Taffy Town


When I was a kid, we spent many a long weekend in the town of Baños, which lies under the shadow of one of Ecuador’s active volcanoes, Tungurahua. It was probably one of the only towns near us with a tourist industry to speak of at the time. Ecotourism wasn’t a thing yet, and Ecuador’s jungle region remained undeveloped.


When we met my grandparents there, we’d sometimes stay in a stuffy guesthouse called Gertrude’s. The waitress wore a French maid-esque black dress, frilly white apron and starched white cap. I didn’t like the food, probably because there was always a soup course, and my parents were always stressed out that my sister and I were being too loud or too wild for the old, staid owners.

My dad LOVED to joke about how the sign for the pool was missing a ‘p’, because “there’s no ‘p’ in the pool!”

It’s still not funny.


Later, we often stayed at the Sangáy, a typical hotel with a pool, tennis courts and a billiards table. The Sangáy was near the hill overlooking the town and the waterfall that trains down its flank. Here’s where the town gets its name: the Baths. There’s a big public pool at the base of that waterfall.

In the 80s, Baños was a quiet town with an ice cream place, a sugar cane industry, a zoo, and a few adventurous German backpackers.

These days, it’s transformed itself into a eco-paradise with a side of spa-town. I was super surprised when I visited in 2008 to see the zip lines, rafting, mountain biking etc., etc., etc., places with locations along the road outside of town, and offices lining the main streets in town. Every hotel offers a spa, and every block offers quaint little restaurants.

Swing at the edge of the world. We didn’t make this one, but my sister was there a couple of weeks ago. Photo courtesy of Kelley.

All that to say, if you are visiting Ecuador for the first time, please make Baños one of your stops. There’s something for everyone.


We didn’t have much time there this time around. We stopped for coffee and a wiggle break atone of the many parks on the way down to the jungle.


We intended to spend a little more time on the way back, but then this happened:


Car sick.

I think.

And I’m sorry it happened to him, because he felt miserable, but it was hilarious having to rush to the public restroom on the plaza, scrounge for change to buy toilet paper, then have him throw up again when he came out, right into some lady’s trash can. I’m so glad I took a picture. #heartlessmom


We popped into this Catholic church on the square that has been beautifully restored since I was there last. It’s attached to a museum and has a section on the side where people donate their crutches and other artifacts after being “healed” by using the church’s holy water.

I remember being in that church as a kid and watching a priest with a bucket at the front. Desperate people waved cash above their heads, which he deftly collected before sprinkling them with water from the bucket. They hoped for a miracle, he gave them tap water and false promises.


Sadly, I was unable to introduce my kids to Baños’ greatest attraction for me as a kid: the promise of a warm, sickeningly sweet lump of sugar cane taffy.


I don’t know why, but Baños is Taffy Town. Nearly every shop has a worn smooth piece of wood mounted to the door frame, where a young man strains to stretch the golden strands of taffy before quickly looping it back over the hook for another pull. For a little bit of change, he’ll break you off a piece and wrap it in colored wax paper, so you can gum it all day as you explore the shops.


Or, you know, window shop.


Or pet puppies.


As a kid, I loved that stuff. (The taffy, not the puppies.) And my mom would always complain about how bad it was for my teeth. But my dad would sneak me a couple of hundred sucres (RIP old currency) so I could get some.

They also sold sugar cane juice on the street corners by the bus station. And little bags of freshly cut and peeled sugar cane that I loved to gnaw on.

Hmmm. In writing this, I’m suddenly realizing I exposed my children to none of this. Our fru fru lunch in a trendy coffee shop with boutique coffee from an eco farm and a trickling fountain in the corner did not expose my children to any of these glories.


We also had to skip the zoo, which since my childhood has been transformed from a sad little spot at the top of the town to a somewhat magnificent animal sanctuary on the side of one of the ravines overlooking the river. You can literally watch the condors (Ecuador’s national bird, with a wingspan of 25 feet) soar.


You’ll also make friends with the monkeys, jaguars, toucans and Ecuador’s most famous residents (apart from Julian Asange, I guess): the Galápagos turtle.


When I was a kid, these roamed free in the dirt-packed center of the zoo. For a small fee, you could sit on its back, and a “trainer” would coax the turtle forward by stringing it along with a piece of pineapple. Unbelievably cruel, I’m certain, but very fun to say you’ve ridden a turtle. Today, the turtles are safely behind a fence, and no pineapple inducements are allowed.

Make Baños a part of your Ecuador itinerary. There’s plenty of lodging, and definitely look into all the adventure tourism options around. And I suppose you could spend a little spa time, as well. There are tons of things to see, do and experience.

Authentic Life at Iñaquito Market


Let’s start with the colorful.


Growing up, a trip to the capital city meant a stop at Iñaquito market for fresh fruits and vegetables was likely.


Then later, my mom or the lady who helped around the house would hit the market up weekly for produce. There was always the typical grocery store, but Iñaquito was different in that these women were selling what they or their community had grown themselves. It was high quality and super fresh, right from Ecuador’s growing region a little south.


Before, the outside of the market was peppered with indigenous women carrying a length of rope. For a little money, they’d tie your basket to their backs follow you through the market as you made purchases. Then, basket full, they’d follow you to your car and help you unload. I didn’t see any of those women on this visit.

In the past 20 years, the market has gone from a dark cave laden with the smells of over-ripe fruit and meat to a bright and clean place with orderly stalls.


Outside, small stores ring the central market; before they used to be filled with flower-seller after flower-seller. But these days, more and more flowers are being exported for greater profits, and the outer stores now sell candy, crackers and cheap Chinese-made goods.


Even if you’re just visiting and don’t need to shop, a quick walk around the market is worth it for the true experience. (Hang on to your wallet, though.) You’ll see the huge variety of Ecuadorian produce at it’s finest. And if you do decide to make a purchase, definitely haggle over the price. And if you buy a lot, ask for a “yappa”, or a freebie, kind of like a baker’s dozen.


Mombasa Beach

I had one morning to walk on the beach by myself and shoot. Right away, this sweet young lady approached and asked if she could model for me.


This new theme is making my photos wonky. Please click through to see the proper dimensions as I attempt to fix it.


I had just wanted to shoot the fishermen and the boats on the wide, reflective flats of the low tide, but I couldn’t say no to her offer, especially since she basically planted herself in front of me and started wrapping and unwrapping her blanket.


Her friend got in on some of the action, too.


I was feeling self-conscious out there alone with my big, expensive camera, but if you don’t go out, you don’t get the pictures.


So I shot my friends, and I watched the fisherman wait for low tide.


Superman Saves the Day


I rushed home from Kenya to make it in time for Halloween. #priorities


I don’t love the Halloween holiday (candy + celebration of scary stuff = not my thing), but I love love love the costumes. Also, I love that it’s the only socially acceptable time to  knock on neighbors’ doors. Since we started doing it in our neighborhood two years ago, we’ve developed brand new relationships with two neighbors and strengthened several others. America is a weird place, y’all.


But I mentioned my Halloween love to my sister, and she said she felt the same way. I think it’s because we didn’t really celebrate it growing up. I remember one childhood party growing up (hosted by the always-up-for-a-party Kerrigan family and featuring peeled grapes as eye balls. I thought it. was. awesome.) and we went trick-or-treating once with my grandma in Florida. I dressed as a Native American #politicallyincorrect. Apparently these memories sunk deep, because we sisters now live for Halloween.


I got my little cherubs to do a dry run with their costumes before I left, to make sure everything fit.


But as these things go, the fun only lasted so long.


There was a swing, and a miss, which disintegrated into wrestling. And maybe some pinching.


The kids basically spent the two weeks before Halloween in costume, as we dragged them to the Kiddie Park event and then to all the Trunk or Treats all over town (while I was gone).


But by the time I swooped in from Kenya to take them trick or treating, the little one was done with her costume. It was itchy. Only I didn’t find this out until it was time to get dressed. But thanks to her big brother’s leftovers, we took two super heroes to knock on the neighbors’ doors, and all was right in the world.


Superman saved the day again!

Idaho Proves Me Wrong


Every year, my parents try to entice us to come to their home in Idaho. Often we go there for Christmas, but it’s usually too expensive to go there twice a year.


Every time the thought of, “Oh, wouldn’t 3 kids be nice” comes in, I shut it down with a quick: “PLANE TICKETS.” I’m a romantic like that.)


My parents live in Idaho, but I never have. They moved there one month after the husband and I got married. So it’s never been home.


However, I often tell people how I made fun of them when we were all living in California and they decided to move to Idaho. I told them they were moving to the sticks.


Ten months after they left, we moved to Oklahoma.



The one thing Oklahoma has going for it though, is that it doesn’t get so cold here. Every Christmas at my parents’ house, we are slogging through snow, bundling kids in coats and hats and boots and gloves.

But Idaho in the summer is a different story.


This year we pulled it off and headed to Idaho in late July/early August.


I am so glad we did. We greatly enjoyed the Idaho outdoors, which are lovely when it’s not negative one million outside.


Plus, my mom went all out with cooking. She’s a teacher, so she relishes those summers when she can do all the things she doesn’t have time for during the school year.


Hello, homemade French Toast sticks.



There was a berry picking trip, a lake trip, a farmer’s market trip, a secret waterfall hike, various walks along the Green Belt and of course, an airport trip.


They crawled all over the planes, while I nervously hoped they didn’t break anything.


It was good to be with my mom and dad and watch them spoil the kids.


We just might have to make it happen again.