Friday, December 23, 2011


Sleep! Am I drugged? Adjusting once again to the altitudes and attitudes here in Ecuador, or just letting my body and mind rest after 3 and a half months of being constantly “on” while in the US?

I worked up at the house yesterday, and came down to my “town quarters” at about 2 PM to eat and fetch my telephone. I lie down on my bed ostensibly to give some rest to my right knee which has been very bothersome since my work in New Mexico, and promptly dropped off into one of the longest and groggiest naps I have ever taken. I wake up some three hours later, not sure of where I am, not even sure if I am really awake, alive or dead. The only thing I´m sure of is that I want to return immediately to the sweet oblivion of just a few moments ago. I roll over, and sleep.

This morning, more of the same. Deep deep sleep, intensely real dreams, and waking not knowing once again where I am, who I am. I dozed back off, but only for a few moments, and then forced myself up to make coffee. The coffee has done its job, for now, but I will sit here and type a little longer before hiking up the hill.

It is a luxury that I appreciate – the luxury to listen to my body and to let it rest when it wants or needs to. Not that I (my thinking part, my work ethic part) want to sleep my days away, no, there is far too much to be done here and I would miss too many interesting sights and sounds for that. But on occasion, de vez en cuando - - damn, it feels good.


Despite all appearances of a laid back and responsibility- free lifestyle I have a lot on my mind. Obviously the house – lots of finish work still to do, some nagging but not serious problems with the roof, and the necessity of furnishing the place, at least a little, remains. What will I buy, what will I build?

Either way means several trips to Ibarra.

A bigger concern even than the house is the question of my visa, which expires in mid February 2012. I have some options, all of which will require a lot of friendly persuasion and leg work, and none of which are worth pursuing during these weeks preceding Christmas and New Years. Just like in the US, very little gets done during this holiday time of year.

The small matter of how to earn a little bit of a living and provide for my old age is something I´d rather not discuss at the moment.



Ah, the evening´s reward for a good day. A room temperature Coca-Cola made palatable by a few onzas of cheap scotch (namely, Grant´s). No ice cubes though, dammit. Even more luxurious, a bag of salted and shelled peanuts that I bought while in Ibarra the other day - - now all I need is a football game, and a TV.
I woke up this morning fresh as a daisy (I think I am over the sleeping sickness) and then killed an hour while I hemmed and hawed over making another trip to Ibarra. The argument between my virtuous side and my avoid work at all costs side got hot and heavy at times and finally the responsible virtuous side scored a rare and stunning victory by declaring out loud “haul your lazy bony ass up to the house and get some work done.”

So that´s what I did. Indoor plumbing connected, drains working. Check. Kitchen and “living room” painted. Check. (well, almost. I´ll finish it tomorrow, promise.) I even plundered around in the muddy garden, picking beets and a few leaves of spinach. The beets go to a neighbor and the spinach goes to my salad.


It´s fiesta time in Cahuasqui which means a lot more people and noise than normal. (“Normal” meaning not many people and so quiet at times you can hardly believe it) Family and friends of family visiting from Ibarra or Quito, usually spending a few days and nights out here in the campo before returning to their busy city lives.

Something I have noticed here, and also in Ambuqui when I lived there, is that these city visitors tend to treat the little towns as their own private playground. “Oh how quaint! Let´s drink a jabba of beer and then race our cars up and down the street at 3AM while blowing our horns!” or “Oh how quaint! Let´s now park our cars and drink another jabba of beer while listening to reggaeton and 80´s American pop music at a volume that will wake the dead for miles around!” or “Oh how quaint! Let´s drink yet another jabba and play with our car alarms at 5 in the morning to see how many different kinds of sounds they will make!” Notice please that there are a few common threads here, namely beer, noise, and cars.

Beer (or insert otro tipo de licor here) and noise I guess have always been and always will be part of the Ecuadorean social landscape. Cars of course have been around in Ecuador for a while too, what is changing and changing rapidly is how many cars. In the short five years that I have been in Ecuador, it seems that the amount of privately owned cars has grown at an astonishing rate. I have no data to back this up, just my own eyes and ears, sitting in a noisy traffic jam in Quito or Ibarra, or watching from the window of a bus the proliferation of late model automobiles.

Except for during the fiestas we do not have many cars here in Cahuasqui. I would venture a guess that there are 20 or less cars in town, and most of them are small pickup trucks. There are also 8 to 10 furgones, or larger trucks, that are used for transporting agricultural produce to Ibarra and Quito, and locally used to haul rock, sand and stone, etc. So it was easy for me to notice that 2 of my vecinos in town had recently purchased vehicles. Both are used, one is a nice little 2 wheel drive white pickup truck manufactured in China, and the other looks to be an 80´s vintage Toyota LandCruiser, 4WD of course.

Now I want one . . . But then I would never get any work done . . .

And to be fair, the nuisances mentioned above occur (thankfully) very infrequently, and to someone less sensitive and more tolerant then me would probably not warrant a strenuous complaint. Yet it is a happy day when the visitors go home, all their basura is cleaned up, and we return to the normalcy of quiet days and nights interrupted only by a shoed horse clomping along the pavers, pealing church bells, and occasional civic announcements from the local authorities.

(The photo above has nothing to do with this post. It´s one of my favorites, two young girls who live in a small community at about 4200 meters in la provincia Bolivar, where I was working last year. As for the last photo, the big chicken on top of the big Suburban - - a few folks liked that one! It´s from this past summer, in Hatch, New Mexico.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

a los tiempos . . .

Let´s see - agosto,septiembre, octubre, noviembre, y la mitad de diciembre - - a long time without posting. Hope one or two of you are still listening, let me know!

18 diciembre 2011

I was getting ready to go to Ibarra this morning, thinking that it would be a nice way to spend my first Saturday back in Ecuador. Not to mention that I could pick up a few hardware items, do a little grocery shopping, and meet my friend Sarah for a cup of coffee, since she was coming up from Quito to visit her in-laws.

I called Sarah to make sure we were still on, and to suggest that we meet earlier than 3 PM, the time originally planned for. She answered the phone, apologizing profusely - - Roger I am so sorry I could not meet you yesterday, blah blah blah . . . I said no worries we are going to meet today right, Saturday? Sarah says - - Roger, yesterday was Saturday, today is Sunday.


I had been wondering why it seemed so quiet around town this morning.

It´s not the first time during my nearly 5 years in Ecuador that I have lost track of the calendar, and I expect and hope that it will not be the last.


My recent 3 month trip to the U.S. was mostly a success. The only serious blip was the heart attack my brother Dave suffered while I was up in New York City visiting with my daughter Anna on what was to have been my last night in the states. I spent the evening haggling with the airline and sending emails to friends in Ecuador who were expecting me the next day, and on Monday I lugged my ridiculously excessive luggage back down Anna´s 5 flights of stairs, grabbed a cab to Penn Station and then caught a bus back to Baltimore. My nephew Ian met me with his truck at the bus- stop, we loaded the luggage and then headed off to the hospital where Dave had undergone a quadruple bypass that morning.

I stayed in Baltimore for a week, running errands for David and visiting him in the hospital, but mostly nagging Ian with reminders that he was going to have to step up to the plate for the next few weeks at least to make sure laundry got done, food got bought, etc. etc. When I finally left for Ecuador on the following Tuesday, Dave was back home, doing well, and as we drove to the airport I gave Ian just a little more friendly nagging and told him that I expect a visit from him before too long. I hope he takes me up on it someday.


It is good to be back, even if I don´t know what day it is. After 2 very easy and pleasant flights, first from Baltimore to Atlanta (a stupendously clear sky and we followed the Appalachians all the way down to Georgia from Maryland) and then the 5.30 PM ride to Quito, I arrived just before 11 PM local time. The paperwork (passport, visa) was easy, as was the luggage check and exit. It was by far the most relaxed arrival I have yet had coming into Ecuador.

My friend Gabby had said she would meet me, and she did, along with her aunt and niece. It was the first time I had ever been met at the airport - - and by 3 lovely women, to boot. We taxied over to the small apartment where Gabby lives with her mother, Silvia, (essentially at the very end of the runway) and as always when they have visitors Gabby and her mom slept in Gabby´s bed and I slept in Silvia´s. I used to argue about this arrangement, but it gets me nowhere, so now I just appreciate the gesture and the firm mattress.

Although anxious to return to Cahuasqui I decided to stay the following day in Quito. Gabby and I bussed into el centro where she had some errands to run, and then we spent a few hours wandering around looking at Spanish schools. My son Joe is coming to Ecuador in January and he may take a few weeks of classes - - - and it wouldn´t hurt for me to consider doing the same. I certainly get by with my hackneyed Spanish, but I´d like to, and should, take it to the next level.

We visited a few schools, liked some more than others, and then got back to the house just in time to watch championship soccer, where Ecuador´s equipo, Liga, lost badly to Chile. Oh well.

The next morning, after another good night of sleeping on Silvia´s comfy mattress, I got on a bus to Ibarra and then to Cahuasqui. By 3 PM I was home.

I´m going to do my best to post again before the new year . . .

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

(continued from previous post, more or less)

All my visitors gone, I got back to work on the house.

I had a few weeks of work in front of me, and a lot to complete before taking advantage of Jill´s truck for an Ecua road trip I was planning around the middle of June. Although walls were up and windows were in, I was still door-less and the floors in the original part of the house were still dirt.

Before pouring the floors we had to lay in the water and waste lines to the kitchen and bathroom. This was relatively easy work and took only a day. I plan to someday build an inodoro seco (dry toilet) a few meters away from the house, along with an outdoor shower, but thought it a good idea (being 2011 after all) to have indoor plumbing as well.

We got to work hauling rock and sand and cement up to the house, which due to lack of road access is at least half the battle. Literally thousands of rocks, maybe tens of thousands, who knows, I didn´t count them. But I´m sure that I touched every one of them. The sand we hauled in from the local “mine” – thousands of shovelfuls and hundreds of wheelbarrow trips up the hill.

I had considered doing compacted earthen floors in one or two of the rooms, but in the end my concerns about dampness convinced me to go with concrete floors. We excavated to level, laid down a plastic vapor barrier, then started putting the rocks in place. Every one of them placed and tamped, just so. Many of the larger rocks we broke into pieces with the combo. The concrete is mixed with arena y tierra y ripio y agua outside on the dirt. A big pile of ingredients, mixed to one side and then the other, then wetted and mixed again. Then we pour, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, pushing the mescla into the spaces between the rocks. Little by little the concrete comes up to level, and then is screeded off. Lastly we sprinkle pure cement over the drying floor and trowel it smooth for a nice finish. We tried mixing some pigment into the mix to give the floors color, but it did not work out very well so we abandoned that idea. We worked on the floors every day for a week and a day, and needless to say it was quite a relief when they were done.

With the floors poured I could now install the 2 exterior doors, which I ´d already purchased in Ibarra. Don Fernando, whose help and knowledge has been indispensable, was taking some time off to work on other projects and to plant his fields, so I had the better part of 2 weeks alone to work and putter as I pleased. I installed the doors, did some more work on the roof to ensure it was watertight, planted some tomatoes, spinach, and zuchini in the garden, got the place cleaned up and moved a bed and cookstove up into what someday will be the kitchen. A few nights later I slept up there for the first time – built a small fire outdoors and when it died down I spent a long time looking up at the stars scattered across the super clear sky.

Back a few years ago, when I first moved into the house I was rehabbing in Dayton, for the first few nights I slept with a baseball bat next to my bed. Never had to use it, though the house did get broken into, twice, during daylight hours when I was away. Here, lacking a baseball bat, I gently laid my machete on the floor next to the bed. When I woke up in the morning, I laughed at my silly fears, and put the machete back in the bodega, where it belongs.

- (next post – Ecua road trip!)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I am so far behind in this chronicle that I am not even sure where to begin . . . so I may as well begin with today, or these past few days, and see where that leads us. That´s the royal “us” - referring to myself and the 2.76 readers who check in here from time to time.

I faced up to a fact today that I have been avoiding for the last several months. To wit, I am in love with the process of building my house . . . so much in love, as a matter of fact, that I keep thinking of ways to prolong the ordeal. I simply do not want to be finished – for then what? Then I have to move in, furnish the place to a degree, keep some food and drink handy, sweep and tidy up every now and again, etc. etc. etc. All that housekeeping sounds like a lot of work - so much easier and much more fun just to keep digging, cutting, nailing, pouring and whatnot. None of that is work – it´s just all play. Luxurious labor - - no bosses, no deadlines, no reports, no nada. Finishing, and then moving in, will require me to deal with the question of what comes next - - and the fact is that I don´t have a clue. Of course something will come up, it always does (or at least always has) Nevertheless, I really don´t want to think about it . . .

But I do think about it – my vaguely obsessive/compulsive mind momentarily agonizing over a bad decision made 3 weeks or 3 months ago, worrying about cash flow (which is flowing in only one direction these days) or fretting over how to rectify my tenuous visa situation or how to best care for my tender young avocado trees. Oh how I sometimes long to emulate my campesino friends who truly take one day at a time . . .

As we all know, sometimes it´s good to get away for a while, far from those and that which we love. I´ve had several little trips and adventures of late which provided good fun and great therapy. Back in April, my good friend Colin, along with fellow Buckeyes Dana and Kat (but without his lovely wife Lori this trip) came to Ecuador, and I met them down in Quito the night of their arrival. Next morning we made the 3 hour trip by bus down to the Latacunga terminal, where the threesome jumped on the noon bus to Laguna Quilotoa, which is certainly one of the oldest and funkiest busses still running in Ecuador. I watched them pull away, gave a wave for good luck, (they were going to need it, traveling in that old piece of junk) and then walked across the street to the Santa Maria supermarket to meet up with Jill Sare (owner of the truck I mentioned in a previous post).

Jill was parked just outside the market and was hastily making tuna and pickle roll-ups for the road on the front seat of the truck, so I stepped into the Santa Maria to buy a few beverages. Sandwiches ready and drinks at hand we hit the long and winding road down to Baños, where we were treated to the roarings, rumblings, and spewings of Volcan Tungurahua, which was clearly visible from the home we stayed in. I had planned to stay only one night in Baños, but the volcano was so intriguing that I decided to stay on for a second, hoping the skies might clear and I´d get a good night time view of the eruptions. After dinner out (and some great home-brewed beer) with a few of Jill´s friends I hit the sack, a little disappointed that it was still overcast. I fell asleep to the jet like roar emanating from the crater, about 8 kilometers away.

About 2 in the morning Jill is pounding at my door – “did you hear that? did you feel that? Wake up and come see the volcano!” A thundering explosion had woken Jill, but I had slept right through it. I got up and went out on the porch and I can only say I´ve never seen anything like what I was seeing. The sky had cleared completely, and lava and flames were shooting from the crater, red and orange and yellow. It was a hypnotic and spectacular light show, complete with sound effects, and we sat in silence for a long while, for there were no words to describe what we were seeing.

A few hours later we were on the road, making the 6 hour drive in Jill´s truck to Cahuasqui. After an easy and pleasant trip Jill settled in at the hostal of doña Mariana Fuentes and I went up the hill to check on the house. The next day we walked over to Yanarra Guayasamin´s house, where Yanarra and friends and family from Quito were gathered under the trees sitting around the picnic table. We ate good food, drank good wine, played guitars and sang. A lovely time and the whole afternoon had a very cinematic feel to it . . .

The next morning, Jill, who was off to the US for two months, said goodbye to “Morci”, (her truck) handed me the keys, and then caught a ride to Quito with Yanarra´s husband Olivier.

A few days later I drove down to Otavalo to meet up again with Colin and company, who had bussed back up north from Latacunga. We went to Ibarra, ate fritada, and then came back up to la isla. Kat and Dana stayed at Marianna´s hostal, and Colin camped out at my place. The next day we all met up at the house and just relaxed for a few hours enjoying the sun and the views.

A day later we were on the road to the Ecuador/Columbia frontera. About 20 kilometers south of Tulcan we were stopped at a police control, where our friendly and corrupt interrogator threatened to impound Jill´s truck, claiming it was “improperly registered” (it was not, all papers were in order) Obviously we (being 4 gringos in a private vehicle), were good shakedown material, and thinking quickly, I lied, telling him “Why, I was stopped at another control just yesterday and they said all the papers are fine” . This threw him, and he stepped away from the truck for a few minutes to think about his next step and to give us time to (he was hoping) slip him a twenty dollar bill. We sat, and waited, for what seemed like a long time but probably wasn´t. We were at a stalemate, I wasn´t going to give up the truck (!) nor were we going to knuckle under and give up the bribe. I felt badly for Colin, Dana, and Kat, who were anxious to get up to Las Lajas in Columbia - - but they were backing me up all the way. Dana is a policeman in Ohio and even though his Spanish is not up to speed he fully understood what was going on. After a while our man reappeared, apparently convinced that we were not particularly afraid of him, and he told us to move on – “but get this problem taken care of”. I was tempted to remind him that there was no problem, but kept my mouth shut for once. Four sighs of relief, and we pulled away.

I dropped Colin and friends off at the border, where they caught a taxi into Columbia, and I parked the truck and mostly napped while waiting for them to return. I did walk over the bridge into Columbia looking for internet, and chatted a while with a few friendly Columbian policemen. The border at Rumichaca is a schizophrenic place – I´ve crossed it several times now, and sometimes, like on this day, it feels easy going and relaxed, almost festive. Other times the police and/or military on both sides seem to be on high alert and the atmosphere can be very tense. I´m not sure what accounts for the differences, but more than likely it is just posturing by one government or the other to show that they can muscle up if needed.

Four or so hours later the Ohioans returned, and we headed south back to Tulcan to visit the beautiful topiary gardens at the cemetery there. But first I scared the bejesus out of myself and my passengers by turning left into oncoming one-way traffic . A couple of choice phrases and a quick retreat put us on the right path, and off we went. I was beginning to feel like a normal Ecuadorean driver.


Our drive up to Tulcan had been fairly easy, except for the shakedown. Early morning traffic had been light, and it was essentially a pleasure to wind our way north along the twists and turns of the panamericana. Leaving Tulcan was a different story. By late afternoon traffic had increased by tenfold, and at least half of that was heavy trucks and buses. The slower mulas crawled along in the uphills, the faster buses and smaller trucks and cars impatiently waiting to pass at first opportunity – weaving in and out, sometimes taking advantage of a 15 foot opening to advance one car at a time. When traffic in the oncoming lane lightened a little, all of a sudden a group of 2 or 3 cars, trucks and buses would pull out in unison, and then abreast of one another, with headlights flashing to signal “get out of my way” they would negotiate a triple, (sometimes quadruple) pass. Any oncoming traffic is forced over onto the shoulder, because the passers have nowhere else to go.

I was somewhat familiar with this driving style, mostly from watching it as a passenger in a bus. My three passengers, pale by now, were not, and could not believe what they were seeing, especially Dana, the policeman. “So, I guess they don´t bother with the rules down here, do they?”, he said, and Colin, who`s been many times to Mexico and Ecuador and other Latin American countries chuckled and said “what rules”? For me, as el chofer, it was more than a little stressful, but as I got more accustomed, and comfortable, during my 2 months use of the truck, I would begin to appreciate the system of unwritten driving “rules”, the various meanings of headlight flashes and vague hand signals. But I never did get used to the ridiculous practice of vehicles pulling right in order to make a LEFT turn . . .

Traffic lightened somewhat as we started the long downhill run from Carchi Province into Imbabura province and el valle de Chota. The late afternoon light was spectacular and we were treated to beautiful views of a snowcapped Cayambe (highest point in the world through which the equator passes), and the lower but closer peaks of Imbabura and Cotocachi. We left the panamericana at the Salinas “Y” and returned to Cahuasqui via Tumbabiro - the sugar cane, espinas and the beautiful yellow flowered cholan pressing in close from both sides of the narrow and winding road.

The next morning my friends were on their way back to Quito, Dana and Kat returning to Ohio and Colin continuing on to Peru, where he would meet up with Lori in Cusco and from there they would go on to the Sacred Valley and Macchu Picchu.

I got back to work on the house.

(to be continued . . .)

Friday, May 13, 2011

8 mayo, domingo

So much happening, and so little time to sit down to write a bit about it. Here it is the second week of May already, the rains have stopped and it looks like summer has finally come to Cahuasqui. Crisp cool mornings followed by brilliant blue skies and hot sun, and clear nights perfect for stargazing. Every tractor and every team of draft animals in town is busy with plowing and disking, irrigation ditches are being cleaned out, fields are being planted to beans and peas and tomatoes and peppers, and just about everyone in town seems to be happily occupied with the business of farming.

I am happily occupied, as well, slowly but surely coming closer to the morning when I can wake up in my “new” house on the hill, brew a cup of coffee and sit outside for a few moments enjoying the sun, the breeze, and the view. When people ask me (everyday) “are you done yet?”, my stock response is “falta un mez!” But the months come and go, Don Fernando and I are working hard just about every day, yet it always seems we are still about a month away from “finishing.” Good thing I´m not in a hurry, and as a matter of fact I sometimes find myself enjoying the process of building so much that I´m not sure I want it to end . . .

In addition to the construction, I have finally cleared a bit of land to start a little “huerto” where I´ll plant tomatos, zuchinni, spinach, lettuce, herbs and more. I have started about 500 tomato seedlings in flats, and they´ll be ready for transplanting out in about 2 weeks. I also decided to plant 15-20 more avocado trees, in addition to the 40 I planted last November - when they start producing in about 3 or 4 years they´ll provide a little bit of welcome income. Last week in Atuntaqui I bought a truckload of plants – the avocados, oranges, mandarinas y limon, and a whole mess of flowers and medicinales. Later on a couple of apple trees, and maybe peaches, and I think I´ll be set.

A truckload of plants – what a luxury. For the months of May and June I have the use of a Chevy LUV pickup – loaned to me (in exchange for new tires and some TLC) by my friend Jill Sare, (she writes a great blog at who has gone visiting in the US. After 10 days I am already completely spoiled, and I know that one way or another I am going to have to have my own truck. After 4 years of traveling by bus, I am more than ready. What freedom, what utility!


Now that summer has come I´ve decided that I should get out of my levi´s and put on a pair of shorts every now and again. In the early morning while it´s still cool I pull on long pants, but by about 8.30 the sun is hot enough to change into an old pair of Carhartt shorts that I keep up at the house. One day last week, shortly before the lunch break, I had to hike down the hill to pick up something at the ferreteria, so in shorts, tank top and ratty old cowboy hat went into town. The hardware store was empty, except for Fernanda the clerk and an old lady who had stopped by to visit. The old lady, with a great big smile showing off her one and only tooth, could not keep her eyes off my legs. I finally asked her, “so what do you think of my white gringo legs?” and she smiled even more broadly and said “que lindo, que lindo, your legs are the color of yucca!” This was not exactly a compliment in my book, although she certainly meant it as such, and Fernanda, behind the counter, could barely keep herself from bursting out loud in laughter. The old lady also commented on my various shades of whiteness - “que lindo, your legs are so white, your shoulders are so red (burnt) and your arms are the color of an Indian! Que hermoso!” Sigh . . . there are times I feel like a living and breathing entertainment center.


13 mayo, viernes

Rain! A much needed day off after a week of hauling and loading and digging and mixing and pouring. I hired 2 “officiales” (day laborers) Juan y Segundo, to help Fernando and I and it paid off. We poured concrete floors in 4 rooms, installed the water and drain lines, cleaned up the piles of dirt and block that had accumulated around the house and hauled up at least 100 wheelbarrows full of arena and another 50 of piedra to have ready for next week. What a difference 2 extra pairs of hands make, and Juan and Segundo have a smile on their faces every moment, no matter how hard the work. For that matter, so do Fernando and I – we are all having a pretty good time up there.

I´m happy for the break the rain provides, it gives me an excuse to drive into Ibarra today and it will help settle in the fruit trees I planted yesterday evening. But with the rain my thoughts return to my problematic roof, which I´ve been able to forget about during these past 2 weeks of dry weather. It´s a flat roof, with just enough slope to shed rainwater, and it´s planked with a very water resistant and very pretty reddish-yellow wood from the coast called “llano”. Turns out though that llano likes to shrink (a lot) when exposed to heat or sunlight, and my roof is opening up a little. I was assured that the wood was good and dry when I bought it in Ibarra, and I kept it stacked for a month before installing, but around here you never know. Kiln drying is virtually non-existent, and someone´s idea of air “dried” lumber might be cut the tree, leave the logs on the ground for a month, cut into planks – listo. Hecho y seco, but not really.

The learning curve in this little project has been daunting, and in the end very useful. How spoiled I was, and how easy it was, in the US, to run off to Requarth´s Lumber Yard or Home Depot, to buy good lumber with standard dimensions, to not have to negotiate every price (“well, how much do you want to pay?) And to know if I need more, it´s always there. Here, if I run short of anything by a few pieces, it may be weeks or months (if ever) before the aserradero has the same wood again. The upshot is, for my next Ecuadorean project, whenever and wherever, I am now far more prepared than I was 6 months ago. Not to say I don´t have a lot left to learn, and I´m still not sure how I´m going to fix my roof, but I reckon I´ll think of something.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Mornings

13 marzo Sunday morning – Waiting my turn at the laundry tank, which has been occupied almost every minute of every day for the past 2 weeks. While construction proceeds apace at “La Loma” I am living in a small apartment in town owned by Doña Piedad and her husband Don Raul, two of Cahuasquis´ most venerable citizens. They own and farm chunks of land from Cahuasqui up to San Fransisco de Sachapamba, growing traditional crops such as corn and beans, as well as being among the first here to grow asparagus and artichokes. Every morning Don Raul is on his tractor up to San Francisco, and he reminds me a bit of Elder Welch, who many years ago in Yellow Springs, Ohio, extended his middle finger to authorities who took away his drivers license due to poor eyesight by climbing on his tractor every day and driving into town to run his errands.

The compound in which I live used to be the office and residence of the Agricultural Minister for this region, (a post once held by Don Raul and which has long ago been eliminated) and consists of 2 apartments, one occupied by a young woman named Raquel and her 2 children Pato and Maite. Raquel is about 22 years old and “married” to Doña Piedads´ son Oswaldo who is in his late 40´s and due to his work as a truck driver is rarely in town. But lately, late at night, Oswaldo has been parking his truck here for a few hours, then leaving early in the morning, just as the sun rises. I am pretty sure that the result of these late night visits will be that in 8 or 9 months time Raquel will “dar la luz” to another angelito - - right about the time Maite turns about one and a half years old.

In addition to the 2 apartments there is a very small room in the back with a kitchen and bathroom, and next to that a large one room bodega, which up to about 2 weeks ago was empty. At the first of the month I had gone to Tena and Quito for a few days with my son during the last few days of his visit, and when I returned, a whole new family had moved into the bodega – and the laundry tank has been occupied, either by the new family or by Raquel, almost every moment since.

I´d like to get up to the house to work, it´s a pretty day. But most of my work clothes are filthy and Sundays are almost the only opportunity to do washing. While I wait my turn I tidy up the little apartment, and then wash dishes to empty the kitchen sink where, given the circumstances, I wash up several pairs of socks and a couple of particularly nasty ball caps. By the time I finish these few items and get them hung on the line, my neighbor has finished up at the laundry tank and I move in with my 2 buckets of dirty t-shirts, pants, and unmentionables, which have been soaking in soapy water for a day or two.

Very few campo people have washing machines, so “doing the laundry” actually means doing the laundry, standing at the tank, drawing cold water from the tap, soaping up and scrubbing the daylights out of every single piece. For some it can be a 3 or 4 hour ordeal – luckily I have only my own clothes to wash and I can usually do what I need in under an hour. Sometimes it´s pleasant work, but other times, like today, when I´d rather be doing something else, I resolve that once I get moved in to the new house a washing machine will be one of the luxuries I permit myself (along with a refrigerator, which I have not had in my 4 years living in Ecuador). Only a washer, though – a dryer would be way too lujos and therefore out of the question.

There are 2 turtles who live in the wash tank, gifts brought to little Pato from his father whose work often takes him to coastal Ecuador. The turtles spend about half their lives in the laundry tank, the other half is spent in the hands of Pato and his little friends who grab them by their shells and pretend they are battleships or supersonic airplanes. Every time I do my laundry the turtles stretch their necks up at me and with their sad eyes seem to be saying “save us, please save us!” I have jovially suggested to Pato from time to time that hey, wouldn´t it be a great idea to take las tortugas down to the river and let them go for a nice long swim! - - - but Pato, who is 4, squares his jaw, crosses his arms and says “no, this is a very bad idea”. Last month Oswaldo brought home a yappy little puppy, but after only a few days the puppy was gone. Raquel says he was stolen, but I suspect that she did not care much for the whining and yapping all night long (I know I didn´t) and made some “other arrangements”.

20 marzo Sunday morning – Pancakes (pahnkahkes) for breakfast, and “maple syrup” whipped up by boiling together un taza de panela, un poco de canela, y un poco de aceite. It´s not too bad, and the sugar rush lasts almost until mid day. Then a little siesta y un cafecito, and the tank is full again.

As usual, Sunday is laundry day, and as usual I would rather go straight up to the house to work. But duty calls, so I step out the back door with my 2 buckets of dirty clothes expecting to find the wash tank occupied, and to my surprise it is not. Moreover, I am shocked to see a Rube Goldberg style conglomeration of tubes and plastic pipes passing through the window of the bodega and connected to . . . a washing machine!

Yes, my neighbors, my neighbors who I once felt sorry for because I thought they were so poor as to have no choice but to live in a one room bodega, have put in a washing machine. And over the last week they have carried in a big screen TV, a refrigerator, several pieces of very nice furniture. Come to think of it, I have seen no clothes hanging on the line for a few days, my god is it possible that they have a dryer, as well?!? Who are these people? Who do they think they are? We live in Cahuasqui after all, and aren´t all Cahuasquireños hard working and honest but poor as church mice?

Apparently not. I guess Cahuasqui is just a lot like the rest of Ecuador, which is to say a lot like the rest of the world. There´s thems that got, and thems that ain´t got. Twas ever thus . . .


Cahuasqui has a new internet “café”, and it is actually open from time to time. A few days ago I went down after work to give it a whirl. I took the shortcut to town, which means sliding down the hill at the bottom end of my land on the seat of my pants and hopping over an irrigation ditch. I walked on past 2 or 3 old mud houses, their teja roofs broken and decrepit, sliding off except where the moss keeps the tiles stuck together. I holler “buen provecho” to an old man sitting in a tree eating guayaba fruit. I pass two burros quietly grazing in the fencerow, and a young man on horseback trots by and greets me with a happy sounding “buenas noches!”

A few moments later I leave the dirt road and turn onto the cobbled street to town. It dawns on me that each step takes me out of one century and into another. The internet is open, it´s a little room with 4 computers, and one is available. I am glad to see they are busy, because this means they will stay open more frequently and maybe for longer than a few weeks or months. I take my place and while waiting for the machine to boot up I notice that to my right two of the cutest little 8 year old girls in the world are playing “Grand Theft Auto”, or some such thing, the high school student to my left is doing her homework, and further to my left, at the first machine, a young man is watching video footage from the Japan earthquake. His friend is looking over his shoulder and every few seconds one of them will mutter “increible” or “caramba”, or “dios mio”.

I find I have little interest in the world outside of my own little life at this moment, so I spend only a few moments checking headlines and emails before signing off. Next week, I promise myself, I´ll be sure to write to friends and family, to download news articles to my flash drive to read at home, and to generally be a better world citizen and better person all around. We´ll see how that goes.