect and a sweater is necessary), the day feels “done” by then.  We haven’t any toys or games to entertain us, and there’s only so much you can do as a family inside at night, so admittedly we sometimes sit around the computer and watch something on Netflix.   For those of you who know our family, tv is a privilege, especially during the weekdays, so the kids are pretty amped when they get to watch something and stay up until 9:30pm!!


**The market…….just one, small section of it.

Cuenca musings 8

**There are 3 rush hour times throughout the weekdays….morning, lunch, and after work.  Here’s one of them.  The streets are narrow and in our area are most often one-way…so the traffic can line up!!


Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays Jasper has his soccer at 3pm, so we do the “schooling thing” in the morning, and then head out around 2:15pm to walk to his soccer.  Macy was initially more keen on going to soccer when the family of adorable and very dirty puppies were there, but since they were stolen (yes, stolen), the lure of watching the 9 rabbits stuffed into a make-shift metal cage and the chickens and roosters wandering all around has faded.  Often she and I will walk there (20 minutes) with Myles and Jasper, watch for a bit, and then head off to the market or some such thing.

Soccer pitch 1

**This is the bench seating area where we watch Jasper’s soccer from.   Thankfully there is the cover overhead as it often dumps rain!  The chickens and roosters run the show here though, and they wander all over….including almost stepping across our feet on a regular basis.

Macy's puppies 8

**One of Macy’s little puppy friends.  The location is similar to a junk yard, so if you look closely, you’ll notice the puppy’s toy is some part of an old car.


Weekends?   Well, no regularity…but thus far we find some small or medium-sized adventure….be it the zoo, a hike, or simply walking around to explore the city somewhere.

If it isn’t yet obvious, we walk everywhere.  I deeply appreciate that part.  I am not exercising in any way, shape or form….so I’m grateful for the walking.  Once in a while we take a taxi, but not often.  Really though, walking affords the opportunity to really observe and take in the nuances of the culture.  I absolutely love walking along inconspicuous streets and witnessing daily life unlike anything we see back home.  I often wish I could take pictures to capture things, but that feels gross and like these people are a zoo exhibit.  So I don’t.

Cemetary 3

***This is a big and beautiful cemetery I came across one day on one of my walks.

Cemetary 4

**This is one of the outside walls to the cemetery.  This paintings are at least 10-12ft high, and I am guessing they are images of important people….possibly buried here??


Cuenca musings 2

**Just an incredibly hard-working woman pushing her cart of goods….maybe heading home for the day.  Not an easy living.

What do I cook?  Wellllllll, not ever having been known as a fanciful cook, I still keep things mostly simple.  I have ventured into making some nice meals, even an Ecuadorian arroz con pollo, (rice with chicken….whoopee); but I love leftovers, and some nights it’s sandwiches.  I can get almost everything I need from the grocery stores, so that’s great.  The fruits and vegetables are most enjoyable and cost-friendly to purchase from the market just 9 minutes from our house…..e.g., 3 lovely red peppers for a dollar, 3 or 4 avocados for a dollar, a big bag of tomatoes for a dollar….you get the point.  Sometimes we go out for a meal and my favourites are the ones where it entails cheap, local cuisine.  We have had a few nice meals at “fancier” places with more western gastronomic choices, but they are expensive when you are on a budget and often filled with expats or other gringos.   Obviously we somewhat fit into that category, but my skin crawls a bit when we are surrounded by these folks and being swallowed up by an Ecuadorian attempt to set the expat mind at ease by creating a North American experience.  That isn’t why we are here.

Arroz con pollo

**Arroz con pollo.  Fancy.

Graffiti 3

**Loads of graffiti all around.  I like this one in particular….a creative embellishment of a boring door.

If you’ve managed to stomach my rambling – thanks!  I have so, so many more things I can ramble on about, but perhaps I’ll leave those for another day.





Day 15ish – Pep rally?

Monday October 16th, 2017

Election Day back home!!!!!  Yikes!  I can’t say we will be glued to our screens waiting to see, but it will be exciting to hear the outcome 🙂

Speaking of politics….we ran into an interesting event Saturday.  We were on our way to explore some more of the city on foot, as we do, and at the park very close to our place there was an obvious pep rally of sorts.  There was a stage and some gentle, live music and speeches, food, signs, people wearing white t-shirts with undetermined messages on them…and families abound.  It all felt very lovely and was making me feel warm and fuzzy inside.  Then, we started to look more closely at the signs on the shirts and Myles investigated some of the translations.  We slowly put together the pieces that in all likelihood, it was a very conservative, religious gathering intended to protect and preserve the Catholic definition of marriage, gender and birth, and included some form of a message to the educational system to step back and “Don’t teach our kids about the definition of gender,”.  Now, in fairness, we cannot be exactly sure of the subtleties and subtexts, nor of the mission statements of the possible organizations there; but we are no dummies.  The purpose of this gathering was largely solidified upon exiting the celebration when we passed a very small, peripheral protest group on the fringes.  They were loud, cheering, and quite obviously defending LGBTQ rights.

The thing I appreciated about this whole experience, was the complete lack of any form of aggression I observed or felt.  Sure, I may have been missing some things, but not at any point in time did my spidey- senses flare up.  At the same time, I also must acknowledge that I don’t get it.  I just don’t.  I felt especially confounded when walking past the younger generation of supporters, wearing the t-shirts and waving the small flags…it just does not compute in my head.  I simply cannot imagine the painful and laborious uphill battle for anyone that does not fit into the predominating mold of the country.

I think you can tell which picture is which below.

Rally 1Rally 2

Myles and I did our best to explain things to the kids, and to some degree I think they got a sense of what was happening.  It didn’t take long, however, for the proverbial, “Can we go now?”  I don’t think the experience made it into their journals.





Day 11 ish

***I meant to post this yesterday…but somehow the day got away on me.

Hola from Cuenca.

We flew from Quito on Tuesday the 10th and arrived in Cuenca 7:30am, yes, in the a.m.  For those of you who are incredibly astute, yes – that means we were up verrrrrry early that day, 3:45am in fact, in order to catch our 6:15am flight that morning.  Nonetheless, we made it, had the full day, and were all very excited to get here.   We wasted no time unpacking our things, or at least attempting to…the kids were frenetic with their excitement  around having their own bedroom with a queen bed.  Soon enough we were out and about checking out the area.  Our location is in the older, historical, colonial area in Cuenca.  Here is a google map link for those interested….I hope this link works:


Because it is a main attraction for tourism, there are a number of tourists.  Go figure.  Cuenca is also known as a popular spot for expats, hence, a lot of non-locals.  However, I am deeply and thoroughly enjoying this area, and am not feeling a lack of authenticity.  There is still an abundance of locals, as well as schools and parks and other such normal “things”.  There also happens to be a local market.  Oh wow.  I almost peed my pants with excitement…I….LOVE….MARKETS.  In my travels, local markets have been by far the experience that fills my soul up the most.  It is a great place to practice our Spanish.  (and by “we”, thus far I mostly mean the kids 😉    I timed it, and it takes me 7 minutes of fast walking to get there, so I will be there A LOT.


I’ll be investigating Ecuadorean recipes and will hopefully be able to find something not drenched in cilantro!

Our house is over 100 years old, colonial style, right in the hub of the area.  There is thick, beautiful, solid wood everywhere, and the crooked, slanted stairs creak so loudly I’m certain I will fall through one day.  There is a resident rooster next door who likes to remind us of his glorious cock-a-doodle-doo, and a dog who is apparently nocturnal.  This dog’s barking throughout the night cannot be cancelled out by earplugs. Grrrrrr Additionally, there can be the odd DIY construction right outside our place at 11pm, and cars and trucks driving and beeping down the narrow, cobblestone streets at any time during our sleep.  Soooo, I’m hopeful these noises will fade into the background of our consciousness soon.

The house has everything we need, including a washing machine.  Apparently a transparent top is the thing here in Ecuador and the kids were absolutely fascinated with it.  “Macy…what are you watching?!?!?  I’m trying to watch my pair of underwear!!!!”    “Jasper, ….aaaaahh…..I was watching my pink underwear, but it moves so fast!!!!”  (Insert guffaw-like laughter here.)

Cuenca Day 2 laundry

There is a lot of greasy, deep-fried food and street food here.  One of the cheap, popular dishes is called “Salchipapa”.  It comes from the Spanish word “salchicha” for sausage and “papa” for potato.  Thus, it is essentially french fries with a hotdog on top, sliced or whole, and some mayonnaise and/or ketchup squirted on top.  I thought it was an interesting local thing, but Jasper and Macy were salivating and chomping at the bit to have some….so we finally did yesterday.  Some versions look fancier than the one below, if that is possible.

Cuenca Day 2 Salchipapa

Cuenca Day 2 Salchipapa 2

Cuenca Day 2 lunch 2

As you can see, Macy was in complete heaven with the combination of two of her favourite foods….french fries and hotdogs…..what does that say about us as parents?!?!!?   Jasper, who was probably more excited to try it than Macy, definitively decided that he will never have it again.  My dish was quite yummy and also very typical of Latin America, and included rice, beans, and a fried egg….it was just missing some fried plantain.  My meal was $2.25 USD and included a drink – I got a coconut drink; while their salchipapas meal was $2 USD, also included a drink…they got a Coke.  Sadly, you can see why there is some obvious health issues here.

Cuenca has no end of churches and mini museums, and we hope to get to many of them by the end of our time here in Cuenca.  We made it to this beautiful one yesterday, Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción.  The construction started in 1885, took 100 years, but is still considered not technically complete because the original plans by a German, and whichever architects following, made some calculation errors and the church is not as originally planned….beautiful regardless.

Immaculata Concepcion 2

Immaculata Concepcion 4

Because our kids haven’t really been exposed to or taught a lot about religion, it is interesting to try and share what we know, watching them take it in and answering their dubious questions.  With the graphic images of Jesus in the Catholic church, it is especially challenging to help them understand that for millions of people, these images bring them some form of inspiration, gratitude or peace.

We will be meeting with a potential Spanish language teacher today…..and then the real learning for me will begin!!!   Yikes!   Things still feel like we are on a vacation of sorts, and I have a bit of an anticipatory twitch in my tummy about how we will settle in and how we will do as a family carving out our life in Cuenca.  Thinking about this trip for years and years, of course I have built up ideas and visions of how things would look….and naturally, only a small fraction of those will actually manifest and be realised.  I just hope we continue to stretch ourselves to take advantage of everything we can while we are here.

That’s all for now folks.




Day 8ish

Goodbye Quito…

…just about. We have the remainder of today, and then we will be up mortifyingly early tomorrow morning and off to the airport to catch our flight to Cuenca.

Fittingly, we visited the equator today. Yes….the actual mid-point between the northern and southern hemispheres; and yes, we got the proverbial photo of one foot on each side. Such tourists. We hired a taxi driver from yesterday, Alfonso, who took us there and kept Myles chatting the whole time…giving us some of the inside scoop about Quito.

Equator 10

As much as I’d say we are undeniably enjoying our time here in Quito, I am really looking forward to Cuenca where we can settle in and carve out a mini-life for two months. I am finding this bigger city tough to get around without walking 45 minutes or hiring a taxi, thus making it challenging to have the sense that you are part of a community. We have been making the most of the mornings and early afternoons before the clouds open up and release the assault of rain, then we return to our apartment to do some school-work. I’ve included a photo below in this blog entry of what a typical afternoon of studies looks like…you may even be able to see the downpour in the background. Jasper is doing a math program online, and Macy is researching some things she wants to add to her blog. Myles is likely researching and planning a portion of our trip…he’s so good at that 😉

School work

One other piece I am looking forward to in Cuenca when we settle in for a chunk of time, is being able to make more of our own food. We have attempted to “cook” some things here at our apartment, but really “cook” means prepare or throw some mostly-made things together. I’d guess we visited Megamaxi, the wonderful South American cousin of Superstore, at least 7 times in total. Love that place. We have also eaten out quite a bit, but the deep fried goodness that is everywhere is starting to get to me. I’ve also included a picture of my most recent fast-food endeavor from “American Deli”, which was Ranchero Pescado. For those of you who know me, you will hear my deep dismay as I tasted the lentils/beans portion of the food and realized my hopes for deliciousness had been deceived by the lentils being utterly saturated with cilantro. Ew.

Fast food

These other two pictures I’ve included here are of the church that my kids talked about in their blogs – the Basilica Del Voto. Beautiful. I just like the pictures!

Basilica day 9

Basilica Day 4

Off to Cuenca tomorrow.

Thanks Quito for introducing our family to South America and initiating our Shaffer Nash Big Adventure in a most wonderful way.





Today we had a respite from the torrential downpours we have been getting every afternoon, and made the most of it by doing a “hike/walk” around Parque Metropolitano. The Park is absolutely massive, twice the size of Central Park and complete with wild llamas. I checked my phone a few times and at points we were above 3000m (close to 10,000 ft) above sea level. Amazing how the body can adapt to such fluctuations.

We did have an only in South America moment last night. Around 12:30am, we were jolted out of bed by a series of excessively loud bangs, it seemed and felt like they were right outside our 12th floor window. Emily quietly said “do you think those are gunshots?”. Seeing as how I am an expert in firearms, I calmly stated, “no, those aren’t loud enough”. WTF.

We waited a few minutes, sure enough, same loud bangs. I looked out our bathroom window, and we had full scale fireworks going off about 300m from our building…in the middle of a residential area. Not sure that would have passed city regulations in Calgary.

Just another wonderful and intriguing curiosity of being in South America.




Day 5ish…

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Day 5-ish

8:06am…my family is still sleeping. I am drinking my morning cup o’ joe, listening to the hustle and bustle outside….beeps, honks, whistles, truck engines working hard in the stop and start traffic to make it along the hills. I look around this quaint apartment, and it could easily be a nice, up-to-date apartment back home in Canada….save a few differences, like no recycling (which absolutely kills me…ugh). However, it takes only a slight shift of attention towards the outside world to be reminded that I ain’t in Kansas no more. Such juxtaposition. This safe, little pocket inside the apartment makes me both appreciate in many ways, yet also resent globalization. I’d say that captures my own internal struggles with travel, which I’m sure I share with many others. It is the idea that I want to explore, learn and be immersed in new and foreign cultures, yet my mere presence highlights the inevitability of globalization in many ways, and although I do want the new and different, there is something to be said for a taste of familiarity….….and on and on and on. ~deep sigh*

Yesterday we headed to the more historic area of Quito – which was fabulous. Of course it also meant more tourists, which inescapably meant more locals trying to make a dollar or two through selling almost anything; as well as a number of old and/or sadly ill and resultantly disfigured folks begging for money. It was a heavy and uncomfortable sight for the kids to experience. At one point we had stopped to check our whereabouts, and a lovely, older man approached us asking if we were American or Canadian. From there, he let us know he lived in Vancouver for 25 years as a teacher and then insisted we needed a tour guide to take us around. Upon politely refusing that, he then insisted Myles needed a hat. Hmmmm….interesting shift. 😉   He asked about the Galapogos, and yes – we are planning to go….but that is not something we advertise to these people as it targets us as having money. Myles said, “No,”, and then Jasper piped up, “Yes we are dad!!!!”   It was a good lesson.

We ate lunch at Caféteria Modelo, hoping for a little traditional Ecuadorian food. It was recommended as one of Quito’s oldest café’s, opening in 1950. It was a delightful experience, and yummy….we had empanadas, humitas, and….wait for it… the kids had a Frappuccino. See above for my feelings on this.

We are in constant experimentation with balance….sleeping, eating, physical activity, sightseeing, homework, eating out, eating in, et cetera, et cetera. Today is likely going to be a day of low-key activities, and perhaps tomorrow we will head to one of the many beautiful hikes around Quito.

Hasta luego…