Olga Yan Pardo rode home with us from the FEDICE meeting in Quito on June 1st and she's still here. (But that was the plan.) From the second day she was here, we have called her Olguita, a term of endearment. There's no doubt about it. She certainly has endeared herself to us, as well as the people with whom she has worked.
Olguita came to FEDICE as a Global Ministries Mission Intern Long Term Volunteer from the Dominican Republic (Repúbica Dominicana). She has a degree in Social Work and is putting her skills to excellent use while associated with FEDICE. I know because I just read her monthly report and could not have been more impressed. Her passions are youth rights, education, and the Lord. She conducts programs on children's rights, child abuse, spousal abuse, sexual education, and life planning.
An interesting thing happened on the way from Quito to Otavalo that first day of June. Olguita told us that her uncle, who lives in New York City (and is loved dearly by Olguita), was in Ecuador for a visit and was coming to see her. "Oh, when?" we asked. "Tomorrow. He's flying from Guayaquil to Quito to see me, but I'm not in Quito anymore. He asked if there were any good but inexpensive hotels in Otavalo," Olguita replied. Well, say no more. We offered to let him stay in our guest room. We even told her that we wouldn't mind going to the Quito airport to pick him up at 6 pm the next day, because we weren't sure if there was a bus from the airport to Otavalo.
If the term "interesting" can be applied to this revelation on the ride from Quito to Otavalo, the only term that can be applied to what happened the next day is "funny." Olguita was having her first breakfast with us when the telephone rang about 9:30 am. It was her uncle. He arrived in Quito at 6 AM, not 6 pm. He also came to Otavalo by taxi from the airport (no small expense). He needed to know where we lived because he was in the central square of Otavalo and could get a taxi to our house if he knew where it was.
We were dumbfounded - Olguita, too.
Marilyn was making breakfast that morning, so she handed Isabel the keys and asked if she'd take the car and Olguita to pick up Uncle David. About 20 minutes later, in walked a tall man - Uncle David. Not far behind him was María, Uncle David's pretty wife. Not far behind her was Erika, María's niece from Guayaquil. For those mathematically challenged, that's three people instead of the one that we were expecting. Surr-prise.
After six years of living in Ecuador, we have become accustomed to surprises like this. Marilyn casually put more food on to cook and Isabel pitched in to help. Soon, a hearty breakfast was ready and we enjoyed picking each other's brains about what life was like "back home," and in Otavalo for that matter. Marilyn and I were interested in hearing about life in The Bronx (especially since Marilyn lived in New York City for seven years, but in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan). We were also interested to hear about Guayaquil, where Erika lives, and which is a metropolis we haven't visited (yet).
After breakfast, Marilyn went into her "tour guide mode" and showed everyone the sights in and near Otavalo for a day and a half. After all, Olguita herself had only visited Otavalo for work until now. But, all too soon, it was time for David, Maria, and Erika to head for Quito, and the rest of us to get back to work for FEDICE.
Besides working with indigenous communities near Otavalo, FEDICE, with assistance from churches in the U.S., is supporting two very needy families. In one, an elderly woman with health issues of her own and very few resources, is raising four grandchildren who were orphaned at a young age. Part of Olguita's job while in Otavalo is to guide both of these families in putting together life plans. In this, her training as a social worker is invaluable. I can say with some knowledge that many Ecuadoreans, though smart, are not accustomed to planning ahead. Olga's teaching this skill to these two families will aid them immeasurably in the future.
Another part of Olga's job is conducting programs on child abuse and youth rights in churches and schools. Yes, Ecuador is not immune to abuse, either spousal or directed towards children. Ecuador has its problems and challenges just like any other country. I'm confident Olguita will guide people with whom she works in alleviating, and solving, some of these problems.
Since being here, Olguita has had a chance to participate in many events of familia "loca" (an affectionate name for the family that has adopted us), including two picnics and a parade. She was even on hand for the airshow performed by yours truly. The family is called familia "loca," but they all stayed on the ground that day! Who's loco?
Olguita with Familia "Loca"
Her infectious smile, deep and joyful laugh, singing, helpfulness, and dedication to her work make her a joy to be around. Even our dog loves her (and Canela gets no food from Olga!) Olguita is supposed to be in Otavalo only a few weeks this summer, but we hope it's longer. After all, Bethany Waggoner was supposed to be with us for three months and wound up staying for eleven months. Never know. If that happens again, Blanca Puma, Executive Director of FEDICE, may start to think of Otavalo as a black hole that sucks in new talent and won't let go!
Olguita makes friends wherever she goes. She went to church with me every Sunday that she was here in Quito, and the people are still asking about her....
Posted July 9, 2016
8 de julio, 2016
Do we do extreme sports? At sixty-seven years of age? And I do mean "we." I may have videos on YouTube about zip lining and paragliding, but Marilyn has her adventurer/explorer side as well.
For one thing, she hopes to hike to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon this summer. And back up the next day. It's on her "bucket" list.
We don't normally think of hiking as an extreme sport. It's basically walking (mostly over rough ground) while carrying gear you might need, right? But when you hike eight miles down one day (which is hard on your knees) descending 4,780 feet in temperatures that can reach 120º Fahrenheit, have a short night's rest, and hike up ten miles the next day (which is hard on your heart and lungs) ascending 4,380 feet in the same temperatures, that is a fair definition of an extreme sport in my opinion.
Zip Lining, November 8, 2014 (Video)
Since we were married thirty-two years ago, we've done things (both together and apart) that seemed extreme to some people, or at least highly adventurous. Come to think of it, on the second day of our honeymoon, Marilyn left me at the top of Haleakala Volcano on Maui while she set off on an adventurous three hour hike into the caldera. Or was it two hours? Four? However long it was, I had time to read everything in the museum three times and push myself around the parking lot four times.
We've been river rafting on the Rio Grand in three of the four Big Bend Canyons. We've rafted parts of the Yampa, Green, Colorado, and Snake Rivers, too, going over rapids as high as Class IV.
I've gone snow skiing. Marilyn has hiked the three day trail to Machu Picchu, reaching 13,000 feet.
Since we've been in Ecuador, I've had a chance to go zip lining twice and paragliding once. The last time I went zip lining, I went in my wheelchair. Marilyn has also done some zip lining. I want to do more zip lining and paragliding in the future.
Zip Lining, April 5, 2016 (Video)
The thing is, we didn't sit down one day and say to each other, "Let's test our boundaries," or "What's the most outrageous thing we can think of to challenge ourselves?" Instead, we were merely open to opportunities as they presented themselves.
But, how do you define extreme sports? Are they activities very few people do because they're inherently dangerous? Or are they activities few people have an opportunity to do? I don't use a dictionary because it's hard for me to handle, but a perusal of the definitions on the handy internet reveals the following attributes: extreme sports are inherently dangerous, involving speed, height, physical exertion, and specialized equipment. That puts extreme sports into the first definition I posited.
I take what I call calculated risks. Always have. I think Marilyn does the same. Maybe most people do that. For example, if I think there's less than a one percent chance of dying or getting seriously injured doing an activity, and there's a way for me to do it, I'll likely do it, providing I think I'll enjoy it. Neither of us would do something if the probability of a bad outcome was, say, twenty percent. An adrenaline rush or feel-good moment in that case wouldn't be worth the high probability of maiming or killing ourselves.
Paragliding, June 19, 2016 (Video)
This description of how we choose activities we want to try doesn't really sound like it fits the definition of extreme sports. So maybe I'm inflating the significance of some of the things we do - in other words, diluting the meaning of extreme sports. On the other hand, it takes physical exertion and specialized equipment to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up. It involved speed and specialized equipment when I snow skied. It involved height, speed, and specialized equipment when I paraglided from twelve hundred feet and zip lined on a cable one hundred fifty to two hundred feet above a river. It involved physical exertion, specialized equipment, and sometimes speed when we river rafted. Furthermore, these were all inherently dangerous activities, though the danger was sensibly minimized as much as possible at the time we did them.
I submit that both Marilyn and I have been, and will continue to be, involved in extreme sports. But, you be the judge.
As for us, we'll stick to our separate but similar philosophies. Beyond the Grand Canyon hike for Marilyn and my desire to take another paragliding flight, I don't know what extreme sports, if any, are in our futures. But I do know that we'll continue to enjoy life and embrace opportunities as they come along.
You guys are wonderful! You just keep on keeping on.....Love you, Lisa
Glenn, it's exciting that you both are so adventurous. I went zip-lining once, but it was too fast (and scary) to enjoy the view. I prefer going on a tram ride through the canopy in a "gondola" where you have time to observe all around you.
I want to go on a steamboat ride from the highlands of Colombia (somewhere?) down the Amazon. You have inspired me to go ahead and do it. Hugs to you and Marilyn.
This post is dedicated to David Hebert, my brother. David, I have always admired you, even during the time we sort of drifted apart. When we were growing up, you treated me as a normal brother, despite my physical disabilities. I admired that, though I may not have had the proper words to say so at the time. I admired you when you worked during summers putting yourself through college, when you went into the Army to fly helicopters because you couldn't get into the Air Force, when you got a double graduate degree, when you worked your way up to major, when you had children, when you changed jobs after you'd retired from the Army so you could fly again. I admired all that, bro', especially your ability to fly. Now, I've flown without having a giant airplane around me. And I hope to do it again!
This post is also dedicated to the family we live with in Ecuador. From the get-go, the immediate "family," Marilyn, and I melded together naturally. Eventually, the extended family, better known as Familia "Loca," also allowed us to play integral roles in the family. Without them, especially Isabel, we'd be back in the U.S., maybe living near our blood family, maybe not.
Take me up, Wind.
Take me where you blow.
Show me land, Wind,
Spread out far below.
Show me streams, Wind,
That to the oceans flow.
Take me down, Wind,
Gently, and so slow.
I was honored to be an Honorary Father on Father's Day, 2016. It wasn't exactly a shock. For some time now, both Marilyn and I have been viewed as "quasi-parental" figures. To be honest, at first, I thought this was because of the help and support we were able to provide in the form of loans and, sometimes, outright gifts. Eventually, I came to realize that the affection shown us was as genuine as someone would show a, well, a cared-about family member.
We have always stayed away from the patronage system, however, something that tends to be prevalent in Latin American countries. When we help people, it's with the aim of furthering their self-sufficiency and independence. The patronage system keeps people dependent on a Patron (Patrón) to fulfill their needs. The last thing I wanted was to be a Patrón. That's certainly not why either Marilyn or I came here.
Yes, we give gifts sometimes, but we are also given gifts. Some are intangible, like the love, support, and faith in God we feel from those around us. Some are tangible, like the gift I was given on Father's Day.
We live with Isabel and Brayan, her son. Patricia, Isabel's sister, often stays at our house on weekends. Patricia and Isabel, being the last two daughters of their mother's six children, and close in age, are best friends. When Isabel has needed help, Patricia's always been there. When Patricia went through rough times, Isabel was at her side.
These two got together and gave me a paragliding trip for Father's Day. They had heard me, after our trip to Baños with a honeymooning couple, say that I wished I could find a way to go paragliding (or hacer parapente). Patricia knew a friend who knew a friend in Ibarra who had taken disabled people paragliding before. They called and set it up for Father's Day.
Believe me, this gift was not lightly given. Neither Isabel nor Patricia have a lot of money. Further, it costs more to take up a person with a disability because there needs to be a large "ground crew" to get things ready and make sure nothing is amiss. But Patricia and Isabel wanted to do it anyway because they both knew how excited I'd be. (I didn't disappoint them.) I'd say their desire to see me excited was a pretty special gift in and of itself.
The Familia "Loca" was in on it, too. It was one of our regular family reunion days (every two weeks) and we had a picnic at a lake near where I would take off. In fact, I thought I would land near where we had the picnic because I had seen other paragliders land there before. Thus, when it was time to go, I was really surprised when all 22 or so piled into the two cars we had and went with me to meet the instructor at his shop.
Familia "Loca" - Jorge Duque Is Directly Behind Me
When I met Jorge Duque, I liked him right away. He was sure about what needed to be done and left nothing to chance. He runs a school for parapente in Ibarra called FlyEcuador, 25 minutes from our house in Otavalo. After he had gathered his "ground crew," some of whom would meet us at the takeoff site, he got into his car and led our two-car caravan to the scene of the adventure.
On top of Jorge's car was a 3-wheeled chair that reminded me of those jogging buggies moms sometimes use to stay in shape while taking their babies out for a ride. Only this was bigger. Adult size. It also reminded me of a 3-wheeled racing wheelchair with a high back instead of a cut-down back. Jorge was proud of having developed it himself.
Chair In The Air
I had a chance to study it as we followed Jorge. It looked pretty sturdy. I liked that the back wheels were canted (slanted) outward so much, providing lots of stability. I did wonder if the front wheel was big enough to go over rough ground. (It was).
Taking lefts and rights and lefts and rights, we arrived at the top of a hill on the opposite side of Ibarra from where Marilyn and I thought we were going. Jorge later told us that we were not wrong about the other site. He uses that one, too. But this site was better for the chair because it had a much more gradual drop off. At the other site, there wasn't much time to catch a good updraft before the mountain became too steep and the poor soul in the chair (and Jorge behind it) would be goners.
I was put in the chair straight from the car. My upper body was put into a harness, my legs were strapped down, and, of course, I was given a helmet. Then I was lined up with the parasail. Because I couldn't do any steering, elastic cords were attached from the chair frame to the front wheel to keep it straight (but not rigid) during takeoff and landing. A selfie stick with a GoPro camera was attached to the chair. (This camera got rotated 90 degrees during takeoff but, amazingly, still captured great pictures of Jorge, me, and the chair.) Then the parasail was attached to both Jorge and the chair.
We were ready. The family - my adoring audience - were watching and cheering me on from where they'd been asked to stand, out of the way.
One of the ground crew walked out about 50 feet ahead and to the left with some toilet paper tied to a stick. That was the wind gauge. I had to laugh. In the U.S. they'd probably have some sort of high tech instrument, but a length of toilet paper on a stick was so much cheaper and served the exact same purpose.
The toilet paper started blowing parallel to the ground, directly toward us. It was time to roll! A guy on each side grabbed the chair and pulled it forward… then stopped? Whaat? I later figured out from watching the video that they stopped to let the parasail, now filled with air, get overhead.
Then they started pulling again, faster and faster. It frightened me a bit when Jorge yelled, "¡Corren! (Run!)" because we were already going fast and the hill was getting steeper and steeper. What kind of crash would there be if we couldn't get airborne in time?
We were off the ground, just barely. I held my breath, half expecting the wind to die and plop us back onto the now steepened hill. But, no. The ground continued to fall away. We were truly airborne. We both gave shouts of joy.
As we banked right to catch an air current, off to my right I could see Lago Yahuarcocha, where we had had our picnic. When we banked left, I once again looked to my right and saw down the length of the Chota Valley, with the Chota River running through it. Amazing! Ahead, I could see exactly where the new highway around Ibarra stopped when they ran out of funds to complete it because the price of oil dropped. To my left, I could see crops below (mostly sugar cane) and the Cotacachi Volcano. Seeing these features from the old highway had always been difficult to impossible (except for Cotacachi), even though the old highway was high. Now, everything was spread before me, like a 3D map - in living color. I reveled at being able to look down at the earth, whose terrestrial bonds I had escaped, without being hindered by the walls of an airplane. I was almost like a bird.
Except we didn't very much higher. Because the wind was not quite right that afternoon, about all we could do was steadily glide down from a height of about 7,500 ft. to a height of about 6,300 ft. - a descent of 1,200 ft. Those height numbers are guesstimates, but that descent number came from Jorge.
When we were about to land, I got nervous again. There were bushes all over the field which we were headed for and it looked like they were pretty substantial. I couldn't judge adequately, having never had such a perspective. I also heard a dog barking frantically below. Would we be attacked? After a few seconds of this silly worrying, I decided that Jorge knew what he was doing. So I relaxed and concentrated on touch down.
Dog At Landing Site
I didn't know what would happen, but I could think of three possible outcomes. Outcome #1: I would stay upright. Outcome #2: I would fall over sideways. Outcome #3: The front wheel would get caught on one of the bushes and cause us to flip end-over-end. Therefore, I concentrated on keeping my arms as close to my body as possible. If you picked Outcome #2, you're the proud winner of… nothing but bragging rights. We stayed upright for a couple of seconds, then fell over sideways. (By the way, the "bushes" turned out to be mere clumps of weeds.)
Jorge: Are you Okay? (He speaks English, too.)
Me: ¡Estoy Muy Bien!
And I was. Oh, I had a view of bugs crawling up and down blades of grass until Jorge could get the chair (and me) upright again. But I had just been through a wonderful experience. And there was no dog gnawing at me. I couldn't have found anything to gripe about if I'd tried.
Jorge used his walkie-talkie to call the takeoff site, tell them we were okay, and ask that someone fly down to help us get squared away. Meantime, Jorge had turned the chair so that I could see a rainbow arched perfectly over the hill of our takeoff site. It seemed to signify something, though I still haven't been able to figure it out enough to put it into words. I'll just say that it signaled the successful end to a wonderful adventure.
My "Blockbuster" Movie On Youtube
I put together a 16 minute movie from video and photos taken by Jorge's team, Marilyn, and Elvis Novoa. Every time I watch it, I get excited all over again. If you can watch video from Youtube (i.e., you have a decent internet connection), you'll be able to watch this. Just click on the above picture, put the video on full screen, turn the volume up, and come fly with me!
P. S. If you care to support Jorge's program for people with disabilities, please contact him through his website: http://flyecuador.com.ec. It does cost him money to develop the right equipment and tailor it to individual needs.