BAHIA de CARAQUEZ, Ecuador
The relationships – more than anything – made the last five weeks here an experience I will never forget.
More than anyone, Orlando became a thoroughly enjoyable friendship. The 40-something gave up a life as a veterinarian in Quito to have an easier life leading the field work for a reforestation project in this small coastal town.
His warm and welcoming character made him instantly affable. His demeanor is quick to laugh at even the hint of humor. His jolly manner is the same at 8 a.m. on Mondays.
For a glimpse into this easy-going man, read slices of his vocabulary.
He would say the Spanish word for “of course” in nearly every conversation or circumstance. It showed how he was agreeable and open to spontaneity and, basically, liked everything you had to say.
“I am happy.”
He would drop this gem after Spanish-English classes, during sunsets, or at Ramon’s bungalow in la Gorda.
“You can do it.”
He would utter this short pep talk when the volunteers are sweaty and tired from chopping vines with machetes.
When my machete sliced open my left index finger last week, he demonstrated the deft vet skills he still practices part-time in Bahia.
You’d often find the single father cruising around town on his dirt bike. He’d quickly flash a smile and ask, “Que tal?” or “What’s up?”
He’d struggle with saying “Th” in “Thursday,” but when I tried to slowly teach him “peace out, homey,” he rattled it off without hesitation or accent.
His ease in saying that could have been his inner gangster. (He wore a baggy white T-shirt to Laura’s birthday party.) Or it could have been that bond that we shared.
I began calling him “capitan” after hearing it in the song “Bailar la Bomba,” which he taught us out in the field.
In turn, he called me the same thing. We’d often greet each other with the nickname and a quick salute. On our last day, we had smoothly mastered a five-point handshake for saying “chao.”
I’d also call him amigo. We hung out after work nearly every day. When I skipped sunset one day (I wanted to write — and, to tell you the truth — Pessa and I were at odds), Ramon and Orlando found me at the Planet Drum house.
They played matchmaker that day. Henceforth, he would put his index finger and thumb together on each hand and flutter the other six fingers as if his hands were a butterfly.
While he did it, he would say, “amor y paz,” or “love and peace.”
A bueno amigo, indeed.
Welcome to Ecuador
When we came back to Bahia after a relaxing weekend in Canoa, the Planet Drum house we helped move into on Friday was still in disarray.
At one point, Pessa and Clay exchanged some mildly-heated words about the situation.
“Welcome to Ecuador,” he said in a snippy retort. “This isn’t a five-star hotel.”
The house took some getting used, to and by the end we began to embrace it.
But “welcome to Ecuador” became a phase for experiences that would make us realize — yet again – that we live in a third-world country.
Here are some “welcome to Ecuador” moments:
When you seek a relaxing moment with your back against the wall in a refreshing pool only to lean into a faucet, welcome to Ecuador.
When you stub your toe on one of the random metal posts protruding a few inches out of the sidewalk, welcome to Ecuador.
When the electricity would go dark and the toilet water would go dry, welcome to Ecuador.
When you’d exit the air-conditioned Internet cafe and get smacked in the face by 90-degree humidity, welcome to Ecuador.
When you show Clay a strange new insect that has been flying around your room, and he says, “It’s a flying ant that bites,” welcome to Ecuador.
From Pessa: When you see a large rat digging into the spice rack, and someone says “that isn’t even the big one,” welcome to Ecuador
And from Laura: When you experience scabies, bed bugs and a staph infection in a week, welcome to Ecuador.
Business as usual?
The humorous thing about business in Ecuador is how they diversify their product offerings.
Bar Hermanos Mero, where we bought countless cervezas for sunsets, also sells tuna.
A clothing store near our house also sells milk.
A laundry service in Puerto Lopez also sells Nintendo games.
A restaurant in Bahia also sells swimsuits.
On another note, the best part about business here is how they still read newspapers!
Everyday, a middle-aged newspaper salesman will ride his bike down our street yelling, “El Diario!” “El Diario!”
Lots of Rice
At dinner one night, Clay was describing Ecuadorian cuisine.
“In a rice where there’s a lot of country …” he said.
… “You screwed that sentence up a bit,” Laura corrected.
“There’s a lot of rice going around,” he responded.
Not even his equipo!
I was temporarily deafened as I set my Oreos on the checkout counter of the nearby grocery store.
The cashier wasn’t objecting to my proposed purchase but a development in the futbol game playing on TV seven feet away.
A player for Emelec, a team in Guayaquil, was cheaply tripped as he passed an opponent and could have had an open shot on net.
The cashier was outraged, but Emelec isn’t even his team.
A week prior he gave the sign of the cross over his chest before the Barcelona of Guayaquil game. He was wearing a yellow Barcelona jersey, a Barcelona watch and two Barcelona wristbands.
Now that’s dedication.
Two men I’ve met on this trip have proven yet again that there are different ways to approach life.
Simon of England is quick to talk and even quicker to laugh. The 50-something lawyer quit his job three years ago for an around-the-world trip. After two years back on the law beat, he quit again for a year of travel in Latin America, a continent they missed on their previous junket.
Sam of Washington is late to talk and even later to opine. The 20-something beer brewer quit his job to meet a friend here and travel. At first, the loner wouldn’t speak unless spoken to, but he was always down to do anything and would slyly skip a single step when seemingly no one else was looking. This summer he begins a gig at an Alaskan brewery.
Pessa and I set out to take some last-minute soaks in the ocean during our last two days.
After all, the ocean was seven blocks from where we lived for five weeks.
We swam at sunset. Looking out at the waves, we saw red and purple streaks. It reminded us of lava flows.
Pessa comes alive when she’s in the waves. Jumps. Ducks. Plugs her nose. Flails her arms.
She yells, “Whoa!” “Wow!” “Whoofta!”
Cutest. Thing. Ever.
Two terrifyingly intense movies: “Secrets of their Eyes” and “Sin Nombre.” Both with Spanish subtitles, but too gripping to realize you’re reading. … Great book: “Gringo” by Chesa Boudin. A travelogue and political/social history wrapped into one. Something I’d love to write. Too bad I’m not a Rhodes scholar like Mr. Boudin. … Song: “Home” by Edward Sharpe. It’s a fitting song when you’re traveling with the woman you love.