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  • Writer's pictureCassie Stockamp

A Donkey Den...

Updated: Jul 8, 2019

My morning cup of joe accompanied me on my walk on the playa of Santa Marianata, Ecuador. I watched a squadron of pelicans glide in perfect formation mere inches from the surface of the water, and it was if they were tethered by a rubber band to each crest and trough of the waves. And at the horizon, that place where you look out into the ocean and it looks like the world ends.... I could see pods of whales breaching and spouting as they made their way to their mating grounds. One was a mere 20’ off the shore line the other morning. Feeling pretty grateful...

We landed again in a magical place.

Linda is an expat that has resided in Ecuador for 17 years and built The Donkey Den Guest House. This “business” supported mostly by expats provides the resources to fund Linda’s passion for saving small creatures. The street cats and dogs in Ecuador have a rough life, so it seems that Linda is determined to change that on her block of the beach. Seven small kittens were delivered last night bringing the cat head count to somewhere over 30!

There is a vet run almost every other day which adds to the happy chaos of managing all the expats that live at Donkey Den. Since we’ve been here we’ve been asked to assist with an enema (I politely refused - lol), crawled under beds looking for lost car keys and escorted a young cat (that they had nurtured for weeks) to be put down. Oh, and somehow I’ve become the designated driver as the owner is back in the States for a stint. My driving with a stick skills have vastly improved as I’ve “practiced” on the Ecuadorian hills and curves - LOL!

And the cast of characters...

Elaine is a widow from California, relatively new to the Den, but seems to know a bit about everyone. She is a caregiver and has a huge heart! She escorted Morgan to his chemo treatment yesterday (his partner is in the hospital with pneumonia which has some drama in and of itself) which meant she had to rise at 5am... Big of her.

Sam is a beautiful willowy artist from Australia who was fed up with hating her job and the cost of living a life that was making her miserable. She became a traveler 15 months ago and has returned to Donkey Den for the second time as a fellow volunteer. She is heading to London to visit her kids and plans on establishing residency here upon her return. Fun, fun human!

Jonay and tiny Gabbie are refugees from Venezuela; they were sleeping on the beach and are now the managers of the Den while the owner is away. They are honest, reliable, hard workers as are the other Venezuelan refugees we’ve met. Jonay’s family owned a restaurant back home and Gabbie is an attorney. They are reluctant to talk about their life back in Venezuela, and I understand they haven’t had a vacation since they’ve been here as they send money back home to help the family. They are grateful and happy people. Their attitudes are an inspiration...

Jim and Jane lived in New Mexico until Jane got breast cancer and the 2008 market collapse. They could no longer afford to live in the States and found refuge here in Ecuador as they have to exist on only their social security earnings. They were living in Manta during the last big earthquake and moved to the Den during the renovation of their apartment. They never left the Den, but need to move back to Manta as Jim was in the hospital last year for over 30 days and Jane spent over $800 on taxis; they need to be closer to the hospital. Health care here is cheap and of high quality.

Many take advice from strong and bold Katie who has been here six years, was born in the Czech Republic, left home at 16 and headed to the states for school. She built several businesses in the US and her mortgage company during the 2008 crash began to service the accounts of the companies that folded. Brilliant. She too became exhausted of the rat race and came here to live a simpler life.The expats look after each other and share their information on how to best live here, and Katie is a wealth of knowledge. And btw, she is now a developer and has rescued 19 horses...

Morgan and TJ are from California and own a hotel in the remote mountains north of Quito. It’s for sale as Morgan is recovering from colon cancer. In addition to recovering from the chemo drugs he is also recovering from 3rd degree burns the result of a fall in the shower where he laid unaided for four hours with scalding water running on his legs.... He won’t be heading back to the mountains again, but he hasn't lost his sense of humor!

Every Sunday morning the cafe is full of expats that come from Manta and the surrounding area. Part of our volunteer duties included working in the cafe, and we found that Audrey and I were pulled into conversation as they were intrigued with a mom and daughter team! We met couples from all over the world that now call Ecuador home, and found that they love this country and its people.

We discovered that the beach on which we were staying was one of the best in the world for learning to kite surf! I took a lesson and quickly realized that my knees were in no condition to be the shock absorbers needed to navigate the waves. I abdicated my lessons to my daughter and happily watched her progress through the classes. The wind consistently comes from the southwest making it a haven for the tricksters. This extreme sport has its own share of characters, and we met students from around the world and heard their travel stories.

And it was a thrill to see my daughter riding the waves being pulled by the big kite!!

On my morning walk I listened to the waves crash into each other and felt the water lap my ankles. Carrying my cup of coffee while searching the beach for heart shaped rocks and watching the whales breach on the horizon... What a magical place.... Gratitude.

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