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 . . .)