Monthly Archives: December 2014

Cuenca, Ecuador–Just Dance!

This year, to celebrate Christmas, I have joined the Cuenca Dance Mob.  They meet every Tuesday at 4pm at Café Eucalyptus.  Joined by about a dozen enthusiastic expats aging fifty years and above, we have been jamming it up to Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas Is You.”

Dance Mob, I have found, is serious business.  We pay a dollar admission (for returning members only) and wear matching red sparkly scarves.  If you’re new to the Cuenca Dance Mob, five dollars will get you into your first lesson and twenty dollars will apparently pay for an entire month’s session.

Cuenca Dance Mob 2

Cuenca Dance Mob at Cafe Eucalyptus

Most of our members are from Texas or Tennessee.  They come early or late, sitting along the sides in chairs to rest their knees when they get too tired, while the rest of us get our sweat on.  And we do sweat, people, jumping in line to do the can-can, the Macarena and my favorite, the sexy circle.

Our instructor David is a real hoot.  “Sexy circle,” he yells.  “Give them sex now.”  As a younger man, he specialized in law and disco.  Now he coordinates and facilitates all the routines for the Cuenca Dance Mob.  He is fairly strict, leading us out on the floor for nearly forty-five minutes before we are entitled to a break.  I have noticed that I am the only one who wanders downstairs for my weekly mojito—scrumptious things—and Barbara, with pink strokes in her hair laughs every time I return carrying my prize, right in time to “take it from the top.”

Blow a kiss

All I Want For Christmas Is You

I’m not going to lie, when I mastered that last move and was chosen by David to be one of his two “Dance Babes” (stage left) I was thrilled.  When it comes to dance, I never get chosen for anything!  It was the roller-coaster move that was giving me fits, but I mastered a slightly modified version of the move and that was okay with David.

I was growing fairly nervous as the date approached for my first actual flash dance.  David asked us all to meet early on Friday morning at the Mall del Rio where we would be performing up on stage later that afternoon.  He had very cleverly managed to finagle a spot right after the International Choir of Cuenca were to perform, so the seats were supposed to be packed.

Mall del Rio

Mall del Rio

We got to the mall so early (9:30) that no one would let us in.  With our limited Spanish, Ryan and I had no way of telling the security guards (though not for lack of trying) that we had to come early for a very important rehearsal.  Luckily we found David and we followed him around the premises until he could convince one of the guards to let us in to ensayar.

At last, our group was granted admission.  “Where are my dance babes?” David called.  “I need to pull them up on the stage first.  Is everyone ready?”  Trust me, we were.  About ten hours later, our performance (though slightly flawed) seemed to have been enjoyed by all and was much more popular, if I may be so bold as to say, then the International Choir of Cuenca.

Cuenca Dance Mob

Judy, Barbara, Kathy, Amanda, David, Dale and Deborah


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Cuenca, Ecuador–Give Thanks


I’m going to be completely honest.  On the morning of November 27th, I woke up in Cuenca, Ecuador and had no idea that it was Thanksgiving.  Ryan had gone out an hour earlier and came back with some orange tiger lilies.  When he presented them to me saying, “Today I am thankful for you,” I thought, Hey, how sweet.  Then he laughed and said, you really don’t know what day it is, do you?

I spent the remainder of the day writing about being attacked by a turkey.  You see, this did in fact happen, on a lonely little road in Wyoming called Zig Zag that was a beast whenever wet.  My book–about family and friends back home–was coming along smashingly well and so I followed “Turkey Attack” with a chapter called “Family Feast,” which I later deleted and rewrote.  The truth was, I was sooo thankful to get to spend the day writing.


We went to dinner at my favorite restaurant which is called Don Colon’s International Café.  Once seated for our seven o’clock reservation, we were served an amazing sangria, along with a steaming plate of turkey, dressing, sweet potato, and green beans.  The desert was a sort of pound cake with strawberries—nowhere near sufficient to curb this woman’s Thanksgiving appetite, and so Ryan took me to my other favorite restaurant and ordered an entire pitcher of sangria.  There I got to choose from two pages of fabulous deserts.

The result, I’m displeased to report, was sour stomach.  I ate so much at La Fornace that I became physically ill.  Not the sort of Thanksgiving ill where you just put on some sweatpants and lay down for thirty minutes and go back for another round of pumpkin pie, but the kind of ill where I groaned and said, “Please take me home right now!”  The kind of ill where I stumbled home nauseously and went right to bed.  What a sad way to end that beautiful Thanksgiving evening.  Luckily, I still remembered to roll over, pat Ryan on the arm and mumble, “I’m thankful for you.  I’m thankful for our exotic adventure,” before falling fast asleep.  I may have rolled over once during the night, but that was about it.

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Cuenca, Ecuador–Get Dirty

Ryan must have felt pretty bad after the Cajas elevation sickness ordeal because the next day we caught a bus and rode about thirty minutes to Banos.  This is the smaller Banos at the outskirts of the city known for it’s amazing and restorative hot springs.

Church in Banos

Church in Banos

Piedra de Agua is one of the nicest spas in Banos, offering a broad range of skin treatments, massages, and thermal pools. The early morning special runs from 6-8am and grants access to all of the following for $15 per person: steam baths, red and blue volcanic pools, underground thermal pools, box steam baths, relaxation terrace and thermal pools.

We had a nice young man who spoke fairly good English supervise the process.  After we had changed into our bathing suits and settled our belongings into a locker, he directed us toward the steam bath, which was essentially a VERY HOT steam room.  The room was so hot, in fact that we were not able to stay for the ten minutes he’d instructed.  Luckily we were the only patrons present and so we snuck in and out of the room every few minutes.  My contacts quickly became useless and I somehow burned my nose and throat in the process.  But we were in good spirits, laughing as I bumped into things on my way in and out of the room.

I looked like a drowned rat by the time he came to collect us.  Makeup, modest as it was, had apparently been a poor choice but the cold shower we jumped into next took care of the black streaks running down my cheeks.  It was only after I had done a fair amount of frantic scrubbing that the attendant asked us not to submerge our heads.  Ooops.

He escorted us to the red volcanic pool and half explained, half mimed, rubbing red grainy dirt in clay bowls all over our bodies.  If we had been laughing in the steam room, we were really laughing now, half submerged in red water, rubbing mud onto each other’s backs and smearing it all over our cheeks and chests.  The mud had to dry, and so, for another ten to fifteen minutes, we lounged in chairs in the sun, baking the mud onto our bodies and becoming more and more immobile as our skin hardened.

Volcanic Red Mud Pool

Volcanic Red Mud Pool

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The attendant herded us to two clay huts that turned out to be showers.  I wasn’t sure how long I was supposed to stay in there so when I came out, about five minutes later, Ryan was already in the blue volcanic pool, repeating the ritual with blue mud.

More smearing, more baking, and more showers and we wandered down into a dark cave to find two underground thermal pools.  One warm and one cold.  We were instructed to stay in the warm pool for ten minutes, then move to the cold pool for a few minutes and then repeat the process.  Soft instrumental music played in the background and the air smelled strongly of earth and the burning vanilla candles lighting the stone steps.

The first dunk into the cold pool–and a dunk is exactly what it was–shocked all my senses.  I didn’t even submerge all the way.  When I crawled back into the warm pool, my entire body tingled.  The next dunk I took more seriously, submerging up to my neck and sitting for at least thirty seconds, hoping to entice an even greater tingle from the next round.  Although I did achieve a great tingle when I jumped back into the warm pool, we were apparently supposed to end on the cold dunk and so we were both sent back into the cave to dunk again.

Big Guy in a Little Robe

Big Guy in a Little Robe

My yellow bathrobe was a welcome sight on our return.   Ryan’s was much too small and I laughed at him all the way to the next room that contained the steam boxes.  I shed my bathrobe and crawled in, allowing our attendant to fold the boards down around me, sealing me in.  He wrapped a towel around my neck to keep any steam from escaping and I laughed at Ryan trying to escape from his bathrobe.  It kept getting stuck over his forearms.  I was grateful that the temperature of each box could be controlled by a small lever found inside, otherwise, I would have fried.  We both sat happily through two rounds and when we were finished and had taken our cold showers, we were brought two glasses of bright pink tea.

Box Steam Baths

Box Steam Baths

We lounged by the open thermal pools after that and I fell asleep in the sun.  When Ryan woke me, thirty or forty minutes later, we enjoyed lunch by the pool from the spa’s Dragonfly restaurant.  I had a mango milkshake and some kind of steak with mushrooms.  Ryan had a shrimp dish.  By the time we left the spa we were both burnt to a crisp but our spirits were soaring.  We have been happily peeling ever since.


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