More from the River Bank


“There’s nothing––absolutely nothing––half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.”  (The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame).


It rained 132mm here last night, with the possibility of some more over the weekend.  Lucky our house is higher than the road so water only comes in through the leaky roof, but I found the shop-keepers busy baling out when I splooshed my way across to the town centre this morning. 

Hang Spring Cleaning

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring- cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. 

(Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows)

It may not be spring in the southern hemisphere, but the start of the academic year brings a spring-like feeling of new things, and with it, yes, lots of cleaning.  We have been cleaning, tidying, sorting, throwing rubbish, grass cutting and painting the Scout headquarters (aka railway shed) for the last couple of weeks, prior to starting activities in earnest with the kids this coming Saturday.  Our Christian-bookshop-owning, church-planting friends have also taken a big step and rented a building, so there too we have been cleaning, tidying, sorting, throwing rubbish, there’s no grass so we were at least let off that bit, but there was plenty of furniture moving instead.  We had the first church meeting there last Sunday, and they are aiming to move the bookshop across this weekend.  There are also plans to open a cafe, run a kids’ club, use the offices upstairs for professionals to donate their time, and to host community events in the hall at the back.  We like these guys; they have vision, which isn’t unusual in Argentina, but they also have the tenacity to see the vision through to concrete (breeze block, wood and sawdust) reality, which in our experience here is almost unique.  So it has been sleeves rolled up, all hands to the deck, and lots of other mixed metaphors, in order to turn an abandoned factory into the blank canvass upon which to bring life to a dream. 

It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said ‘Bother!’ and ‘O blow!’ and also ‘Hang spring-cleaning!’ and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat…

That’s not a Llama

“Tiene un carácter muy lindo.  No hace caso para nada, pero tiene carácter muy lindo…” 

“He has a lovely personality.  He doesn’t do as he is told in the slightest, but he has a lovely personality…”  So Danny’s nursery director told me the other day.  She loves him because she’s a semi-professional singer and he has been able to sing in tune since he was old enough to make sounds, so they keep each other happily entertained at the nursery during weekday mornings. 

It has taken a while but Danny is now busily gathering himself a verbal vocabulary.  We did wonder when he would get round to it, although in fairness he does have a few things stacked against him being a boy, with an older sibling to speak for him, and trying to learn two languages at once.  At the moment he is fascinated by the concept of “not” and how two things aren’t the same.  He has a little routine which goes “That’s not a truck, it’s a motorbike.  Yes, motorbike”, or  “That’s not a penguin it’s a rabbit.  Yes, rabbit”, or my favourite so far: “That’s not a llama, it’s Daddy.  Yes, Daddy”

Bak to Skool

Joni school pic

Despite the rattling of sabres and threats of handbags, the academic year did eventually start as scheduled on Wednesday for Joni.  Teachers’ salaries are negotiated at provincial level, and Cordoba was top of the provinces for the highest rise this year.  However, since Buenos Aires was unable to come to an agreement, several other provinces including Cordoba declared a strike in solidarity with their counterparts in the capital.  But, when the moment actually came, many teachers outside Buenos Aires didn’t adhere to the strike so here there was chaos in the city with some schools fully open, other schools fully shut, and some schools operating piecemeal according to whoever did or didn’t turn up, and no-body knowing which camp their own offspring´s establishment was going to fall into until we arrived at the start of the day.  Luckily for us, the “Rio Negro” had come to an internal agreement to open on time with a full contingent of staff.  Wednesday was the flag-waving ceremony “the acto” for the start of the year.  They lined up all the first graders, partnered each one with a sixth grader and paraded them into the front of the assembly, while parents wept and cameras flashed.  It was quite sweet, and I’m sure it does us Brits good to unbend a bit from time to time. 

Joni looks mightily grown up in his new primary school uniform, and he is the tallest in his first grade class having shot up over the summer.  I’m going to need a separate budget for trainers and trousers.  Either that or stop feeding him.  The long white lab-coat used to be standard primary school attire throughout the country.  The idea is that it provides a social leveller for significantly cheaper than the cost of a uniform.  These days even many state schools have adopted a uniform as well or instead.  The Rio Negro is a state school, and they use the white coat as compulsory for special occasions, so on Wednesday the place resembled a trainee establishment for miniature medics.  The rest of the year they look fairly normal in blue shorts/trousers and white polo shirts with the school badge. 


Latitude 0-0-0 sign  DSC_0177

Centre of the world!  Erupting volcanoes are an unusual local hazard. 

Ecuador appears to have undergone some rapid modernisation in recent years, while still managing to retain much of its Andean charm.  From a purely superficial tourist’s-eye perspective the impression is of somewhere with a healthy national pride; valuing its past, and growing into its future.  Things that struck me early on were the lack of litter in the streets, and even in the more down to earth areas of Quito everyone had shoes, and the community comprised of street sellers rather than beggars.  Six years ago when I was in Ecuador, prices were expensive compared to Argentina, but the policy of dollarization in Ecuador, combined with accelerating inflation in Argentina meant that today the reverse is the case, and we made the most of the opportunity to stock up on shoes.  I’m now crying because I didn’t buy school bags at the same time (which inexplicably doubled in price during the two weeks we were away from Argentina, just in time for the start of the school year.)

The Latin Link conference went well.  It was good to see people, old friends and new faces.  The most interesting developments aren’t really appropriate for public sharing, but we came away feeling positive about how things are panning out.  In fact it’s the first assembly where we haven’t gone home talking about resigning, which I think is good news, (although it might just mean that we are becoming part of the problem in our old age).  I managed to get myself elected onto the “International Forum” which is an overseeing body of sorts.  The job description isn’t exactly a “voice of the people” role, but since it is the only democratically elected body in the mission, it is as much of a voice as the people are going to get, as such carries a weight of responsibility to represent the interests of the majority who don’t get to speak.

Then we went on holiday. 

Cable carmountain viewmountain view

  Cable car up to the 4100 plateau overlooking the city of Quito.  Views of rugged moorland stretching for miles behind us, and the capital city stretching for miles down in the valley. 

strange plantkids on monkey gym DSC_0191

Botanical gardens, monkey gym and horse-riding all courtesy of the Parque Carolina (the central park in Quito).  Joni was well made up that the guy showed him how to control the horse by himself.  Now he’s desperate to make friends with someone who will lend him a horse back here. 

   Mindo village     Forest at Mindo   Forest at Mindo

We spent three days in Mindo, a little town a couple of hours north-west of Quito, and a unique cloud-forest environment.  Apparently this means that many plant species take their water directly from the clouds which reach down to the canopy of the trees.  This is probably useful in the dry season.  It rained for around twelve hours a day anyway while we were there, but we’re English so we didn’t let a few inches of water put us off our stride.  Everyone in Mindo works in tourism, and being in easy reach of Quito it has become a magnet for off-beat, off the beaten track, lonely planet guide-clutching  European students and young-retired north Americans.  Several people commented on how we were the only ones travelling with kids, and I don’t think many of the local people had ever seen a blonde child before.  We explored town and forest;

DSC_0266  DSC_0279 Stuff grows big out there! 

We watched the whole process of making chocolate, from harvesting the beans right through to eating chocolate brownies;

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Saw more species of hummingbirds than I would have thought could possibly exist;

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And enticed butterflies to feed from our fingers with sticky juice from over-ripe bananas;

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Then we took a bus back to Quito to dry out.  For our last day in Ecuador we booked a train ride.  The “real” train looks like this;


but it was booked solid for a couple of months ahead.  So we managed to get tickets for this one;

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which might not have been so picturesque, but it did the same route as the tourist train and for half the price, so we think we came out well. 

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Coca Cola and Panpipes; Danny getting to grips with local traditions. 


View over the distant 5200 metre peak of Cotopaxi, imagine seeing snow on the Equator!  Llamas on the line.  And someone give that man a parking ticket.  The train took us on a four hour ride through the volcanoes and valleys to a smallish city of Latacunga, where we had a couple of hours for lunch, exploring and souvenir-shopping.  And then it was back to Quito, then back to Argentina, and practical geography concluded for the summer because real school goes back this week.