Mornings break and nights fall quickly this close to the equator. Work days start early, at first light, for in the dry season which we are now in the blazing intensity of the sun drives many of us indoors during the middle afternoon. “Us” being those, like me, who somehow through design or dumb luck have the luxury of controlling our days as best we can, filling them, or not, as we see fit. The others, the not “us”, find their patches of shade or a cool corridor and take only a short mid-day break to eat a lunch of rice and beans, washed down with weak tea or tepid coca-cola. If time permits, a short rest, and then a reluctant return to whatever it is they are toiling at - - here in Cahuasqui, usually fieldwork. Spraying, planting, irrigating, harvesting, 12 months of the year. To protect from the sun the workers cover themselves, despite the day’s warmth, with long sleeved shirts buttoned at the wrists and broad brimmed hats. The men wear long pants and boots - some of the women as well choose the same, while others wear more traditional long and heavy skirts covered by an apron.
Ocassionally, and usually only when I want to, I find myself outdoors during these hottest and brightest parts of the day, tending to my trees and gardens. I wear shorts, and sandals, and tank top t-shirts. Passersby, if there are any, joke that I will always be white, never beautifully coffee colored as they are. Of course they are right, but I’ll keep trying nonetheless.
Far more likely during the mid-day I am indoors, working on the house, wiring a circuit, painting, or trimming out windows and doors. Truth be told, I am just as likely to be reading or napping in the brightly colored hammock I have hung from a pair of roof beams.
Shortly after four PM the angle of the sun has lowered and the light changes from brilliant blazing white to more tranquil and friendly hues of orange and gold. The gusty winds calm and I wrap up my indoor tasks (or naps) to return outdoors during this, my favorite part of the day. Watering is the main objective now, to replace that moisture that has been lost during the day. It is also a perfect time to set out young seedlings, in order to give them at least a night of settling in before facing tomorrow’s scorching rays and drying breezes. With each passing minute the illumination changes, the mountains east of me softly lit and the mountains west of me now massive shadowy outlines. My own shadow looks to be 10 times my actual height.
The blue skies fade to dusky reds and purples, temperatures drop. I put on long pants, and shoes. By 7 pm, every night of every day of the year, the light has left us. On a clear moonless night such as tonight the vastness of the dark sky is quickly filled with stars and galaxies and who knows what other mysteries. The chickens have quieted, and in the distance dogs begin their plaintive barking at unseen and imagined intruders. In a few hours they too will quiet down.
A few times a month when the spirit moves me I will build a small fire in the pit out front of the house. Sometimes I cook my dinner over the fire, other times I happily enjoy the fire for its warmth and it´s invitation to simply sit and stare, perhaps to ponder all the usual questions about life and love and the like.
The village of Cahuasqui lies quietly below, the church steeple lit up for the evening Mass. Not far from the church new floodlights light up the soccer field, and voices of playing children waft gently up the hill to my ears. Across the quebrada is Pablo Arenas, its own brightly lit church shrouded in a fog bank creeping up from the valley. Looking farther east across the valley I can see the shimmering lights of Huacar, San Vicente de Pusir, and even Mira, 15 miles away as the crow flies. So close, it seems - - yet if I want to go to Mira I will need to travel for 3 hours.
Circling from east , to south, then west and north, the hills are emptier – lone houses sprinkled here and there, a few scattered small communities - - Palaga, Pugaran, Guanibuela, La Florida. The boonies, to be sure. Large fires sometimes burn in the mountains, a nasty holdover custom from the old days when the indigenous believed that great fires and their resulting humo would bring rain during a dry season. Smaller fires burn as well, but these are usually managed and meant to clean up an irrigation ditch or sendero.
My own little campfire fades to embers, the earth keeps on spinning, and tomorrow is another day.