Lunch in a Field of Dreams

DSC02202Seven kilometers from the heart of Cuenca, then a kilometer east on San Miguel de Putushi and finally a couple hundred meters up a dirt lane, past a tethered llama, at the end of the road, lives and works a happy man.

Edwin Giovani Combizaca Salinas is the man, and Le Petit Jardin is his restaurant at the end Calle de las Brevas, as unlikely a success as the ghostly ballpark in Field of Dreams.

This is Giovani’s story and how we came to eat frog legs in the Andes.

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Our starters and dessert. In between was a trout almondine.


Giovani Combizaca was born in an Amazonian village of 3,000 where his parents had to walk two days to get to their paying jobs. When he reached school age, his family moved to a larger town so he could get an education, but the family went back to the jungle on weekends to farm, and the children were expected to work in the fields.

Giovani found the work hard. When he fell and broke his leg at 10, he was not sorry that his father said he would have to stay home with his grandmother and contribute to the family support by cooking the meals and cleaning the house.

“I knew little things,” he says, “like how to cook and clean a chicken and cook it in some onions and garlic, fresh thyme and tomatoes.” Giovani found he liked cooking and cleaning, foreshadowing if ever there was any.

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Giovani (near right) still likes cooking but the kitchen has improved since his Amazonian youth.


At about the same time, Giovani first saw Cuenca on a family trip. He was so taken with the city that he chose the University of Cuenca when it came time for college. After he decided law studies were not for him, he dropped out, got married and fathered a son. Working around town in hotels and restaurants, he worried he would never make anything of his life. When his younger brother announced he was going to the United States to find his future, Giovani asked his wife for five years to do the same. She agreed. At 25, Giovani headed north.

The passage was harrowing: two nights on an island off the coast of Nicaragua living off coconuts and sand crabs, 25 hours riding on a wooden platform between the wheels of semi to Guatemala, jail and a shakedown for a $5,000 ransom in Mexico, a foot race from INS agents in New Mexico.

“Always you say, ‘I shouldn’t do this,’ but you keep going,” Giovani told us between meal services on our Sunday afternoon at Le Petit Jardin. His brother Luis was caught and sent back; Giovani pushed on to New York City, where a sister lived, and then to Baltimore when New York proved too intense after tranquil Cuenca.

Thinking of himself as a cook because of his work in Cuenca, he applied for a job in a restaurant where perennial James Beard finalist Cindy Wolf was chef. Despite a less than stellar trial night at the grill, he was hired. In time and with nurturing in the culinary house of Wolf, he learned and rose to became sous chef of Petit Louis Bistro, eventually cooking, too, at Wolf’s highly acclaimed Charleston on the waterfront.

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A souvenir of Giovani’s Petit Louis Bistro days in Baltimore


Five years passed. One night in Cuenca, Giovani’s wife and son went to a mass where the priest asked worshippers to come forward to share their prayers with the congregation. His young son went forward and said, “I want my father to come home.”

Wolf had just offered Giovani a position of executive chef earning a princely sum by Ecuadorian (and a lot of American) standards. When his wife relayed their son’s prayer, he says, “It was a choice between money and my family.”

Giovani chose family.

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Giovani and his wife Maria Eliza outside Le Petit Jardin


Back in Cuenca, the couple bought a piece of bare land on the outskirts of the city and Giovani supported his family selling tacos and burritos from a claptrap vehicle he drove between villages. When the contraption broke down one hot afternoon, he retreated to his empty land, studied the landscape and thought, “Maybe I could have a restaurant here.”

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We all have to start somewhere. Giovani started with this.

Today, Giovani’s Le Petit Jardin at the end of the road is often Trip Advisor’s #1 of 617 restaurants in Cuenca. With another brother, he built everything in the restaurant with his own hands – the building, the kitchen, the light fixtures, the tables and chairs, the intricate working machines he crafts from trash rescued from the dump and never sells because “they are part of my heart.”

Le Petit Jardin is open only Saturdays and Sundays, from noon to 9 pm, where business is brisk enough that Giovani can afford to spend the rest of the week meeting with the locals who grow his farm-to-table heirloom tomatoes and lettuces and crafting the light fixtures and furniture and décor that come from his heart.

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Giovani makes the tables and chairs where diners eat his food.

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He is fond of turning discarded sewing machine bodies into working toys like this fire engine.


The menu changes every weekend to feature the most seasonal ingredients. One item that never leaves the menu is an appetizer called Eggplant Petit Louis, the little tower of eggplant, tapenade, goat cheese and tomato floating in the lightest of pesto sauces that appears in the collage above. Giovani considered Cindy Wolf’s eggplant dish in Baltimore “beautiful.” His interpretation, named for the restaurant where he was sous chef, is his culinary tribute to her excellence and the chance her restaurant gave him.

“She was my school. She is part of everything here.”

Giovanni recruits his own staff from among Cuenca’s poorest residents – all his female cooks are single mothers – and trains them to cook. When they are ready, they leave and open their own restaurants.

“I came from nothing,” he says. “I have more than I ever expected, and I want to inspire people. I want them to know that if they do the right thing, amazing things are going to happen.”

At Le Petit Jardin, amazing dishes, too.


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From the Partout toolbox: We use Uber whenever we can in South America because it is vastly safer (and cheaper) and because it solves one of the trickiest ground transportation challenges we routinely encounter: giving a driver the address of an AirBnB apartment in a language we don’t speak as they do. Leaving the address to Uber saves everyone a lot of head-scratching, but the app is not always available or practical. To simplify things for all involved, we now save our temporary address in a cell phone note before we move to any new destination. Getting into taxis, we can answer the globally understood question of “Where to?” by handing a phone to the driver so he can see it in his language. Works every time.

COMING SOON! Reaching the End of the Line

Related link: Le Petit Jardin website

 

 

 

The New Year that Popped and Fizzled

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Sometimes our plans pop, sometimes they fizzle. Our New Year’s eve was a little of both.

One of the reasons Partout ended up in Cuenca over New Year’s eve was Doris’s seduction by accounts of the city’s spectacularly fiery and colorful celebration.

At least as old as the Spanish invasion, the festivities famously star human, animal and fantasy effigies called monigotes that are built by families and neighborhoods, carried into the streets more or less on New Year’s eve and – at the stroke of midnight or thereabouts – set on fire to burn away the bad juju of the old year and make way for good new stuff. For maximum effect, celebrants jump over the bonfires they set and throw fireworks into them, though ideally not at the same moment.

For a woman who has been known to sleep in the gutter of Colorado Boulevard to get a good seat for the Rose Parade, irresistible, right?

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Veteran roadies that we are, we scoured the internet ahead of time for tips on when, where and how to see the traditions at their most traditional. We read about the way the celebration starts at home when generations gather for dinner and to share rituals like eating 12 grapes one at a time (one for each month) washed down with champagne or running around the block pulling a suitcase to bring travel in the year ahead. We queried locals and expats and grilled the teachers at our Spanish school so as not to miss a thing.

At 7 pm, we set out to see in 2020, prepped and dressed for the occasion.
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Crossing the Rio Tombebamba, making our way through El Vado and along the city’s biggest boulevards, we gawked at masked revelers.
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We noted the range of monigotes, from simple stuffed figures (the easier for burning) . . .
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. . . to elaborate tableaux.
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We admired the the vehicle-borne manigotes and the various ways they were attached to cars and trucks.
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The bike rack for monigote transportation seemed particularly inspired.

We joked with men in drag who play the role of viudas (“widows” of the old year) on the eve of the new year, vamping as they collect money for the city’s poor children.
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IMG_7463And we were startled and impressed to discover that the neighborhood displays were not all about fun and frivolity. Like the cross-dressing viudas, they were delivery vehicles for social messages. Mineral exploitation, substance addiction, discrimination against indigenous peoples. Profound purposes were cloaked in costumes and papier mache.

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The skeleton above left evokes a song about why safety practices are important for miners, while the downcast man at a substance addiction tableaux asks, “Will it be that everything was my fault?” Below left, the question about the landscape ahead of the jolly biker is whether nature will all be lost to “absurd mining. The monigote youth demands that the president stop harassing  the indigenous.


We were equally startled but dismayed to find . . . we ran out of gas before the first fires were lit. The miles of walking, gawking and ogling, interviewing and photographing, rendered us too pooped to party. For all our strategizing and positioning, we had fizzled out. By midnight, we were home and in bed, too exhausted to be too disappointed.

And that’s when things began to pop. We had heard about the fireworks of Cuenca’s New Year’s eve and the way every block if not family ignites rockets that turn the whole city into a 360-degree aerial show. A few moments before midnight, we were jolted from our fizzle by the booms. We ran onto our AirBnB balcony. North, south, east, west. In every direction, the sky was ablaze. What looked like burning kites floated into the heavens.

The show went on for hours, or what seemed like it (probably more like 30-45 minutes) and only when it ended did the city, and we, finally go to sleep.


On the first day of 2020, Cuencanos were still sleeping off the celebration. The city was dead, far deader than on Christmas in the States. The nearby McDonald’s was doing a land office business, perhaps because not another eatery was open.

Possibly more refreshed than our host citizens as a result of fizzling rather than sizzling, we had the streets to ourselves on New Year’s day and wandered about enjoying the architecture in a way we can’t when they are full. Not a monigote was to be seen but, here and there on the sidewalks were their remains, piles of ashes that marked a spot where one had ended its brief colorful career, taking the bad of 2019 with it.
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Tips from the Partout toolbox return after we have fully recovered from seeing in the new year. In the meantime, a healthy, happy and peaceful 2020 to one and all.

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We never figured out what this traveling troupe was about but they sure were colorful


COMING SOON! A Happy Man

 

Living Out of Suitcases

img_0371-kopie.jpegMaybe the most common question we hear from people (okay, women) about traveling for so many months at a time is “How in the world do you pack?”

We could laugh and say, “It’s easy!” but that would be disingenuous.

In truth, it is not particularly hard to figure out what we want to bring with us. What’s tricky is fitting it all into two small suitcases and a backpack each.

We have learned tricks. Compression bags, packing cubes and moisture-wicking underwear definitely are all that they are cracked up to be. This winter, we will be only about three weeks in temperatures reliably hotter than 75F. Doris packed everything she would need for those destinations in a single Eagle Creek packing cube with dimensions not much bigger than a sheet of paper.

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Summer wardrobe in a cube: two pair short pants, four tops, one dress, one bathing suit, one coverup, one pair of sandals.


But clothes turn out to be the easy part. Splurge adventures have their own requirements (Galapagos: water shoes, binoculars, underwater camera). We also carry “kits” – pre-packed plastic envelopes holding items we have learned are expensive, inconvenient or impossible to find on the fly. Sunscreen, specialty toothpaste, sulfite-free shampoo. When the Bluetooth iPad keyboard Doris cannot write without cracked during our first week out, she was mighty glad to be carrying a traveler-shaped supply of duct tape and teensy travel scissors in our portable “tool kit.”

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Doris likes to think that a duct-taped iPad keyboard is proof she is a true road warrior.

Our kitchen kit even holds a very lightweight cotton apron because we cook a lot of our meals on the road. Carrying as little clothing as we do, we need to protect what we have from cooking accidents.

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Remember the book What Color Is Your Parachute? When hitting the road, the question ultimately becomes “How Big Is Your Comfort Zone?” Living out of a suitcase for four or six or eight months is a great way to map a comfort zone. Rule of thumb? Bigger zone, smaller bags; smaller zone, bigger bags. The photo at the top is our Dutch friend Herman schlepping the only luggage he and his wife Annet carried on a round-the-world trip a few years back. Sure sign of a giant comfort zone.

Traveling as we do has taught us more about our own comfort zones, and we pack accordingly. With each trip, we find ourselves packing fewer clothes and more gear. Louis, for example, has learned he really doesn’t need ten different shirts on a trip, but we wouldn’t leave home without a miner’s lamp.

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Room too dim to read, cook or apply makeup? A miner’s lamp does the trick every time.


There’s a fair amount of minimalist snobbery out there in the travel blogosphere (e.g., anyone who checks a bag is not a “real” traveler), and we confess that we have been known to snicker at travelers hauling what looks like their every worldly possession through airports. But, at the end of the day, travel is a challenge, even under the best of circumstances, and few road warriors encounter the best of circumstances all the time. We now always check one bag because it is the only way to get all the liquids we will use over many months onto our flights.

Comfort choices go beyond packing decisions. In Colombia, we talked with a young Canadian working his way around the world who said he happily shells out for the shortest, most direct flight he can find between destinations. Back in the day, when he was only 21, he was willing to take three connecting flights to save $100 on a route, he told us. At 27, he’s “too old” to be uncomfortable.

At 27-plus, so are we. We may live out of suitcases, but packing to be comfortable enough is one of the reasons we can do that.

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We have yet to fly an airline that does not allow passengers to carry on reading material, food, personal electronics and outer wear in addition to the standard carry-on allowance. Our luggage always includes a sturdy shopping bag to tuck in those items and maybe hide a few more.


From the Partout Toolbox: One of the drawbacks of traveling light is leaving home with every square inch of luggage packed and no space for buying anything on the road larger than an emerald ring. Doris’s solution to this dilemma is to pack a few items of  clothing that are still presentable but nearing the end of their life in her closet. At her last stop or whenever she wants to free up some packing space along the way, she leaves clean and neatly folded items behind for the housekeeping staff to repurpose. Especially in underdeveloped countries but even in many developed ones, gifts of usable clothing are a far bigger bonus for low-paid workers than a handful of small coins.

COMING SOON! Cuenca on Fire

A Verry Cuenca Christmas

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Flying out the United States a couple weeks ago, Copa Airline’s in-flight magazine contained an article about colorful Christmas observances around the world. Rockefeller Center’s tree was there. The 37 million (yes, million) lights in Medellin.

And Cuenca’s Pase del Niño – the “passing of the child” Jesus, a Christmas Eve parade that dates back 500 years and draws most of the city population to its streets.

The occasion is the procession of a 200-year-old baby Jesus icon from one end of the old city to the other. Having now spent the day among them, we can confirm plenty of angels, holy families and wise men turn out for the happening, but they aren’t the half of it. Joining the Marys (many pregnant) and Josephs are cowboys, clowns and indigenous gods, dancers and prancers and drummers, every child, woman and man reveling in a day of tradition, family and fun.

Doris could spend thousands of words describing the masses that followed the 1823 niño Jesus icon down Simon Bolívar Street, alongside the plaza and all the way to San Blas Church. Or we could just bet that Louis’s photos are worth far more. Since the man took more shots than he is willing to admit, Partout is going with the photos.

Thus, without further ado (or many more words), merry Christmas or whatever holiday you may be observing (or not) and bring on the parade.


The Sacred and the Masked

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Music and Dance and Showers of Flowers
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Paraders and Watchers

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Color, Color and More Color

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Montage 1

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With that, until next time, and may everyone’s day be as happy and bright as Cuenca’s.


From the Partout Toolbox: Searching local blogs and online news, Wikipedia articles and other sources for topics like “Christmas parades around the world” helps us find events, festivals and other local spectacles we otherwise might miss. That’s how we know that a week from now, Cuenca will turn out for the ritual burning of monigotes to see out the old year. We’ll be there.

COMING SOON! Living Out of Suitcases

Related link: “Cuenca’s Biggest Parade of the Year Combines the Sacred and Profane” from the local expat newspaper 

 

 

Mining Emeralds in Bogotá

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For the record, neither of us are shoppers, especially on the road where anything we buy would have to be hauled for thousands of miles before reaching home.

All the same, non-shopping Doris has a wee tiny weakness for colorful sparkly things for her fingers. And, really, how much room does a ring take up in a carry-on bag?

Thus it was that long-suffering Louis – who innocently believed Doris’s pitch that we should return to Colombia en route to Ecuador because we missed the country’s coffee area last winter – found himself a week ago in Bogotá, capital of the world emerald trade.

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Colombia is to emeralds what Tanzania is to tanzanite. (Photo © Victor Moussa | Dreamstime.com)


As many as 90% of the world’s emeralds come from Colombia, including the rarest and highest quality of them.

In Bogotá, emerald jewelry stores line the streets for block after block, some of them decades old, many selling goods from their own mines. Adding to the color (and potential for emerald fraud), freelance dealers are on the streets, too, sidling up to anyone with emerald lust in their eyes, furtively pulling folded squares of white paper from their pockets in which they have tucked their wares.

A real shopper could probably spend days in the city’s commercial emerald center, comparing stones, settings and prices. Doris figured she could get the job done in a couple hours.

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Doris was sure an emerald was waiting for her somewhere on these streets. (Photo © King Ho Yim | Dreamstime.com)


Doris searched “buy emeralds” on TripAdvisor, picked a store with perfect reviews, and set out by GPS with uncomplaining Louis in tow. Fortuitously, the store she picked was situated in a cozy shopping patio where Louis could sip strong Colombian coffee and do Duolingo Spanish lessons while Doris took a crash course in emerald buying behind locked doors.

In self-defense, emeralds are supposed to increase intelligence and empower their wearers to predict events, making them more than just a pretty carat. Cleopatra went for them (lesser grades come from Africa), and they bejewel many of the pre-Colombian treasures in the Gold Museum down the street from the emerald center. Unsurprisingly, the conquistadors fell on them like ravenous locusts.

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Cleopatra dug emeralds big-time (Photo © Timothy Kurtis | Dreamstime.com)


Inside Emerald By Love, Doris’s guide was Kim Wang, a 20-something adventurer who left her native China to work for a cruise company in Boston, met her true love in Colombian Gerson Morales and moved to Bogotá two years ago to open an emerald store with her new husband, whose family has mined for decades.

Kim patiently explained how the source mine determines the final green of an emerald and that darker green is better than lighter but only up to a point. She said the best stones go into gold settings instead of silver because gold is stronger and less likely to result in a lost stone and that most modern settings are designed by computer (resulting in a 10% loss of gold) and the rest still cast by hand. She showed Doris how minerals like fool’s gold get embedded into emeralds as the earth is shaping the esmeralda, adding to their character.

Then came the fun part: Doris tried on virtually every ring in the store of the color she preferred (dark, of course). Big, little, bling, modest. On and off. When she finally narrowed things down to two candidates, she sent a text message to patient Louis, asking him to join her in the store.

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Yes, Doris tried on just about every ring in this and another display case.


Once at her side, Louis immediately bonded with Kim by flourishing the few Mandarin words he remembers from his Bejing days and then turned to Doris’s choices. Being a visual person and a smart man to boot, he immediately pronounced Doris’s selections the most beautiful in the store. One, 1.5 karats and with tiny diamond chips around the band and on the setting, was deliciously elegant. The second, pear-shaped, was handmade in a Colombian style that probably could not be found outside the country.

He urged her to buy both.

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Kim and Gerson with the candidates.


Yikes! Both? Doris quailed. She had mentally budgeted for one good ring, but two? More time was required.

Gerson (Anglo names are common in Colombia) had joined his wife Kim in the store by then, and he is a smart man, too. He invited us to lunch with Kim and his brother Christian to give Doris time for the possibilities to percolate.

Over a hearty local almuerzo in a local joint, he explained how he grew up around emeralds, his family having owned mines for more than 30 years. Kim told us how her parents encouraged her to seek her future in America even though she was their only child. The couple described how their romance began with no shared language and how it continues to benefit from neither being fluent in the other’s tongue (they can’t argue).

Doris smiled and listened but was all the while weighing the case for two emerald rings. Though she likes finger sparklies, she owns only two of them. Buying two would double her lifetime collection overnight, which seemed excessive. On the other hand, on Partout’s first day in Tanzania two years, our guide had taken us to a rustic trading post that sold jewelry set with tanzanite stones from the nearby mine. Dazzled but fretful we were in one of those “I have a friend and he’ll make you a deal” situations, Doris passed on making a purchase and has regretted it ever since. She did not want to take a similar regret home from Bogotá.

A whole afternoon had passed, but when we eventually walked out the door of Emerald By Love, not one but two emerald rings were safe in a hidden pocket of helpful Louis’s shirt. Better yet, we were both satisfied we would enjoy not only the rings but the memory of buying them from Gerson and Kim in Bogotá for years to come.

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Mine meets jewel in this photograph on Emerald By Love’s shop wall. (Photo at top of blog © Carlos Mora | Dreamstime.com)


From the Partout Toolbox: Before leaving home, print and carry the receipts for airline tickets you are holding, not just the reservations themselves. Partout has found that most online check-in programs do not indicate what special services you have already purchased (e.g., extra legroom, checked bag, toilet privileges). Having the receipt at hand helps avoid inadvertent double purchases and comes in handy if there are challenges from the airline at check-in over what you have bought.

COMING SOON: A Verry Cuenca Christmas

 

 

 

Here We Go Again

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We often meet people whose response to hearing about our marathon travels is, “I want your life!”

To which we (or, at least, Doris) respond, “Beware of what you wish.”

We are now embarked on our third consecutive winter on the road. The international segment will be our shortest yet: only (haha … “only”) three months, followed by a month in San Diego – four months in all.

We have friends in the Netherlands (you know who you are!) who seem able to pack a couple roll-on bags and hit the road for a year at a time, making it up as they go. That is them. This is us.
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This is also us: leaving home with tickets for 20 flights, two trains, one sailboat and 124 nights of lodging in hotels (18 nights), AirBnBs (78 nights) and home exchanges (28 nights).
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Thanks to the magic of Xcel, where every move is recorded, it is easy to count all those bookings. Tallying the hours Doris spent making them all would be impossible. Each checked box represents a juggling act in which hopes, expectations, assumptions, wishful thinking, airline schedules, weather considerations and budget are tossed into the air and hopefully don’t come down on our heads. Coups are scored. Mistakes are made.

And that’s before the trip even starts.


For all the conveyances and lodgings, Partout will not be as all over the place this winter as in winters past. With the exception of outings in Panama, Colombia, Peru and the Galapagos (that altogether add up to less than one-quarter of our time in Latin America), we will stay put in our favorite stay-put city of last winter: Cuenca, the colonial jewel of Ecuador an hour’s flight south of Quito.
IMG_7359Staying put raises new questions for us and for the Partout reports that will follow until we return to the States.

Will we relish the familiarity of one location or long for more novelty? Revel in the climate so temperate it varies no more than six degrees year-round or weary of the sameness? Will we find ourselves luxuriating in stretches of unscheduled days or wilting from boredom? Might we tire of struggling day after day in a foreign language?

And will our Partout followers find our stay-putting so dull they would not even open our emails?

Only time – and future blog posts – will tell.

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En route to Cuenca, we visited our Taylors in Florida, ogled ships in the Panama Canal and hiked Colombia’s Cocora Valley, home of the world’s tallest palm trees.


From the Partout Toolbox: If you are shopping flights, try Momondo.com (a function of Kayak.com). Like all internet travel fare aggregators, Momondo leaves out some of the budget airlines, which means bargain-hunting takes a few more clicks to be complete. All the same, it is Doris’s new go-to for flight hunts because the app’s multi-city search is smooth and customizing an itinerary is easy. Fare alerts can be set up to track prices.

COMING SOON! Mining Emeralds in Bogotá

Related Link: Introducing Partout with Louis & Doris 

 

Where in the World Is Partout?

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We are getting so many emails these days with subject lines like, “Where the hell are you?” that we know we are overdue for a check-in.

(We also regularly are asked, “What does ‘part out’ mean?” Two-word “part out” means selling a car part by part. One-word “partout” is French for “all over the place.” We are one-word partout.)

For all those inquiring minds out there, we are back in the US of A until the end of 2019 with the exception of a relatively brief family visit to Europe in the fall. For the next month or so, Doris will bounce around a bit between Idaho, Denver and DC, speaking and taking care of her rental business, but Louis will stay put. Then we decamp together for summer in Sandpoint.

Our last check-in was four countries ago, from Ecuador, where we relished sights like the colorful head gear below that is a sartorial signature of each indigenous group.
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Next stop was Mexico City, which we found to be … a relief.

Everything is relative. After nearly three months of warnings for our safety in the big cities of Colombia and Ecuador, Mexico’s capital felt like a safe harbor. That goes to show how far the city has come since its bad old days of the 20th century and how much further South America still has to go with its challenges.

After that, we shifted into high gear (for us) … La Paz and Todos Santos (a wedding) in Baja California; San Diego (overnight in transit); Washington DC (unpack, launder, repack); Marseille (the city half of a two-house home exchange); Sisteron (the country half of the same exchange); and, finally, Groningen, the Netherlands to see our European set of “kids.”

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Our “country house” overlooked a lavender field near the fortified village of Sisteron

Combined with fall trips to Greece and the Netherlands, this adds up to just about eight full months of travel, including 26 flights, six ferry rides, a handful of trains, several canoes and scores of Ubers and taxis in seven countries. But who’s counting?!

As a matter of fact, we are. Our top takeaway from Year 2 partout is that “too much of a good thing” can apply to travel.


How Long Is Too Long?

For us, eight months (with two extremely short breaks in DC to repack) turned out to be too long to live out of suitcases. Things began wearing out – clothes, suitcases, bones and our patience. Without familiar routines, we lost track of time, missed important deadlines back in the States, started waking up and falling asleep at weird hours and lost track of stuff. Somewhere around the 20th or 30th accommodation (of more than 40 altogether), we would find ourselves standing in still another kitchen asking each other, “Now where are the dishes in this one?” Or wandering around in the middle of the night trying to remember where the bathroom door might be.

We are still in negotiations about how many months is too many months. For now, let’s just say next winter’s travels are scheduled for December 1 to April 1 anchored by one long stay of about two months in Cuenca, Ecuador, followed by a month in San Diego and bookended with big chunks of DC before and after.

Yet, even as we vow, “Nevermore,” we find ourselves mulling what we would have been willing to give up in order to cut our monster trip down to size. There are no easy answers.


If We Can’t Have It All

Would it have been the 16th-century fortress in Cartagena, Columbia, where vastly outnumbered Spanish defenders turned away the British navy in a victory some historians say destined South America to speak Spanish and not English?

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At the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas in Cartagena

Or maybe the breathtaking gold art of the Incas in Bogotá or the voluptuous sculptures and paintings of Fernando Botero in Medellin?

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At the feet of Botero

We suppose we could have foregone the sight of Panama hats being woven at the source (which is not Panama, btw) or the last masters of pre-Columbian crafts at their work.
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Or skipped a few jaw-dropping churches …
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Or missed an exquisitely photogenic village or two …
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But how much time would that have shaved from the journey?

And, in the end, would we really have wanted to miss out on all those exotic new fruits we tried, or being pulled through the Andes by a steam engine, or seeing the Amazon from the treetops?Fruits - marketSteam engineSasha - canopy 2

Or missed the beauty of waking up in the cloud forest?
Ecuador - cloud forest


Beyond Scenery

And, beyond the scenery and sensations, which lessons into history, life and culture could we have given up without losing important insights into unfamiliar places?

The tension between Colombia’s yearning for a brighter future and its continued romance with its violent past?

Version 2

Only time will tell how far the light breaking over Medellin spreads, especially when “Pablito” Escobar remains an object of adoration in some quarters

Escobar

How about Simon Bolívar’s freedom trail?

 

SA - history

Mural at the bridge of Boyocá,
where the decisive battle of independence for New Granada was fought

 

Or talking with people living so differently than we do, some in the face of stupendous obstacles?

Ecuador - crippled artist

Quadriplegic artist painting with a brush held between his teeth on a street in Quito

Not to mention orchids barely the size of a thumbnail …
Amazon - smallest orchid

Or the landmarks of ancient Rome in modern Provence.

MOLDIV-002 copy

Pont du Gard (top), Arles and Nimes (L & R)

Even the hooplah of Colombian football?
Colombia - futbol

What would we have been happy to give up in order to cut our monster trip down to size? As it turns out, nothing.


FROM THE PARTOUT TOOLBOX:
For students and travelers of a certain age, public services and attractions in foreign countries often offer discounts unlike anything we find in the States. Our personal favorite is the “golden” pass in Spain that, for $6 each per year, entitles us to ride any train in Spain for half price. There are many others. The Gold Museum of Bogota was free for us because of our age ($7/person for others). The on-off bus tour of Quito was half-price. People ask us all the time how we manage to travel so long and far on our retirement budgets. One answer is that we make the most of discounts.

TOP TIP:
If you have a student ID or are 60 or 65 years old, always ask at the ticket counter if there is a discount. We have found that discounted prices are not always displayed on public signage; you have to ask.


Coming Soon: Gezellig and Goodbye, Again

but getting there

Rocking chair: Not yet on the bucket list