31 Enero - A long stretch of very good days and weeks came to an abrupt end today. I should have seen it coming; yesterday was just too good, too many things went right.
Yesterday I finally found and bought a dozen mango trees for the school gardens. For a region that grows so many mangos, the trees are surprisingly hard to come by. I had heard rumors of mango trees for sale up in Pimampiro, but had struck out on all my previous visits. Yesterday I decided to try one more time, and as I wandered more or less aimlessly through town I rounded a corner and there before me, sitting on the sidewalk, were 2 boxes of beautiful mango trees – ingertos (grafted) – exactly what I was looking for. I located the owner of the trees and we walked down the street to his little vivero (nursery) tucked away in a courtyard. He had hundreds and hundreds of trees - mangos, avocados, mandarins and more. I asked the price of the grafted mangos, hoping for 3 dollars apiece, and when the owner told me the cost was 4 dollars cada uno I groaned a little but agreed to the deal. I had spent way too much time looking for these trees, quibbling over 12 dollars was not worth it. I normally don`t carry more than a few dollars with me each day, but today had 50 bucks tucked away just in case I got lucky. So I paid the man, and we went off to find someone with a pickup truck who we could hire to haul me and the trees to Piqiuicho and Caldera. The camionetta drivers in Pimampiro are a hard bunch, and the best price we found was 8 dollars, which was still highway robbery. So I hired a guy with a 2 wheeled cart attached to a bicycle and he charged me .50 centavos to carry the load to the bus stop, about 4 blocks away. A bus came in a few minutes, and I loaded the trees (each about 30 inches tall) into a compartment and we headed to Juncal, about 20 minutes down the hill. I met Alexis, one of the older kids from the Piqiuicho school, on the bus, and he agreed to help me unload the trees from our bus and onto the Caldera bus, if one came by. This was the big gamble, because I did not know when or if a bus up to Caldera would show up.
A small crowd gathered as we waited in Juncal, because people here are always curious when they see a gringo carting around a load of trees or plants. As I was explaining about the school gardens, and the donations which enabled me to buy the trees, and all that, I looked up to see a Monte Olivo bus, bound for both Piqiuicho and Caldera, come to a screeching halt to discharge some passengers. I motioned to the ayudante (bus helper) that we needed to load the trees, and in the blink of an eye we were on our way. In Piqiuicho Alexis jumped off and grabbed 3 trees, which is all we have space for in the garden there. I continued up to Caldera, absolutely amazed at how well this was all working out, and congratulating myself for not throwing away 8 bucks on the camionetta. The bus fares came to a grand total of .50 centavos. In Caldera I dropped off the 9 remaining trees at the Escuela de Cuba. Seven of the tress were going to the garden, and I gave the other 2 to Don Homero, the school janitor, to plant in his huerto down the road. I felt a little guilty about the bribe, but Don Homero has been a constant source of help and advice to me, and two mango trees seemed a small price to pay for his assistance and encouragement.
I stayed in Caldera long enough to water the garden, and by the time I was ready to leave the last bus back down to Juncal had already passed. I started hiking out of town, but in just a few minutes a truck loaded with peppers and onions slowed down enough for me to jump on and off we went. Once again, I could not believe my luck.
That was yesterday. Today was a clusterfuck of missed busses and missed connections, a nasty encounter with an unfriendly person, and a day in which my Spanish decided to go on vacation. I will spare all the details, but by 2PM I had had enough, and headed home to take a long nap. I woke up at about 4, made some coffee and poured some honey over an arepa (kind of like corn bread). I was still peeved about the events of earlier in the day, and decided to get out for a short hike up into the mountains, literally just steps outside my door. I had about 2 hours of daylight, so took my binoculars, a book, and a bottle of water. Within 30 minutes I was high above Ambuqui, I sat on a rock for a few minutes and gazed at my little town far below. It seemed so quiet, and so tranquilo, yet all I could think about were all the dramas that were played out here every day, just as they are in small towns everywhere. I thought of other small towns I have lived in, Yellow Springs, Ohio; White Salmon, Washington; Longmont, Colorado, just to name a few, and they all blended into one. One town where people loved, where people fought, where people succeeded or failed, where people drank the day away in public, or more discreetly took a pull every now and again from the bottle hidden in the cupboard. I thought about Edgar Lee Masters` “Spoon River Anthology” and how the scandals and tragedies, the tales of lust and love and of hatred and friendship described in the headstones of the deceased residents could cross cultures and all be applicable here in Ambuqui, one hundred years later and thousands of miles away.
I moved on up into the mountains, and came to a stopping point where the quebrada climbed almost a hundred feet straight up. If I were a bunch of years younger, I might have tried to make my way up, and I may yet try to do so, but not by myself. I found another rock, with another view of the now more distant Ambuqui. I was carrying my current read, “Dead Man`s Walk”, by Larry McMurtry, and ripped off a chapter as the daylight began to fade. It was easy to imagine myself in the shoes of the characters in the novel, there in the dry quebrada with the towering hills covered in cactus and sagebrush. I looked up at the fat crescent moon and though it best to head back down before the light was completely gone. I was happy with my little adventure, and had mostly forgotten about the day`s bad start. On my way down I met an indigenous woman bringing her 3 cows back into town from a day of grazing. She was surprised to see me, and asked where I had been, what had I been doing. I told her I`d just been up in the quebrada, just taking a walk for the fun of it. She shook her head and looked at me like I was crazy. I suppose she trudges up and down these goat trails nearly every day of her life and likely sees no fun in it at all.
Books. “Dead Man`s Walk” will bring me up to 100 novels read during my 2 years of Peace Corps. We are lucky here to have a great network of book trading, so it is pretty easy to keep a fresh supply of books around. Most of my reading is done at night, in the few hours between sunset and bedtime, and some is done on busses, or while waiting for busses. And once in a great while, I will stay home and read the entire day, which is a luxury I think everyone should grant themselves from time to time.
I have read two very good books with a “do-gooder” theme, and would recommend them to anyone who wants to believe that yes, individuals can make a difference in this world of ours. One is “City of Joy” by Dominique LaPierre, which is a story of Calcutta, India; and the other is “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, a contemporary story of one guy`s mission to build schools in the far reaches of Pakistan and Afghanistan. For more Peace Corps related themes, “Living Poor” by Moritz Thomsen is a classic, and his story still rings true, 40 years later. “The Bold Experiment” by Gerard T. Rice is the story of Peace Corps` creation and first few decades, and is very well researched and written.
Tomorrow is the Super Bowl, and although I normally go with the Steelers I have to go this time with Arizona as the sentimental underdog choice. And because Kurt Warner is way too old to be playing as well as he is. I will enjoy the game with some friends in Ibarra, drinking 80 cent Pilseners and eating empanadas, can`t wait.
Well now it seems that today may not have been so bad after all. Just not quite so good as the days before.