WLM Member Monday – Andrea Gardiner


Andrea Gardiner

Victoria Twead: Today we welcome Andrea Gardiner as our WLM Monday Member! I’m not sure what the time is in her part of the world, but I do know that she lives a fascinating life. Feel free to ask her anything you like!

Sue Clamp:  Good morning Andrea! You live in Middle Earth? Have you bumped into any Hobbits lately?

Alan Parks:  Morning Andrea, maggots are fascinating!

Victoria Twead:  I believe it’s about 4am where Andrea is, but she’ll be along to answer questions as soon as she gets up.

Judi S:  Hi Andrea … What first made you want to write? Do you ever feel lonely?

Frankie K: What did the guinea pig taste like – pork?

Woofie W: I want to know about the maggots, please Also, do you like a bit of chili with your beetroot, cuz I am just about to bottle a batch

Ben Hatch: I need to know too what a guinea pig tastes like.

Micki S: Hello Andrea! All of the above, and about the children!

Bambi F:  How did you end up in Ecuador? Is it permanent, or a work assignment of some sort?

Andrea Gardiner: Morning all. We are just getting up here in Ecuador. Thanks for such a great set of questions to start off Member Monday! So here we go…

Guinea pig tastes like duck. It has quite a fatty skin which the locals love to toast over the bbq. I have come to really like it over the last 9 years I have lived here. My husband ( who is Ecuadorean) says it is his favourite meat. A friend who visited recently even tried eating the brain as the locals do…. But would not recommend it!

I have not bumped into any hobbits here recently… Though we did see one in the cinema a couple if nights ago;-) There are guatusos, guantas, raposas, armadillos and iguanas wandering around our farm. Oh and I had to fish a turtle and 2 frogs out of a swmming pool before we swam yesterday. Turtles bite.

Angie H: Hope they weren’t snapping turtles cos you could have lost a finger or two. What are the Ecuadorean people like?

Andrea Gardiner: Maggots…. Well I am a doctor. I trained as a GP in Scotland before heading to South America. I work in a village clinic for a charity we started called Project Ecuador. www.projectecuador.co.uk I see many patients with leg ulcers many of whom we treat with honey with great success. On one notable occasion an elderly woman was brought by her daughter in law with a stinking leg infested with maggots. Her whole lower leg was a writhing mess. We removed them all one by one… It put me off eating rice for while! The patient claimed it was a “relief” to have them gone in the understatement of the year!

Chili with the beetroot would be great!!

What made me want to write? Well it was when I had my first daughter I first thought about writing a book. Ecuadoreans love to give advice and have loads of old wives tales. With a new baby you are on the receiving end of many of these! For instance did you know you should rub pig fat all over you to ease labour pains? Or that you should put a hat on your baby’s head at all times to prevent evil spirits entering the fontanelle? Or that a cure for mastitis is a puppy sucking your boob? I found all these beliefs and practices so fascinating I started jotting them down as I heard them and the idea of a book was born.

I chose the title Guinea Pig for Breakfast because one morning my 2 year old ran into our room waving a guinea pig she found in the fridge saying “want meat mummy.” To me that was so strange still. But to her it was normal. Much of the book is about cultural clashes and adapting.

Bambi F: So did you move to Ecuador and then meet your husband, or did he lure you there?

Andrea Gardiner: Do I ever feel lonely? Yes! Even though I have lived here 9 years now and adapted a lot there are still times I miss family and friends back home. I have a 3 week old niece I am dying to go and see for example at the moment. I don’t miss the British drizzle though!! I have found being married now helps!! Being part of an extended Ecuadorean family and kept busy by my 2 daughters…

Angie H: Are the guinea pigs coloured as our domestic ones or the brown rex type? I could eat one as long as I didn’t have to choose it!

Andrea Gardiner: I came to Ecuador to work for a UK charity Orphaids. I knew the founders who are also from Kent and wanted to help.out for a bit. Then I met my husband and stayed. So far I have failed to entice him to live in the UK. He likes visiting but says he would miss eating guinea pig too much to live there! So looks like we are staying in Ecuador for the foreseeable future.

Bambi F: I’ve mentioned moving to Ecuador to my husband. He’s in school again now, so it would have to wait a few years, but maybe one day. So about those 100 children?

Andrea Gardiner: The children… Well where we live is a rural area with many poor families who cannot afford to buy their kids uniforms pens and books so that they can go to school. So 3years ago my sister made it her new year resolution to find sponsors for 20 children ti go to school. She did and now this year we have 100 children sponsored.

We also do a Christmas appeal to give a gift to all of the 300 children in the local schools. Donors give five pounds so that we can give a gift to a child. I had great fun delivering them all the week before christmas. The children don’t get other gifts so they are delighted.

The Ecuadorean people are lovely. Very friendly and welcoming. There are many different indigenous groups. The people on the coast are loud and fun loving. Those in the mountains are more reserved formal and respectful.

The guinea pigs are different… Bigger, like rabbit size almost.

Bambi F: That’s amazing. Do they celebrate Christmas in Ecuador? I mean, how closely do their celebrations resemble the US and England?

Andrea Gardiner: Christmas is not as big a celebration as New Year here. They make nativity scenes everywhere, give bags of sweets to the children and families that can have a meal on the 24th in the evening and exchange gifts.

Ecuador is a great place to live. Such a beautiful and varied country. Just the paperwork can drive you mad. Everything is always mañana. We have been waiting 18 months to get the internet connected.

Bambi F: 18 months? That has to be a record. How are you connected now?

Andrea Gardiner: I am on my cell phone.

Bambi F: That would drive me crazy, I try using my cellphone for FB and it’s so hard to navigate it. But I’m Iphone, it’s probably better on an android.

Gloria D: Just bought your book.

Andrea Gardiner: Thanks Gloria Dunham for buying the book. Hope you enjoy it lots!

Becky A: Do you eat guinea pig on a regular basis? I could never do that. I am writing a book about my pet guinea pigs.

Andrea Gardiner: We eat guinea pig on special occasions like when visitors come. They are a delicacy.

Bambi F: Lol Becky. Puts it in a whole new perspective, huh? Andrea, how about that turkey named Fiona? How did that happen?

Victoria Twead: Andrea Gardiner, I had no idea you’d written a book! What a fascinating person you are!

Bambi F: Actually, Vicki, I just found out she’s written several, including a recipe book. These member Mondays are awesome!

Victoria Twead: Guinea pig recipes?

Andrea Gardiner: There is a recipe for guinea pig in my recipe book. I wrote it to raise funds for Project Ecuador.

Sue C: I love red because strawberries, cherries, my car, my favourite shoes and wine are all red. Why do you love yellow?

Andrea Gardiner:  I love yellow because it is sunny and happy and bright. I used to have yellow dungarees, a yellow poncho, and even briefly fluorescent yellow hair while at Uni.

The turkey Fiona is my sister in law’s. She got it as a chick and it wasn’t until it grew she realised Fiona is a boy turkey! But the name stuck. We now have a girl turkey called Suki Lucy named by my girls.

Cherry Gregory Ecuador sounds like a fascinating country and you’ve settled and adapted to the culture really well. But what aspect of the culture have you found most difficult to accept?

Andrea Gardiner: The most difficult aspect of culture for me to accept is that people never just tell the truth. If they don’t know an answer to a question they make one up. Or a shop is out of stock of something and they say it will be in next week when really they haven’t even reordered it by next week. They mean “sometime”. Or if someone asks a question they do not want to answer they invent something instead of saying “mind your own business.” I still have to try and interpret answers or I would be constantly disappointed!

Cherry Gregory: That’s really interesting, thank you. Must be difficult for you to know what they are really saying!

Andrea Gardiner: Perhaps I should mention I ate a maggot once… In the jungles they serve them bbq. I had to give it a try. Just tasted smokey and crunchy lol

Bambi F: Oh God…..

Cherry Gregory: I’ve eaten half a maggot by mistake … in an apple. Felt a bit sick at the thought, but the taste wasn’t bad.

Anne D: Hello Andrea – nice to meet you – what an interesting life you lead. Wine? Do you drink it and is there any local wine there?

Andrea Gardiner: Wine.They do not have local wine. Most comes from Chile. They like beer mostly here or liquor made from sugar cane which is very strong.

Bambi F: So Andrea, if your husband did finally agree to move back to the UK, how difficult do you think the transition would be for your daughters? Do they visit often?

Andrea Gardiner: My girls are 5 and 3 years old. They are both bilingual and I have opted to home educate them using UK resources mostly as education is not at the same level here. So from that point of view they should be OK if we go to the UK to live at some point. We go to the UK about once every 2 years. I think they would find the seasons odd to start with and they would miss the freedom they have here and swimming in the river, living as part of an extended family and community.

Anne D: Tell us about your river please, is it a big one – do you have creatures living in it?

Andrea Gardiner: The river is quite a small one. It runs at the bottom of the garden. In the rainy season it is deep and fast flowing. In the dry season it is much smaller but you can swim all year round. There are fish, turtles, frogs, birds, iguanas and snakes living in or by it.

Anne D: Andrea have you put yourself on our map – so we can have a nosey at where you are?

Bambi F: What kind of Dr. are you there? Are you a GP, or do you focus mainly on children? Is your husband a Dr. as well?

Andrea Gardiner: Yes I am on the map. I work part time as a GP here. My husband is an electrical-mechanical engineer. He builds houses for local poor families through the charity.

Cherry G: Where did you do your medical training? Did it prepare you for the sort of work you do now?

Andrea Gardiner: I trained as a doc in Edinburgh then as a GP in Shetland. Also did tropical medicine in Liverpool. Working in remote Shetland was a good preparation for here in many ways.

Bambi F: You and your husband are so inspirational. I must have your book.

Alan P: Liverpool – heart of the tropics

Cherry G: It’s one of the greatest centers for Tropical Medicine!

Alan P: Should it be topical? Creams and stuff?

Andrea Gardiner: I think Liverpool is specialised in tropical medicine because of the ships arriving in the port from foreign shores. They certainly had plenty of specimens of worms and other beasties to show us!

Nancy G: Love reading all the comments and must get your book! I have been to the Amazon in Peru several times (probably similar to where you are). The first time was with my daughter and we met an American doctorr who had left her practice in the US to live amongst the indigenous people of the Amazon and treat them. That led my daughter into medicine. While she works in emergency medicine, she has done medical mission trips to Ethiopia, Sri Lanka (after the tsunami) and Guatemala. Her passion is working with the under served. She will like your book too! Blessings to you and your family. By the way, the Chinese also put hats on their babies to keep evil spirits from entering their head!

Peggy P: Thank you so much Andrea Gardiner for the fascinating insight into your way of life. I cannot wait to start reading your book Guinea Pig for Breakfast.

Andrea Gardiner: I expect your daughter has had many adventures Nancy Gould. I expect many cultures have similar old wives tales.

Nancy G: Just tried to download this book onto my iPad kindle app and couldn’t do it. Any suggestions?

Tim John: Hi Andrea, I hope you’re still there. Sorry, I’m late, had an all day meeting. Eating Guinea Pig? My only experience with them is when my daughters were tiny and their pet guinea pig died. We’d only had it a few weeks, so I marched down to the pet shop and asked if the man was selling pensioner guinea pigs. He wasn’t, but he didn’t have a replacement the same colour, so I toyed with the idea of dyeing it so my girls wouldn’t discover he’d actually died. It didn’t work. and this new pet was quite a bit lighter in colour than the first one. the only way we got away with fooling the girls was by saying that “you know how your hair gets lighter in the sun, well so has Guinea’s”. I don’t think it fooled them for long. We then christened their new Guinea “Papua”. But we never ate the old one! Would you have barbecued it? Had Guinea with chips?

Andrea Gardiner: Mostly bbq them here with boiled potatoes and peanut sauce. I do not like them in soup. Fried is a bit greasy.

Cherry G: In Ecuador, are Guinea-pigs sometimes kept as pets, or are they are only ever kept as a food source?

Andrea Gardiner: No never pets. People have 50 or more at a time to fatten up for food.

Alan Parks: Andrea have you got any photos of the local wild life, or is that not possible on the phone?

Andrea Gardiner: I just took a photo of guinea pigs and posted it. I will see if I can get any other photos on.


Bambi F: The guinea pig thing is certainly not the most interesting thing about you, but I have to ask, where does everyone get the guinea pigs? do you buy them at a market? Do people hunt them?

Andrea Gardiner: People buy them as babies in the market and fatten them up at home. Others have hundreds they sell once big and ready for cooking. An iguana.


Alan Parks: Awesome, love Iggy! What do people use the llamas for Andrea? Carrying? Wool? meat?

Andrea Gardiner: Llamas for Alan Parks




Parrot. #4-ParrotWe have lots of humming birds and toucans too… difficult to photograph though!

Turtles from our river. #5-Turtles

My daughter and I eating maggots.

#6-Eating maggots

A cooked guinea pig.#7-Cooked guinea pig

Bambi F: Oh God…

Andrea Gardiner: The whole leaving the head on thing does get to me…

Bambi F: I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. My husband would be in heaven though. He loves eating odd things, and will try anything. The one thing he doesn’t care for so far is hominy. Lol.

Andrea Gardiner: The llamas are used for wool and carrying things. Alpacas too. I have never heard of them being eaten. Donkeys are eaten and their fat used to “cure” asthma.

Alan Parks: Ive not heard much of llamas being eaten actually, but you never know. Alpacas are widely eaten.

Bambi F: Do you have trouble obtaining medications there? Such as Antibiotics, Albuterol, and how about depression and anti-anxiety meds? Does anyone there ever take them?

Alan Parks: How could you suffer depression, not with that on your dinner plate

Andrea Gardiner: You can get many medications here, but asthma inhalers are scarce. People like to use natural remedies a lot or the witchdoctors, and often use doctors as a last resort. You can get some antidepressants though they are not used here as much as in the UK.

Julia M: Hi, you mention swimming in the river, pardon my ignorance but do you not get dangerous ‘things’ in there?

Andrea Gardiner: Not in our part of Ecuador (near Santo Domingo). You get pirana fish and cayman type crocodiles in the amazon rivers.

Cherry Gregory: You must be on, or very near, the equator, so how does the sun appear to you (sorry if this shows my ignorance) and do you get seasons?

Andrea Gardiner: Yes we are right on the equator so the sun rises at 6am and sets at 6pm every day of the year. We have 2 seasons; Rainy season from Jan to June which is hot and wet, and Dry from july to December which is a bit cooler.

Cherry G: Thank you, Andrea. Must have felt strange at first to have the sun come up and then set at the same time each day, to have no sensation of the days getting longer or shorter, especially as it’s the way we in the UK measure our seasons and the time of year!

Bambi F: Is your family able to come visit frequently? And flying from the US, they recommend we get all kinds of bizarre immunizations. Does your family have to do that as well?

Micki S: Do you have a site for sponsoring/ fundraising for the children? It might well be something our Guide unit would be interested in. I’m not sure dwelling on guinea pig eating would be a good selling point, though beliefs & customs would!

Andrea Gardiner: Mum comes once a year. I have 5 siblings and 3 of them have visited. Yes they get injections. My Dad has come twice and took us to the Galapagos one time which was amazing.

Yes our website is www.projectecuador.co.uk or you can contact Miri Frampton who will be glad to email you details of how to sponsor a child.

Micki S: Thank you! Do you have a clinic or do you need to travel to treat your patients? What are the roads in Ecuador like?

Linda K: This was an absolutely fascinating interview. Andrea Gardiner you are an inspiration to all of us. I’ve always thought that someday I would like to “pay it forward,” and here you are doing this every day. Stay safe and all the best to you and your family in the New Year.

Bambi F: I agree with Linda. Your life is absolutely fascinating. The work you are doing there is admirable, and the pictures are awe inspiring. I could ask you questions all day. I do appreciate all the time you’ve given us. I think as long as you continue to answer questions we’ll continue to ask them, so I hope you don’t mind if I pop out the odd question from time to time when I see you in WLM. I will be reading your book, and I’m sure others will as well, now that we are aware of it. Thank you so much.

Andrea Gardiner: Ask away Bambi F, always fun to chat. I mostly work in the village clinic (now that I have the girls). Before I used to do more home visits. I do still go to the village schools from time to time – to do health prevention, give toothbrushes, find those needing specs etc. The outlying roads are unmade so quite hair raising in the rainy season. Dusty in the dry. Bumpy always!

Micki S: Thank you for a fascinating insight into your life in Ecuador! Hope you won’t be a stranger to WLM!

Andrea Gardiner: You’re very welcome. It has been fun. I enjoy the threads on WLM.

Anne D: It has been great thanks – I was so ignorant about your part of the world – now I know a little!

Cherry Gregory: Many thanks, Andrea. I’ve enjoyed sharing a little of your life in Ecuador and learning about the very useful work you do. You are an inspiration! Through these Membership Mondays, I’m realizing we have some truly amazing members in our WLM group!

Victoria Twead: Andrea Gardiner, you have been absolutely brilliant, and this thread is an inspiration. I’ll leave it pinned, in case more people pop in. Thank you soooo much!

Andrea Gardiner: I have enjoyed it. Thanks for all the questions.

Peggy P: Wow – Thanks again and Happy New Year.

Alan Parks: Great MM. Andrea Gardiner you are awesome!

Terry B: Andrea Gardiner…sorry I missed this earlier…so informative. Thank you and I hope you have a great 2014

Woofie W: Wowsers!! Love the photos, Andrea Gardiner and fascinating answers – thank you.

Sue C: Brilliant thread! What fascinating members we have in this group! Thank you Andrea, for a fascinating insight into your world!