"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Saturday, February 14, 2004
Exotic in Thin Air (Part 3, The Pan American)
ad-ven-ture Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English aventure, from Old French, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin adventura, from Latin adventus, past participle of advenire to arrive, from ad- + venire to come -- more at COME
1 a : an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks b : the encountering of risks
2 : an exciting or remarkable experience
3 : market day in the third world
Ecuador only had one train, and we had tickets.
It was a tour that promised a bus ride through some out of the way villages on the first day, then a ride on the country's only train the second. It was irresistable, and I had booked it as soon as I discovered it.
The day started with us sleepily getting on a tour bus, about 15 of us. We headed south down the Pan American highway, all of us looking over each other out of the windows. I had not thought about the fact that you can see a lot more from a bus than you can from a car, since the window is a lot higher.
As a matter of fact, you could clearly see down into the ravines where lots of other buses had run off the road, crashed down the mountainside, and were left as a crumpled pile of metal since it was too difficult for rescuers or emergency crews to get down there, and nobody was using the sides of the ravines anyway.
That made me feel really secure.
As we passed from valley to valley, through pass after pass, the climate would change in apparently random and amazing ways. In one valley, it might be almost desert. In the next, there would be lush forest or farmland, in the next evergreen forests. But the oddest at all to me were the vast numbers of eucalyptus trees.
Yeah, you read that right. Ecuador, and eucalyptus.
No, it was not a native tree. It seems that early in the 19th century a wealthy landowner brought some trees over from Australia, thinking that he would like to have them on his estate. Well, turned out that they liked the climate even better than the one in Australia, and they have now spread like mad over millions of acres of Ecuadorian forest. The countryside smells like a huge cough drop.
Our first stop was at a hacienda on a huge estate. We drove down the main drive lined by stately eucalyptus trees to a large and ornate white stone and wood home on a circular drive.
Inside, we were told, they were to offer us breakfast pastries and coffee. If I remember, the breakfast pastries were more like cornbread. The coffee, well, it was really unique, and for Ecuador that's saying a lot.
We had been having the Ecuadorian coffee since we arrived, so we were used to getting coffee that really should have been called expresso. A pot of coffee in Ecuador comes in a four ounce cup. It is guaranteed to keep you awake for at least six months.
So, I went to pour some of the coffee into my cup. It was sitting on top of one of those desks that close up, leaving the front tilted at a steep angle and a small level place on top. I picked up the coffee pot and noticed something on the front of the desk.
Someone before me had dripped a drop of coffee on the steeply slanted front of the desk.
It had not moved.
It was sitting there, stickily perched, with the consistency of thick chocolate syrup.
Sheesh, now this was strong coffee!
I slowly glopped about a tablespoon into my cup. It reluctantly and slowly fell in like warm caramel. By filling the rest of the cup with water I was able to make it passable, although still really strong.
But it did taste odd, given the ever present eucalyptus scent...
Our next stop would be market day at Latacunga. This was an Indian market (all the indians in the area are descended from the Incas, btw, and many of them still speak that language) and the market was not a normal tourist destination. Among the hundreds of people there, we saw no other tourists, at least no obvious ones.
We parked some ways from the actual market and walked in. We were greeted by mass of people, mostly indians, buying and selling anything you can imagine. We heard a voice from a loudspeaker and went closer to see what it was.
It was a greasy, skinny guy with a tired anaconda. He was actually selling snake oil.
Or at least he said it was, and he seemed to be saying that it would be useful for all sorts of things.
Yeah right. We didn't buy any. The anaconda didn't seem real excited either.
We walked up and down the rows of blankets and food and clothes. This was the real deal. We saw everything from woven hats to lots of ladies cooking who knows what in woks.
Yeah, woks. I thought that was odd too. But it seems to be the national pot of Ecuador.
We gravitated to a building on the edge of the market, and I looked down into it to see table after table of fish. We were getting ready to walk in when one lady produced a large cleaver and WHACK chopped the head off a big fish in one powerful resounding blow.
"I don't want to go in there," my fiance said immediately and firmly. We didn't.
We came to a group of women who were cooking what looked like cornbread and cheese cakes. I wanted one. She said the price, but all she spoke was the indian language. I started to hand her some paper and a pencil, but with a bit of shrugging she was able to get across to us that she didn't know how to write. So, out of ideas, I handed over one of the smallest Ecuadorian bills, watching her closely to see if I needed to give her more.
Conversation instantly erupted among all of the women, with them looking at the bill then looking at us then back at the bill. No one seemed like they wanted to touch it. then the oddest sequence of events happened as my wife and I watched, hoping we hadn't done something wrong.
First, the women started going through their pockets, jabbering wildly. No one seemed to produce anything.
Then, one of the women did produce a grocery type bag. They held it up in front of us and said something. I nodded, which is usually a safe thing to do.
As soon as I did, the first woman took the bill, and immediately loaded ALL of her cakes into the bag.
Then, all of the other women did the same.
I must have had fifty corn and cheese cakes. They handed the bag to me, grease already starting to soak through the sides, while they grinned broadly.
They did not, between them, have change for the smallest of the bills. They had given me change in cakes.
I thanked them with a broad smile and we made our way back to the bus, where all of our compatriots had a laugh at our expense. I had to accept the cakes, you see, for to refuse them would have been condescending and rude. then again, I am American, so I am allowed to act that way in foriegn countries...
By the way, the cakes were good.
Each man takes care that his neighbor shall not cheat him. But a day comes when he begins to care that he does not cheat his neighbor. Then all goes well -- he has changed his market-cart into a chariot of the sun.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)