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.

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.
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.
2 ladies

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).
Today's purchases

Today’s purchases

We enjoyed the delicious sopa de somba. Buen provechio!

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.
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.

cajas 3
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.


Fortunately we did not need our rain gear, but did wear our down jackets!
photcasa veija

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.
casa veija2

Buen provecho!

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.

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.
grafiitti artist

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



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

door 1
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

In a society where images of perfect bodies are constantly bombarding teenagers, many become obsessed with their diet, physique, and weight. Teenagers are prone to fads and quick fixes and often make poor choices in a quest for perfection and weight control. School health curriculums and programs tend to focus on weight references, height/weight charts, weigh-ins, skin fold measurements and BMI calculations and provide few recreational sports or physical activity opportunities.

There are many forces within society that have a lot of influence over how teenagers feel about themselves including the media, friends, family, teachers and coaches. Adults can use the empowerment model and nondiet techniques to successfully address lifestyle issues unique to teens ages 12 to 17. Strategies from the facilitated empower model can improve effectiveness in preventing adolescent preoccupation with food and weight.

Facilitated empowerment techniques for teen groups
Teens like their independence. The traditional authoritarian approach is unlikely to be as effective as an empowerment, let’s consider the options, compromise type of approach. Part of working with teens involves letting go of control and enabling them to make the decisions. Comments like, “That’s a very interesting point of view. Could you tell me more about that?” let the teen express his or her own perspective.

Help teens to develop the skills to consider their options, to communicate clearly and politely, and to be assertive in stating their opinion regarding food and body image issues. This engages teens to design a nondiet lifestyle in which food doesn’t rule them.

Empowerment techniques are ideally suited for helping young people take responsibility for their own lifestyles. Application of this approach promotes interactive listening through acknowledgment and feedback on the part of both the facilitator and the teen. Teens learn to appreciate the positives about their personal abilities, appearance and perspective.

Here’s how it works
Let’s contrast preaching versus using the empowerment technique of interactive listening. The following example illustrates the use of the empowerment model in response to a teen who is focused on her appearance.

When the teen comes to you and says, “I hate my skinny legs,” try a comment such as, “That’s your natural, genetic body shape. Look at your broad shoulders. You must look fabulous in a halter top.” This allows the teen to broaden her thinking pattern. She begins to realize that there are reasons for the way things are, that some things can’t be changed and these things should be accepted. This empowerment technique creates consistent discovery and emphasizes the positives, which counteracts the teen’s self-absorption with imperfect body parts and perceived negatives about personal appearance.

Moving through each empowerment technique in this way will help you to promote nondiet, assertive decisions for teens. Making examples relevant to teens’ lifestyles allows them to relate to the situations and practice decision-making. They will become aware of their own beliefs, attitudes and expectations while exploring these issues. An appreciation of the process of change and relevant personal indicators of success is fostered. A new system of teen-powered decisions emerges from the process.

Throwing out the diet myth activity
Here’s an except from the program materials that demonstrates the integration of teen language, teen issues and teen activities underscored with the sense of casual fun necessary to maintain attention and interest.

The challenge in any learning situation is to present information that is retained and can be used for personal decisions. The traditional style of educative counseling is to tell teens that diets don’t work, are dangers to their health and so they “should” eat healthier, but don’t do any extreme dieting. Teens want to be responsible for their own decisions, so this kind of teaching may cause teens to rebel and start dieting for this very reason. See how this activity captures the essence of letting go and gets the messages across in a nonpreaching manner.

Props: Ten 4″ colorful balls are each labeled with these dieting statements:

Diets make you happier and healthier.
Diets give you energy.
Diets make eating fun.
Diets never become eating disorders.
Diets are sexy.
Diets make you beautiful.
Diets improve your health.
Diets are exciting.
Diets are inexpensive.
Diets work.
Script for facilitator

Tell teens that we are going to see if some common beliefs about dieting are right or wrong. Describe how these beliefs are each printed on one of the plastic balls that will be thrown out to them. When someone catches a ball, they are to read out the statement and give their opinion: right, wrong & why. Emphasize that if someone is unsure of how to respond they can toss the ball to another teen until someone responds with the correct answer. Describe how balls with false statements should be pitched into a waste basket!!! Go with the lively & interactive fun and ensure that the following points come out in the conversation. Bring their real world experiences into the class.

Join international lecturer and registered dietician Linda Omichinski as she provides time-tested and proven strategies for counseling teens on weight management and building a healthy body through proper nutrition in her CE course Weight Management for Teens.

Linda will address the body image continuum, the diet /binge cycle, negative and positive self talk, how to promote self care and self acceptance, mind versus body hunger, the role of will power and confrontation, 10 reasons to give up diets, diet versus non diet thinking, and conscious eating. She will provide specific strategies using the nondiet approach to weight management and facilitated empowerment techniques for teens.

OK guys if this headline doesn’t grab you, I am not sure what will. Here’s the latest data on why shedding the couch potato lifestyle and increasing your miles in your running shoes or on the bike can add vigor to your sperm.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reiterated what we already know: semen quality in men appears to have declined over the past several decades. What the authors set out to correlate was the relationship between physical activity and television watching with sperm parameters in young, healthy men. Although I would have liked to see the study incorporate men of all ages between 18-90, we’ll start with young men.

The researchers compared the number of television hours watched per week to the number of hours of moderate and vigorous exercise performed per week. Semen quality was assessed by sperm concentration; motility, morphology and total sperm count.

The quality and quantity of sperm was directly related to the amount of physical activity performed. Men who performed the greatest amount of physical activity demonstrated a 73% higher sperm concentration then those who performed the least amount of activity. Inversely, men who watched the greatest amount of television produced a 44% lower sperm concentration.

The authors concluded that higher moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and less TV watching were significantly associated with higher total sperm count and sperm concentration.

Well guys…what are you going to do about that?