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Coconut carts are common sights on the streets of Cuenca, Ecuador. After an afternoon of walking I decided to quench my thirst and try a glass of the clear liquid (not to be confused with coconut milk made from coconut meat). Poured right out of a slightly immature coconut, sliced open with a handy machete the nectar had a subtly sweet taste with a slight hint of salt. And for .50 cents it adequately satiated my thirst and boosted my blood sugar for the short walk back to my guesthouse.

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Each nut contains about 200-1000ml of water and along with sugars, electrolytes and minerals to replenish dehydration in the body. Coconut water has been used with patients suffering with diarrhea in many tropic regions to reduce the need for IV therapy. Coconut water contains naturally occurring bioactive enzymes that aid in digestion and metabolism and is a source of B-complex vitamins. The water contains a good amount of potassium and some sodium and has been used by athletes post workout.

So is coconut water the trending elixir and touted as another of Mother Earth’s “natural waters” for a more healthful life worth the price or the hype?

In a recent article published in Time magazine 4 out of 5 nutritional experts said a resounding NO. Ranging in price between $1.99-2.99 for approximately a 10 oz. container, Nancy Clark, registered dietician and sport nutrition counselor and guru says, “I’d rather spend my money on natural food, and not an over-hyped fluid.” Yes it is a good source of potassium, but so are bananas, raisins, and potatoes. “

Coconut water has been famous for nutritional posturing,” states Todd Cooperman, MD and president of the independent tester of health products Consumer Lab.com. He found that most of the products tested failed to meet their mineral claims – specifically of the heralded electrolytes, magnesium and sodium. However, Kristin Kirkpatrick, registered dietician and manager of the nutrition services a Cleveland Clinics Wellness Institute defenses the liquid stating “it’s a much better choice than a sports dink loaded with excess sugar if you are looking for a break from regular water and you can use some potassium.

My recommendation: at .50 – $1.00 a glass on the street corner of Ecuador, poured straight from the coconut, it was a unique and refreshing beverage. At $2.59/container from your local natural foods outlet – I might just grab a banana, a handful or raisins, and my trusty water bottle after my workout.
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Natatorium at the University of Cuenca, Ecuador

Natatorium at the University of Cuenca, Ecuador

I hit the pool for the first time after arriving in Cuenca, Ecuador, 3 days ago. At 8200ft. I felt like I was swimming though molasses. And here is why:

• Your resting heart rate at altitude can be 10% higher and maximum heart rate can be 10% lower in the first week in altitude. Not going to tolerate much high intensity starting out!

• Iron uptake can increase almost 100% in the first few days at altitude. Normal iron stores during this time are not sufficient to meet the demand for hemoglobin synthesis. A multiple vitamin as well as iron supplementation is important (200-300mg/day beginning 2-3 weeks prior to heading to the mountains) or as I like to say “Where’s the beef?”

• Fatigue also sets in quicker at altitude and requires longer rest intervals when training and between workouts. Rest periods should be extended 15-30% at altitude for adequate recovery. and oh yea take more daily naps!

• Dehydration can also be a problem at altitude. Plasma volume has been shown to decrease as much as 25% in the first 8-10 days at altitude. So drink lots of fluids and keep the diuretics (caffeine) to a minimum. Salt will help to retain fluids. So bring on the beer and salted plantain chips!

The good thing is that I know the pool workouts are going to get easier the longer I am here swimming at 8200ft. And when I return to Tucson I’ll be feeling like at dolphin slicing through the water!

hats
Weaving shawl straw to make hats (also know as the Panama hat) and multiple crafts such as baskets, bags, decorations, and purses is a tradition in the Cuenca and Azuay regions of Ecuador. The fiber comes the palm of the carludovica palmate.

palm
The manufacturing process of shrawl straw hats and crafts begins with the fibers taken from the palms and treated to become soft and clear. It is then sold to the artesians to be worked into various products.
making hats

Indigenous Cuencan woman weaving hat

Indigenous Cuencan woman weaving hat


The finest fibers will be used in the best hats. The weaving is performed by hand in a circular manner. A mold is used to form the different part of the hat, the inner lining, cup and skirt.
Mold used to form hats

Mold used to form hats


The Panama hat is know world wide for its high quality and has become synonymous with elegance and distinction. The hats are popular with both men and women, indigenous populations as well as gringos.
Hats por las mujeres

Hats por la mujeres


Hats por los hombres

Hats por el hombres


Mi favorito - la amarilla sombrero

Mi favorito – la amarilla sombrero

above mercado
Vibrant mercados are found throughout Cuenca – mercados de flores, jewelry, fruitas y verduras, organic produce, carne, pollo y pescado, herbs y espacias.
meat
I love going to el Mercado con mi Professora de Española, Maria Elena. She is health conscious and knows exactly where and how to buy the best produce, meets and herbs.
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Today we toured the area with fresh herbs and spices and picked up Manzanita (chamomile for tea), lleve Louisa (lemon grass for tea) and some other greens that make tea for the health of the stomach.

Maria Elena and her students, Gwen and Haley buying manzanita for chamomile tea

Maria Elena and her students, Gwen and Haley buying manzanita for chamomile tea


She also pointed out the organic pollo (chicken) and how they cook and eat the entire chicken with all of the entrails and eggs. Nothing goes to waste.
Buy the entire chicken - legs and all

Buy the entire chicken – legs and all


YUP,  put it all in the pot and cook

YUP, put it all in the pot and cook


We bought fresh verduras (vegetables) to make sopa de samba (squash soup) por cina (for dinner).
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Today's purchases

Today’s purchases

We enjoyed the delicious sopa de somba. Buen provechio!
sopa

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We woke to a partly cloudy sky and knew we might have a window of weather to head up to 13,000 ft and Cajas National Park, 40 minutes outside of Cuenca, Ecuador. Our prior two trips through Cajas had been overcast, raining, windy and damn cold! Our packs loaded with our warmest clothes and rain gear, we boarded the local bus for the winding road arriba. We headed out for a three and one half hour hike on ruta 2, el ruta rojo. No map, said the park official, just follow the red markers.
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Fortunately the trail was mostly abajo (down) con arriba pequeno (small ups). We were fairly well acclimated to the elevation as we had been living at 8200 ft for six weeks, but still had to take the up hills slowly.

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The trail wandered through forests, wetlands, and wide open spaces. It traversed streams and meandered around small glacial lakes. And we sighted our first llama.
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llama

Fortunately we did not need our rain gear, but did wear our down jackets!
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We were rewarded by a small 60 year old restaurant at trails end that served up wonderful trucha fresco (fresh trout) from the mountain rivers. As we were the only guests, our host and cook joined us for some local conversation.
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truccha

Buen provecho!

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My home-away-from-home VW Eurovan is milk toast white – blanco – bland. The color has served me well over the years, complimenting my silvery tuff of hair. But the pasty, blanched, neutral color needs a touch up to match the shifting persona of the owner.
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Anyone know a good graffiti artist? Time to add some pizazz, luminosity and a WOW factor to my faithful VW steed. Changing color hues will cast life with a different complexion. It’s amazing what a tincture of luminosity does to modify the flavor of your days.
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I want my life to be a rich, vibrant kaleidoscope of color. What color do you want you life to be?

walk way
Nirvana – paz, relajarse y belleza – peace, relaxation and beauty – describes the ambiance of Hosteria Izhcayluma, near the small village of Vilcabamba in southern Ecuador. Our cabina overlooks the verdant green hills and the hammock on the balcone beckons. The vegetation is lush and tropical, teaming with avairian species.

Our Cabina

Our Cabina


Balcone

Balcone


Travelers from around the world stop by for a few days on their sojourns through Latin America, swapping stories and suggesting little known out-of-the-way destinations to explore.
la piscina

la piscina

Sunsets are enjoyed from the hill top vista with a glass of house red and violin music misting the cool crisp evening air.

Violinist from Quito

Violinist from Quito

Life slows, the past fades and new awareness evolves here in nirvana.

Vilcabamba in the distance at sunset

Vilcabamba in the distance at sunset

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As I wonder the narrow streets of Cuenca, Ecuador doorways line the cobbled sidewalks, some closed and others flung open welcoming local buyers. You never know what lies behind the closed doorways. Some conceal small resturantes, smart boutiques, household sundries, a panederia, a barber shop, shoes, jewelry, glasses, flores, the various vendors and array of goods continue. Other puertas open to courtyards, small driveways that lead to interior parking, and various types of casitas and mas grande casas.
door 2
garden behind door

The door to our guest house yields tiled floors and polished dark woodwork throughout with comfortable couches in the vestibule. Traverse an interior parking lot and you enter the communal kitchen and laundry, which serves the 20plus residents of the case de huespedes which we have rented por la mes.

La puerta a la casa

La puerta a la casa


Interior de la casa

Interior de la casa

A tall arched doorway leads to a large bedroom outfitted with a king bed, built in armoire, mini frig and private bath. Quite a surprise and a delightful find behind those closed doors.

Exploring Guayaquil Ecuador

Exploring Guayaquil Ecuador


Traveling with no pre-planned travel arrangements, other than an airline ticket to a country you have not traversed, is one of the great adventures and fascinating ways to explore the world. Many people ask me “How do you do that? I don’t know if I would be so brave.”

It’s quite easy. Choose a country, do your research (types of transportation, language, money, safety, types of places to stay, vaccinations, specific precautions, weather, recommendations regarding cities or towns to visit or stay) and purchase an airline ticket (this confirms your departure date). No turning back now.

My fundamental advice is to use common sense and don’t do anything stupid during your journey. Safety is important. However, I have found that in most countries, especially Central and South America and all of Europe, the American warnings regarding crime are overrated.

OK, I admit I do reserve a room the first night I fly in if I am getting in late afternoon or at night, which does not leave you much time to find accommodations in daylight. My flight into Guayaquil, Ecuador, a city of three million, arrived at 11:54pm. It would have been stupid and unsafe for a single woman to go bumbling around at that time of night looking for a place to stay. Rather I reserved a room in a small hostel I found on airbnb that arranged for a pick up from the airport to the hostel for $10. Read the reviews of the potential accommodation and communicate with the host before making a reservation.

I have three steps to adventure with a one-way-plane ticket – Get rid of the baggage, do what you want and don’t look back (thanks Neil for your insight on these).

Get rid of the baggage
First, pack light, one carry on roller bag and a day backpack. You will still find that you brought too much. I have sometimes sent a box home with items I really did not need. Anything you urgently require can be purchased locally and it’s fun to shop and explore the small vendors in a new country.

Second, leave the emotional stuff at home – worries about family, work, house chores, obligations, and the dog – all the baggage that you constantly engage with and that creates mind chatter throughout the day. Release your mind space and sensations to capture all that resides in your new adventure. Be open to whatever presents.

Do what you want
This is exactly why there is no advance planning in terms of knowing each day what city you will be in, where your accommodations will be, what tours you will be taking, the time of breakfast, etc., etc.

What if you decide you want to stay in the city you are in for a few more days or a month? Or if you get a recommendation for a place that you must see and it’s not on your itinerary? Or if you want to skip a city that is on your itinerary? Or if you want to stay in bed, skip the designated breakfast and have a leisure morning?

Once you arrive and have accommodations for the first night request a map from your host and create your plans for the following days to do exactly what you want to do and experience your new location in the way that best suits you. You can wander and explore, take a guided bus or walking tour, hire a private guide, or ask for recommendations from your host, other guests or the local tourist information office.
Have fun and enjoy the pleasure of your new–found liberation.

Don’t look back
Once you get in the flow of not making advance reservations and locking yourself into a tight, non-flexible schedule you will find it difficult to commit to the confines of pre-planned, dictated travel itineraries. Many of the accommodations, routes taken, private guides or tutors, restaurants, markets, hikes, bike routes or swimming holes I have found through word of mouth or local investigation and inquiry. Exploring the world in this manner opens the opportunity to experience places, people, activities, sensations, conversations and experience that you may otherwise overlook. So, get moving and don’t look back.
view from Colonial balcone
Cuenca Ecuador, Hostel Colonial balcon

• Kids should be proficient movers by the third grade – there is a critical window of opportunity to create long-term physical development.
Avery Faigenbaum, PhD – Building Young Athletes: Steps to Success

• Body composition and muscle function are enhanced by dietary protein above the RDA. The amino acid leucine is a critical signal for protein synthesis to build and repair muscle.
Don Layman, PhD – Protein: The Key to Fitness, Performance and Weight Management

• If you are exercising regularly and trying to lose weight you will need 2-3 meals a day that contain 30 grams of protein each meal.
Don layman, PhD – Protein: The Key to Fitness, Performance and Weight Management

• Physician recommendation is the most powerful tool to effect behavior change outcomes.
James Rippe, MD – Health, Fitness and Lifestyle Medicine

• The physician prescription should be primarily for therapeutic and corrective action and less for medication.
Andy Baldwin, MD – A Physician and Triathletes Prescription for Health and fitness

• Physical activity, nutrition and weight management strategies are overwhelmingly evidence-based. Is the medical community listening?
Jim Rippe, MD – Health, Fitness and Lifestyle Medicine

• 95% of Americans know it is good to exercise, however, this does not translate into a behavior. A behavior is not a behavior until a person is active.
Jim Rippe – Health, Fitness and Lifestyle Medicine

• SHAKTI – a refreshing new fusion of yoga, Pilates and dynamic movement.
Helen Vanderburg – SHAKTI 2013

• High intensity and continuous training both produce physiologic benefits. HIT workouts result in greater EPOC, more fat burning, increased glycolytic and mitochondria enzyme levels and a higher Max VO2.
Len Kravitz, PhD – HIT vs. Continuous Endurance Training: Battle of the Aerobic Titans

• Our society continues to be challenged by a thin ideal that affects girls and women’s ability to live their best lives. Health professionals are also struggle by the thin/fit/perfect pressures the industry encourages. Focusing on a broader context of well-being (social, emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual health) and integrating positive psychology skills into your training/coaching practice can increase your participant’s overall success with their program.
Lauve Metcalfe, MS – Body Image, Weight and Worth: Is there a Connection for Girls and Women?

Here’s my favorite…
When a clients asks me how much should I exercise?
My response is “Only on days you eat”.
Jim Rippe, MD