Geriatric Journey: Geezers Rule!

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For all you aging turtle rollers out there in other parts of the world who are scouring retirement magazines and blogs in an attempt to discover a premier, bitchin’ surfing location where you can hang-ten until that final, irrevocable wipeout – this post is for you.

 

 

Now, don’t tell my surf buddies, but the other evening while hanging loose at one of the many beach bars in Canoa (arguably Ecuador’s second best surfing destination), I overheard some snickering adolescent surfer refer to our sacredblog2222a surf spot just outside Playa del Sol (my condo complex which lies a smidgeon south of Canoa) as “Playa del Geriatric”.

 

 

WHAT? DUDE! THAT WAS RUDE!

 

 

Well, okay. There’s no denying it. It’s true that I and my surfing pals sport bifocals instead of the cool shades worn by our young Canoa counterparts.  For sure, our tanned skin is a bit pudgier and prune-like. And yes, there’s no getting around the fact that mirrors taunt us, reflecting our ebbing hairlines and exposing our skulls like reefs at low tide.

 

 

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Nonetheless, every morning one can witness a friendly paddle battle going on between us ancient bro’s. We amped-up seniors can be seen paddling to the outside to shred the waves, albeit a little more stooped over, slower moving, and stiff-jointed. And despite what those young, lithe twerps believe we are ready for, we elder dudes are not inclined quite yet to trade in our waxed sticks for wheeled walkers.

 

 

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So, if your longboard is dusty and you are currently landlocked and feeling closed out of the gnarly surf by the chill of ice, and you’re searching the internet for sizzling sands to warm your frigid toes before you face your personal extinction, Canoa, Ecuador just might be the perfect surfing Shangri-la for you.

 

 

The beaches here are affordable, and you will surely revel in those epic days where you paddle to the rhythm and undulations of the sea, adapting to year-round tanning under the blazing hot sun while savoring the renewed experience of feeling stoked as you drop in on 3 to 8 foot rights and lefts which curl daily 100 yards off lonely playas.

But, for those lean, cool, local grommets who might have happened upon this post –  if you are thinking of dsc_6202sneaking here to snake us timeworn, longboard surfers and steal our swells, I give you fair warning.  Here on the waves at Playa del Sol Convalescent Home, um, err, I mean Condominium Complex, we white-haired haoles rule. Surf’s Up – Cowabunga!

 

 

P.S.

 

Just having some multi-generational competitive fun. Everyone, young, old, newbie or pro, is welcome to the surf in front of Playa del Sol.

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Sleep, Sex & Surfing

bed-1Since moving to Ecuador Jan and I have perfected one of our favorite early morning, intimate activities. As the sun begins to overwhelm the stars, we pour ourselves a warm cup of coffee, quietly slip open the slider door that leads to the veranda and cuddle up on our double chaise to sip caffeine and bear witness to the Pacific Ocean coming into focus.chase

This morning, lying there, my head in Jan’s lap, her hand lightly caressing my forehead, I was sharing with her that yesterday was my ideal day – perfect in every way.

Leave it to her to reply in a direct, concise style and though short, one I’d clearly understand. Plus, effectively shortening this post in the process.

bed-2“Ah yes, a day of sustenance indeed. For you had great sleep, sex and surfing.”

 Nailed it.

God, I love retirement! Enough details, I’m probably in big trouble as is.

Post over.

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Sleek, Gentle Curves: A Chance Encounter

There she stood in the Guayaquil bus terminal – tall, sleek, her gentle curves perfectly formed. From a distance (and with an aged, well-honed stealth), I studied her lines as she leaned against a young man who was as handsome as she was stunning. They were not alone. Beside them, rising tall out of his sandals, was another equally attractive, curly-topped man of similar youth (Damn them both). Tragically, he did not share the pleasure of a similar beauty at his side.

I found myself staring – an old man envious I guess. Silently I debated the appropriateness of approaching the three and introducing myself, secretively hoping they were hopping on my bus and traveling in my direction. But before I could gather the needed courage, my wife (noticing my distraction) suddenly uncurled her fingers from my hand and confidently marched over to the three, introducing herself while I remained fixed and googly-eyed on the concrete platform.

As it turned out, these two German twenty-somethings with their curvy, fine-lined, 6’9” shared surfboard were on a journey from Lima, Peru where they had been studying international economics, to the surfing/fishing village of Canoa, Ecuador which we now call home. Cool – they were heading our way!

This “chance” encounter presented us with a wonderful gift, and I wonder how often I must miss such opportunities, perhaps by being too distracted by the day-to-day ordinary or by being too reserved or too hesitant to “intrude” upon another. If it were not for my wife’s boldness, this fortuitous moment might have ended up as one of those lost chances.

Max and Anthony were so very warm and outgoing, and they kindly took the time in the bus station to share their sojourn with two old people well beyond twice their age. (Sorry Jan, but facts are facts. We’ve gotten old – but you’re still beautiful.) The conversing and the sharing of life with these two amazing young men continued through the next seven fun and thought-provoking days.

Every morning (with the exception of New Year’s Day – did I mention they were in their twenties and nowhere at daybreak to be found?)  we surfed together, and afterward they joined us on our deck for fresh-made fruit smoothies and a feast of Jan’s wonderfully prepared eggs, bacon and home-cooked banana bread.  The growing friendship between foreigners of both country and age spilled out into several evenings at local beach bar huts where we relaxed around tables stationed on the warm sand while brilliant sunsets engulfed the skies and roaming dogs begged at our feet. Clinked bottles of beer offering cheers to all were followed by more conversation and an evolving friendship. 

On our seventh and last morning together, as I was straddling my board while musing between sets, I was struck by our unusual assembly. An Ecuadorian, two Germans and a fellow expat who resides in nearby San Clemente floated alongside me. Five men, representing two generations, three languages, harboring the biases that naturally come with the divide of age and nationalities sat serenely encouraging one another – an outcome of our deeply held and shared unexplainable passion for surfing. However, there was an undercurrent occurring that went well beyond just surfing. Over the course of those seven days friendships and memories were fused and, as a result, my life became more colorful, my thoughts expanded.1

2These two young, open-hearted travelers are just one example of the many benefits of living my life here as an expat. Anthony and Max, along with many explorers of lands and souls, have touched my life and taught me lessons on an age-old conflict with which many of us struggle – the clash between security and vulnerability. How can one ever experience the positive impacts realized when people of differing ideas, faiths, political persuasions or national alliances come together, without offering passage by lowering the drawbridges over the motes that protect our lives? It is then we are freed from fear and allowed to play, break bread together and toast the sunsets with those that are, at a glance, seemingly different from ourselves.

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Portraits from a Parade

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Cuenca, Ecuador’s annual Pase del Niño (Passing of the Child) combines both Catholic and indigenous traditions. Thousands of children and adults pass through the street dressed in beautiful, elaborate, handmade clothing, the baby Jesus sharing space with the wise men, matadors, roasted pigs, handsome horses festooned with candies, fruits, liquor bottles and toys, floats, bands, and dancers, all an expression of their faith, their cultures and their histories. With some 15,000 participants from all over the region, it is an amazing feast for the eyes, ears (and even nose) and an all-day adventure. (We watched the festivities from 9:00 in the morning until the last participants walked by at 5:00.) Parents were eager to have pictures taken of their beautifully adorned children – forcing me to narrow down my collection of some 800 pictures from yesterday to just the ones shared here. More than anything, I was captured by the faces – so much beauty and all with a story to tell.

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Imprisoned Security

 

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Jan and I have developed a nightly routine of locking doors, turning latches and lowering homemade window braces even though we are surrounded by an iron grate attached to concrete walls which border the perimeter of the property. I hate it – that separation! Yet, what does one do? The risk in allowing the desire for openness to override sensibilities is an open invitation to invasion and loss. And even in this self-imposed prison, thieves have scaled the security fence and robbed our protected community. There is a reason that nearly all homeowners, both native born and foreign, have barred windows and doors and high walls, many with sinister looking, mortared-in glass shards on the tops of the concrete barriers.

With a sunset drink in hand I find myself in an inner struggle as I gaze through the wire studying an uncaged finch that is firmly fastened to a swaying palm tree. My predicament – I want the freedom to fly but refuse it for the safety of the ground behind the wall.

 

 

Inconsolable

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I’ve been back in Ecuador for a solid week now, and the waves – or more accurately, the lack of them – is making this sad old surfer sick. A mere glance at this picture will illustrate that this morning was no different. So, I guess it’s another game day of playing Scrabble with Jan. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing with my wife. But, c’mon. My retirement clock is ticking, folks, while I sit here at a dining room table miss-spelling words when I should be straddling my surfboard pondering spiritual meanings while I anticipate that perfect wave.

 When there’s no sand between my toes, I’m a lost soul!

Sunset Drowned

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I am momentarily lost in the blindness of dark, and what’s more disturbing, I willfully embrace it. This evening’s retiring sun was nothing more to my moistened eyes than a shrouded, fiery sphere surrendering into a dreary colorlessness.

My past excitement and anticipation for the brilliant announcement of the closing to another warm, blue, Ecuador day has been dampened by the sight of what is left of Canoa – a fishing and surfing village which had been our little end-of-life slice of paradise.

Indeed, this evening as the sun slowly drowns, my survey of the earthquake’s carnage here serves only as a confirmation for me that the universe has neither the capacity to care nor the ability to apologize.

20160429_133238In this time of discouragement, I refuse to give even the faintest hue a pathway into my being. Frankly, today’s depressing trudge – stepping around the concrete rubble which now litters the streets of Canoa and is the only representation of once bustling businesses and people’s homes – has drained my soul of the joy of color.

And though it feels as if I am venturing into this deepening cavity alone, I become witness, when I peer into the darkness, of both young and old occupying this opaque void, and all have greater reason than me to grieve.

I do not subscribe to the idea or belief that there is “meaning” or “reason” for such devastation (although I have read and heard individuals state otherwise, and I believe their beliefs to be genuinely heartfelt and without malice). For me, “It just is”, and there is nothing more.

13043431_10156788306270291_8626919073364981690_nI’m not a philosopher who is compelled toward an endeavor to hold sway over concepts and beliefs through the swirling and bending of letters with pen and paper into some type of convoluted, intellectual pretzel explaining why an event like this “was meant to be” or how “we will be made stronger by it.” Nor am I a theologian who so effortlessly blots with a divine brush upon a spiritual color pallet, raising skyward to swish onto a parchment canvas in vague but irreversible tones as they undertake to repaint reality with the golden colors of heavenly platitudes.

No. To my way of thinking, the invention of “meaning” or the creation of “purpose” for a natural catastrophe which has no human meaning and which has no human purpose is a fallacy that is as fallible as the men or women who devise them.

When Is It Okay?

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Pat and I, after a night of splitting guard duty with other condo members, ventured out into the morning waves for an hour of earthquake escape time. While sitting our surfboards between sets, I looked over at Pat, whose back was facing me, and began to chuckle so hard I flipped over into the sea, raising my heels and toes to the heavens as if infeet larger praise. Thank goodness for the ocean, it muffled my snickering.

What I was envisioning was Pat and me in 10 years. He and I a little more bent, vision worse and hairless. Yet still out here, sun screened noggins, seeking that elusive, perfect curl, with blurred vision. That isn’t what made me chuckle, though that image did bring a smile that due to recent events has been absent from my face.

The water repressed gurgling was caused by the mental picture of us, a decade from now, floating 15 feet apart, our hearing more faultier than ever, violently screaming at each other about what a blast we were having, as the younger surfers, those only in their 50’s & 60’s, watch in horror from a safe distance wondering: “What the hell are those two old farts fighting over again?”

20160502_114923At a time like this, when the world around us has been ripped in half with lives lost and homes destroyed, there is a guilt that quickly devours laughter much like the rolling globule did back in the 50’s horror flick, “The Blob”. Guilt digests joy, expelling it in a black goo of shame.

This morning, that particular moment of cheerfulness was abruptly stolen as my weighted conscience began to take my lighten soul to task for distracting itself in pursuit of happiness.

It is not the conflict between my heart and mind that has my spirit overwhelmed for there is a debate here, one that is to be expected. What concerns and sorrows me, are the cruel words and complete lack of empathy and compassion from both sides of the dispute when asking oneself: “When is it okay to be okay?”

Chisels & Plantains

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Marcello, a driver for hire with a good reputation among the local expat community in the Canoa area, picked Wayne and me up in front of our fractured condos. His older model car, a prized possession typically spit-shine clean, was damaged and still covered in dust from the violent shaker that ripped portions of Ecuador apart. The passenger side backseat window, which was on my right, was shattered and in Ecuadorian practicality (a trait born from necessity that I’ve grown to admire) Marcello had duct-taped the spider-webbed glass back into the metal frame. His efforts were effective, but the trouble was, one could no longer, due to the maze of tape, see out the car’s portal. Frankly though, that’s not such an awful thing for the view these days – it’s of sadness and sadness is everywhere. The window, as Wayne and I were to find out, was a casualty of a much larger catastrophe for our driver. The damage was caused when his home collapsed during the horrific upheaval. His family is now living in one of the many tent cities that have sprung up in the back country, out of sight and I fear soon to become  “out of mind”.

Marcello, already familiar with the new hazards of the roads, whisked us away, his foot swiftly alternating between the gas pedal and brake, swerving around blind corners, broken down, abandoned trucks, fallen trees and split asphalt while all the time avoidingcanoa 1 the buckles in the pavement. Honestly, I as a wimpy driver would have viewed these new obstacles as nature’s speed bumps, but the road crevasses and V-shaped asphalt mounds didn’t daunt our driver – not in the least.

Wayne and I, white-knuckled and a bit frazzled, were delivered safe and sound to our intended destination, a small pueblo called Rambuche. Rambuche is approximately an hour north of us nestled in the lush, low jungle hill country and was very near the epicenter of the 7.8 earthquake. We came to this small, somewhat invisible community because over the past few years Jan and I have gotten to know a married couple from the village, Mercedes and Luis. And Wayne is close with another man, Jorge, who resides, with his family, also in Rambuche. Jorge, not surprisingly, is related to our road demon, Marcello.

There was no way of informing anyone in the community that we were coming for a visit. In good times, let alone after a major event such as this, there is little to no communication with these small communities, so we just showed up, uninvited, worried sick about our friends. We had no idea if they were okay and how their community fared, and we feared official help would be slow to arrive, which indeed it has been. We were concerned that our friends and their families and neighbors would pretty much be on their own as the resources, understandably, are mainly focused on the larger (therefore seemingly more devastated) communities.

When we stepped out of our informal, unmarked taxi there were hugs followed by English and Spanish words and though un-translated for each other, it didn’t seem to matter, for we came, and they welcomed us. Arms, as they broke free from the hugs, started moving unreservedly in the air in an unofficial but internationally recognized (though still garbled) language, expressing concern for one another and each others’ casas. Once the commotion settled down we tentatively asked if it was okay if we looked around.

20160501_101742Jorge and Luis took us on a tour of their flattened village while Mercedes and the other women, in their outdoor, makeshift community kitchen, started hand mashing deep fat fried plantains into a peanut butter mush which then was sprinkled with cilantro and rolled into a shape that resembled a large Idaho potato with green freckles. This foreign (to me) meal, it turned out, was to be served to Wayne and me when our surveying was complete. I was stunned, for here these women were, their homes laying in ruin, their children sleeping in the dirt and mud and at night their baby’s virgin flesh becoming a mosquito’s dream buffet, and they still possessed the grace to put aside their grief and serve us a lunch. Could I? Would I if the roles were reversed, be capable of such amazing hospitality? I doubt it.

At first, Wayne and I felt awkward about peeking into the teetering, wall-less concrete and bamboo houses, their fluttering curtains dangling out glassless windows, for it was ai.jpgn invasion of strangers’ lives and homes -homes and families made crippled and laid naked, exposed and particularly vulnerable to ogling. We were concerned for we didn’t want to be perceived as two foreign gawkers with cameras flashing for later family slideshows and popcorn.

However, Wayne and I were greeted kindly and encouraged to take pictures as we walked the two narrow, dusty roads that connect the village. Observing taahe tilting structures with their walls partially tumbled to the ground was disturbing. In fact, many of the houses had the 2nd floor crushing the modest furnishings on the 1st floor making it difficult to grasp what we were seeing and to make sense of the devastation. As we walked along the road, I was secretly longing for Marcello’s car with its eclipsed passenger window for I wanted tdo be blinded to the sight of these destroyed homes and deny the calculating going on in my mind of the magnitude of what it would take to recover. It was all too overwhelming.

Each male inhabitant we encountered turned from his work to greet us with a warm handshake, a welcoming smile and then a proud, somewhat convoluted explanation as to how they were related to our tour guides. Some of the men and young children joined us on our examination of the pueblo. Others returned to the tearing down of what was once their tiny home. (As a side note, I must come clean. This gringo nodded, pretending to understand the vastness of their family tree as it was being explained to me in Spanish, which to my disgrace, I do not comprehend. But, in my mind, the intricate, interwoven connections seemed more like the entangled jungle engulfing their homes as compared to any tree that I might understand – nothing even close to the North American type of family tree from which I sprout, whose trunk is nearly limbless, and whose few branches that exist often are somewhat disconnected with roots that run shallow.)

I traveled to Rambuche in hopes of figuring out how Jan and I and some of our friends who20160501_111246 have so graciously given of their resources, could help our Ecuadorian companions and their families in the rebuilding of their lives and community. What I hadn’t figured on was 20160501_101651that they would assist me in reconstructing my faith in the human spirit – a spirit that bands together, (and against all adversity and despite life’s natural and human injustices), picks up a hammer and chisel or plantains and peanut butter and begins the daunting task of carving and mashing in order to create a new life for their families.