Saturday, March 28, 2015

Still Water Runs Deep and Wide

Those of you who know I took a trip to the Giron Waterfalls this week, probably assumed this blog is about running water. While the waterfalls are just one more amazing example of the beauty of this country and the inspiration for pondering God’s wonders, they are not the story I am telling today.

Today’s blog is a recounting of a truly inspirational story about a man who turned adversity into triumph in a monumental way.  This is the story of Angel Salvador Ortega as told by our tour guide.  Pull up a chair, grab a shot of tequila, and sit a spell. I will tell you a story.

Angel is from a very small desert town south of Cuenca. Like almost everywhere in Central Ecuador, the town is surrounded by mountains and valleys. It is beautiful, is a tight knit community, but there are very few opportunities there. So years ago, Angel struck out for the United States in hopes of making a better living to support his family back home. 

Angel’s story is not all that different from many who try to reach the land of plenty. He was caught. Having run out of money, he began working with a tequila maker, and learned the trade. Then he returned to his beloved Ecuador and what he did with his newfound knowledge is inspiring.

Tequila is derived from the agave plant.  Agave plants are wild in Ecuador and grow everywhere. Angel knew this and decided that he could bring his new skill home and begin to make a difference. But he changed how things were done. In Mexico, the agave is grown on farms, the leaves are harvested to extract the juice, chemicals are used to speed up the fermenting process and often times other ingredients are added as well.

Angel’s vision was to use pure juice from the agave.  They tap a hole near the base of the plant and extract the juice morning and evening from the plant, leaving the leaves intact, and allowing the plant to survive. It takes 3 to 5 years for the plant to produce juice, and this method allows them to extract juice from a single plant, for as long as 12 years. Instead of planting and harvesting farms, the people of the town all have agave growing and extract the juice per his standards.  The juice is collected in large barrels and the Ortega family picks up the barrels about twice a week.  By working in this manner, the Trancahuaico company is supporting the entire town.  They only extract the juice for about 6 months of the year, because during the rainy season, water can mix with the juice and dilute it. They monitor the juice in the barrels until it has fermented about a week, and then they distill it into Aguardiente De Agave. (The term tequila can only be used to describe product made Jalisco, Mexico, by international agreement.)  The product produced is 100 % agave juice, and has the Ecuadorian seal of Sanitario meaning it is pure and organic.  Those who drink it say it is very smooth and many proclaim it to be the best “tequila” in the world. They also make agave syrup and are waiting on approval of a mora (blackberry) wine.

                                     (This photo is of our tour guide Emilio and Angel's son)

Angel is retired now and his sons run the company, though they call it a community.  His desire to provide for his family, turned into a community effort and his efforts now provide for the entire town.  Their products can be purchased at the facility in Ona, and at the Tienda del Sur in Cuenca, but are served throughout Ecuador.  Watch for the label with the agave plants.

The next time you feel that one man can’t make a difference, think of Angel and his family, who are supporting a community and producing a quality product in a space not much bigger than a 3 car garage in the States. 

Thanks for stopping by and sharing a story with me. Now, would you please give me back my bottle of Aguadiente De Agave?
Scarlett Braden
in Cuenca, Living the good life!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Baptism by Fire and The Good Old Days

Last month we attended a Newcomer's Lunch. It was designed for expats in our city who were new, and the old timers as well, to meet new friends. We did. We sat with a friend we met here that we feel is a dear friend already, and two other people. One was here visiting, the other is moving here like we did. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch, and came away with a very dear friend, who is already like family. The Southern ties that bind and all that. There, is the background for this post. Pull up a chair, sit a spell and I will tell you the story of how Baptism by Fire transported us to the good ole days.

Following the lunch, we went to thank our delightful hostess. She was telling us how there were people who were arriving in the following days and weeks, that were sad that they were not here, in time for the lunch. She was saying that her vision was for this to become a community lunch with someone different hosting each time. She was also telling us that she hoped to connect some of the folks coming in the upcoming days with someone to meet with. We heartily and happily volunteered to have lunch with a lady coming the following week. But we were not very clear, apparently. Because the next morning I read on Facebook that mom and I were hosting the next luncheon. Baptism by Fire. Yes, we ARE newcomers. At the time we had only been here 4 months. We don't know the restaurants in town yet, certainly don't know the ever changing bus routes, and nope, not much Spanish yet either. But OK. We can do this. We are Southern ladies. All Southern ladies know how to entertain, whatever the situation. Right?

Well to make a long story, blog length, we began researching, trying restaurants, talking to people and trying to find the perfect location. We found one. The Bayou Caffee, owned and operated by a most charming Cuencano, who worked in New Orleans and Memphis, among other places. Southern ties. In Ecuador. God is great.

(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Thurston)

We had our lunch this week. By all accounts it was successful. We packed the restaurant. We ate great food. The restaurant was lovely. Everything ran as smooth as silk. Success. But wait, let me tell you what happened.

We sent out an open invitation for RSVP, knowing that in this day and age, people RSVP, then don't show. People show without a reservation. Old southern etiquette is dead. We have been mourning it's passing for about twenty years now. So we sent the open invitation out ...on Facebook, of course. And online websites. After all, that is how it is done these days. But low and behold, people replied. I even got a private message from one attendee thanking us for planning the lunch and making it look so easy. Hark! Do you hear the joy ringing in our hearts? A flashback of gentler more refined days. Then a few cancellations. Rejoice! They let us know. And then, the big event. Let me see if I can set the scene for you.

Thirty-five people, who don't know each other, seated at tables together. Conversation flowing, steadily. Heartfelt laughter in the air. Smiles on every face. Not a cell phone in sight, any where. Be still my heart, the South has risen again. Two and a half hours later the departures begin and with them, our attendees and new friends are thanking us, with hugs and kisses and promises to get together again for lunch.

(Photo Courtesy of Sebastian Matias Torres Vellejo)
 (Photo courtesy of Suzanne Thurston)

(Photo courtesy of Sebastian Matias Torres Vellejo)

If you are in town, and like a little of the old niceties of life, drop by the Bayou Caffee, meet Sebastian, owner of the caffee and a killer friendly smile. Have lunch, or dessert and coffee, play a game (he has them there) enjoy the beautiful yard with the open windows and doors and the breeze flowing through. Meet a new friend or three.

(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Thurston)

Realize that the good ole days of enjoying company, manners, and relaxing are not dead and gone. They moved to Ecuador. The South is alive and well, just two degrees south of the equator.

Ya'll come on back, and sit a spell. 

(Photo courtesy of Sebastian Matias Torres Vellejo)

Scarlett Braden
in Cuenca, Living the good life!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

New Things

Yep. I'm doing it. I'm writing a blog. What inspired me to write a blog you ask? Pull up a chair, sit a spell and I will tell you the story.

At the age of 49, having been somewhat forced into early retirement from my job, motherhood, and being a wife, I decided to embark on the first real adventure of my life.

Being who I am, that didn't mean riding a bull, buying a motorcycle, or getting a tattoo. No, those would have been too easy. Instead, I sold or gave away all of my earthly possessions (save what would fit in two suitcases), parted with the many boxes of sentimental keepsakes, and moved to a new country, a new continent, a new culture, with a new language. Nope, no sissy adventure for this girl. Along with this new found adventure, I made myself one promise. Do things I've never done before. Five months into the Great Adventure I can say I'm keeping my promise. I will expand on that in later posts, but it's where my story begins. 

Throughout my life, I've toyed with the idea of writing. I suppose that is only natural for someone who loves to read. At various stages in my life, I've even had people tell me, “You should write”. I would shrug and say “Maybe some day”. In my mind, my sister is the writer in the family – that is her dream. More and more people keep bringing it up, and I suppose the only reason not to try at this stage in my life is my own fear and lack of confidence. 

When I was leaving for Ecuador, my sister gave me a journal and a collection of pens with a stern, “Write about your adventures or anything you like, just WRITE!”. My aunt said, “Please write about your adventure and your life, people will read it”. Since I have been here, another handful of people have said “You should write”, “You're a great story teller”, etc.

My mom has finally really been pushing me to, and anyone who knows Nana knows she doesn't give up. Ever. Yesterday, I finally admitted to giving it some thought, but also listed the long list of reasons not to do any such thing. Mom reminded me that our good friend here in Cuenca, who is an author, has started a writer's support group and that I should go. Well, of course, “reminded me” is an inaccurate word, because I had not forgotten. I simply told her “I'm not a writer”.

Today I shared with mom a facebook exchange I had with a lady who is moving here later this month. As we are sitting on my bed, me reading the conversation, she suddenly leaps off the bed and exclaims "See, you should be writing! That description of Cuenca is great and Donna says that's the hardest part and you are good at it!”. Still somewhat stunned by the energetic outburst, I quipped, “Great maybe we can collaborate. Donna can write the story and I'll write the descriptions”. Bad mistake. Nana's new mission is for me to contact Donna and talk to her. I have no intention of doing any such thing. Our Donna is a very busy lady. Again, I explain to her all the reasons, I don't think I can write. She is not convinced or appeased and somehow still thinks this is a great idea. After another handful of instances of her popping in to ask if I have messaged Donna yet, I cave and I send a message. A message loosely to the effect that I know she is busy, but some time could we have a conversation about writing Maybe she could give me some advise and hopefully some more convincing reasons to NOT write. I mean after all, if I could say....”Donna said” maybe Nana would drop it.

I should have known better, really, I should have. Because Donna is such a caring, helping, positive soul, I thought she would help me. I overlooked the fact that, of course, she was going to side with Team Write. Her first bit of advise...Join the writer's group. Yes ma'am. I did. I joined the facebook group, signed up for the newsletter, bookmarked the website and put the next meeting on my calendar. In ink.

Then I received another message from my generous, positive friend that read “You need to blog, I will set it up for you, come up with a name and what are your favorite colors?” Yes ma'am. I did, and I kid you not, ten minutes later she sent me an invitation to MY blog. After a little tweaking of the designs, she turned it over to me and repeated a mantra that seems to be on the wind in my new beloved country...”Now Write...a blog”. Yes ma'am.

Welcome to Chica in Cuenca. Come on in and sit a spell. I plan to tell you a story.

A special thanks to D.B.McNicol!

Scarlett Braden
in Cuenca, Living the good life!