Wednesday, April 18, 2012

a donde vas?

One Friday a few weeks ago I had to leave Cahuasqui en la madrugada in order to meet a friend in Ibarra - - from there we were driving down to Quito to spend a “city day.” Dragged myself out of bed, made a pot of coffee and put on some relatively clean clothes, and was out the door by 5.20, in time to catch the 5.40 bus. It was lovely to walk down the hill in the pre dawn; a few people were out and about, chatting idly by front doors, others lined up at the panaderia buying the first warm batch of the day´s bread ration, but mostly all was still and quiet. Despite all my best intentions, I´m rarely up and around in these last few moments of nights´ darkness; usually the best I can do is get out the door by 7am, and by then the sun has been up for almost an hour and the town is a beehive of activity.

As I rounded a corner I saw my friend Rene sitting in his old truck, with the engine idling. “A donde vas?” I asked, and he said he was off to Ibarra, via the Salinas road. “Come on in and ride with me, I don´t have a radio and it will be good to have company!” It was a good offer, so I said sure - - but explained carefully that I was on a bit of a schedule and really, really, wanted to be in Ibarra by 7. 7.15 at the latest, I added, to give us both a little breathing room. “No hay ningun problema, no pasa nada!” he assured me, and that´s when I started to worry, because right then I knew that there would be a problem, and that yes, algo va a pasar. I did some quick mental calculations, and did as any sensible person would have done – which was to choose Rene over the bus. I climbed in.

A very light rain had started to fall as we pulled away from town, which prompted the usual conversation about “cambios de la clima” and how messed up everything is. We passed the time, pondering, until we reached Pablo Arenas, where we were delayed for a few minutes by a small gathering of devout Catholics marching down the street bearing a baby Jesus and singing, apparently not minding the rain, which had picked up a little in intensity. Rene and I figured it was probably the special day of some obscure saint that only a few people seem to know about it.

In Pablo Arenas we stopped for gas - - which is funny because there is no gas station there, as a matter of fact the closest gasolinera is another 40 minutes away in Urcuqui. What they do have in Pablo Arenas is a guy who keeps 20 or 30 old plastic containers of various capacities and a 3 foot long piece of hose in the front hall of his abode, and when you need gas for the trip to Ibarra he´s the guy to see. Rene chose 2 gallon containers formerly used for antifreeze, grabbed the hose, and artfully siphoned all the gas without losing one drop. To assure that 2 gallons was enough to make it down to Ibarra Rene went to check the gauge, and decided that yes, indeed, that will do it. I was a little surprised though that he could be so sure of the gauge´s accuracy, because the truck was parked on what was at least a 30 degree incline . . .

I had noticed when we left Cahuasqui in the darkness and misty rain that Rene was not using the windshield wipers. I also noted that his truck had no headlights, and no taillights – only a single red running light mounted midway up the front of the cab. When I asked Rene if he didn´t need the wipers to “see” (in the darkness) he said “no I don´t need them, and besides they don´t work anyway.”

Now, the road from Cahuasqui to Pablo Arenas, although much improved since I first traveled it in 2007, is closely related in design to a typewriter ribbon that has fallen to the floor and become unspooled - - a narrow, twisty, turning series of hairpin curves bordered by rock on one side and some 500 feet of air on the other – and generally uninterrupted by any encumbrances such as guardrails, signals, or signs. Traveling down this road with Rene, his one hand shifting and steering, the other hand working his cell phone, no lights, no wipers . . . well, let´s just say I had many thoughts about my children, and how badly I felt that I had almost nothing to leave them, and that my body would never be recovered.

But my worries were for naught, as always. As we advanced down the hill the darkness faded, and until the rain stopped Rene jumped out of the cab at least twice to wipe the windshield with an old rag, just to make me feel better.

Rene´s phone rang several times while we were on our way. It turns out we were to pick up a paying passenger in Salinas (de Ibarra) - - and the phone calls were from the father wondering what´s the hold up, why aren´t you here yet, etc. etc. As mentioned, he called several times. We hightailed it through Tumbabiro , hit the long straightaway into the valley, crossed the railroad tracks on the edge of town and pulled up to the passenger´s house, where I was expecting he would be waiting, impatiently. As usual I was wrong, there was no one. Rene tooted his horn a couple of times and in a few minutes a man (the father who had called several times) steps out of the house, relaxed, smiling, and uttering all the requisite morning phrases. Our passenger, he tells us, has just rolled out of bed, but “no se preocupe, he´ll be right out after he gets dressed.” I look at Rene, glance at my watchless wrist, and roll my eyeballs. Rene smiles. Rene always smiles. I send a cell phone message to my friend saying I´m going to be a little late, please wait. It´s almost 7 and we are still a good half hour from Ibarra.

A few moments later the boy staggers out of the house, crawls over me and crams himself into the middle “seat”, straddling the stick shift. We get on our way, por fin, and neither Rene nor I bother to ask the father “what in the hell were all the hurry up phone calls about?” There would have been no point in it, and we both of us knew it.

Five minutes later we hit the Panamericana and struggle mightily up the long winding hills and hold on to our hats while being double and triple passed with alarming frequency. Finally we arrive in Ibarra, only about 40 minutes late. It could have been worse . . . and besides, it turns out that my friend was running a little atrasado as well, and did not have to wait too long for me.

I might have had a faster trip on the bus, but then again you never know.

The attached photo is of Rene, from last year. He's carrying a eucalyptus beam up to the house.