Archive | November, 2013

Hospitals and Thanksgiving in Ecuador

30 Nov

Ecuador was a country that I wasn’t planning on visiting before my trip.  I had thought that I could fly straight from Colombia to Lima on the cheap.  Having done no prior research this was a somewhat delusional thought, and after weeks in Colombia I ended up on a bus crossing the border into Ecuador.

I had very low expectations of the country.  I had heard the capital, “Quito sucked,” and I didn’t know what else there was to see.  Though, looking out my bus window, I knew that I was wrong to expect so little.  The country had the immediate beauty of endless green rolling hills and Andean mountains, and so I decided to stay longer than just a few days.

It is now Thanksgiving, marking (I believe) my third week in Ecuador.  This was not part of my plan, nor was my plan to spend Thanksgiving alone in a hostal in Banos where I have also been for about a week.

I wasn’t even sure about visiting Banos.  It was in the North, and I had impulsively gone South with two Spanish guys – Felipe and Conrad.  We had spent two nights in Quito and it didn’t suck at all, though our hostals did.

The Old Colonial City of Quito had been restored to its former glory, complete with narrow, cobblestone streets that invoked Europe.  The city parks were crowded with people playing music, working out and performing, such as the comedian who made fun of The United States once he spotted me in the crowd.

After we returned to our smelly hostal full of people who seemed like they would not be allowed in other hostals we made plans to go out that evening.  Felipe invited an obese man with a scar on his forehead that wasn’t sure how he got it because he was, “so drunk,” to lead the way.

It wasn’t a complete surprise that this man lead us to a bar called Tequila and reminded me of the places my friends and I would sneak into when we were underage.

The next day we departed for Montanita, the town I  couldn’t leave,  It’s a cloudy, tiny, surf town complete with endless booths of artisans and cocktails.  There was even a street named Cocktail Alley lined with booths selling any kind of tropical cocktail one can dream of for $2.

Montanita was endlessly cloudy, and I believe I received about 50 mosquito bites while I there.   This number is not an exaggeration.

Occasionally, I wonder, “Why did I stay in Montanita for five days?”  Yes, I was frequently hungover but not every day.  Yes, I did make friends with a group of Israelis and yes one of them gave me a tour of the area on his motorcycle, and let me tell you there is nothing like zipping down a deserted beach on the back of the bike.

Of course, a boy leaned in to kiss me on a beach as the sunset and yes he was kind, but that still wasn’t it.

Truthfully, I got lazy, but on the fifth morning I couldn’t take the monotony and so I set off for Lima, or Banos, and booked hostels in both cities even though Lima was in Peru and Banos was in the complete opposite direction in Northern Ecuador.

It wasn’t until I got to the bus stain in Guayaquil that I decided Banos just seemed right, and right I was because after about five minutes of being there I heard my name being called out a window, and I looked up to see my friend Tom.

For the next two days I hiked, recovered from the hike and went to the thermal baths.  I reveled in the mountain air and lack of mosquitoes and wondered why every other store was a candy shop.

I woke up on day three with a 100 degree fever.  I thought, “oh I had too much fun in Montanita,” but then things got worse.

The extraordinarily kind Argentinan couple staying in my room said, “we’re taking you to the Doctor tomorrow,” and this is how I ended up in an Ecuadorian emergency room.  No insurance needed.

There wasn’t really a waiting room.  Just this kind of indoor/outdoor space with two chairs.  I found out it was more crowded than usual because there had been a bad accident earlier that day and some laborers got hurt.

While I wasn’t happy to hear people were hurt, I felt reassured that all the people wearing filthy, torn clothing, coming in and out of the emergency room weren’t the people who were going to treat me.

However, reassured was the last thing I should have been feeling because an hour later I am face down with my pants off and a nurse is plunging a needle into my ass – medicine unknown.

At this point I am in hysterics.  Not only did I need to be convinced by three different people to accept this shot, but at the first attempt I stop the nurse and begin trying to negotiate a way out of it.

Sobbing I feel the slight prick and then a burning.  Afterward I’m prescribed three different medicines of doom, as all three just made everything worse.

Yes, the hospital prescribed me the wrong medicine, and it wasn’t until it was clear nothing was changing that I went private.  Again the kind couple took me and again the waiting room confused me, as it managed to be both in & outdoors.  The Argentinians spoke for me, and later the character of a doctor told me had he known I was from the US he would’ve charged me triple.

Five dollars later and shot free, I finally have the proper prescriptions in hand.

So now I’ve been in beautiful Banos for over a week now, celebrating Thanksgiving with barely eaten pumpkin soup and two strangers who watched Friends reruns with me, though these strangers are now more friends.

You know, I thought I couldn’t leave Montanita, but never could I have envisioned Banos.

The Realities of Home While Traveling

14 Nov

You keep moving because you have to.  You can’t stop to think about the call you received in the beautiful hostel in Otavalo.  Ten dollars a night to sleep in a gorgeous wooden hacienda with beds to sink in.  Plush chairs hang from the ceilings, and a small indigenous woman, wearing a white Mexacali blouse serves you fresh fruit and muesli for breakfast.

It is outrageous to be receiving such a call in such a place, especially after a 20 hour bus-ride.  To be smacked in the face with unhappiness seems indecent.

But this is the life you do not talk about; the one with ill parents and a dying Grandfather.  You don’t discuss the night you drank an entire bottle of wine and coughed until you puked in Medellin after the four hour conversation with your Aunt.  You can’t explain to your new friends what happened in the past, why you can’t return, despite the fact that the world would probably send you back if they knew the truth of what was going on at home.

The morning after you find out your Grandfather is going into hospice care you hike up and around a stunning lake in the picturesque Andean countryside where rolling green mountains make you want to sing the Sound of Music, and so you do because this moment is your reality now.

Does it make what you can’t return to ache less?  Does it make you less guilty for being able to be where you are?  Does it make you understand why when your life, your own personal life, is unfolding your family’s is falling apart?

No.  And you want to dump the contents of yourself out to your new friends, the entire story of your life so they’ll understand why you can’t return, but you know that’s just inappropriate.

So you think, “breathe, breathe,” as your pounding heart reacts to the 3,000 meters above sea-level and the ache in your legs starts to feel good.

Because what’s behind you, or existing with you, doesn’t take away from each and every encounter, friend and wondrous moment that is going on presently.  And each and every momentous moment doesn’t lessen the pain; it’s just there.

So the two co-exist and sit with each other.  They stand with while you gaze upon the stately, colonial Churches of Ecuador, they are with you while you Salsa in Quito, and both joy and guilt cradle you in the hostel that smells like a molded cat.

It is in this hostel when you receive the email from your Father asking for your return, “how can you stay away?” he writes  “if you do not understand then I have done a terrible job raising and my life does not mean much anymore.”

You want him to understand all the things he can’t, you want things that you will never get, so as gently and kindly as you can you say that returning won’t fix or change anything because that’s the truth as well.

Before you lays Montanita, Cueno and the border crossing to Peru; before you lays the life of happiness that you’ve never stopped trying to weave for yourself, and you know, as you look at the fading past, and the dying present, only you can make this world for yourself.

That there is little mercy; that the tin shacks that sit on the rivers of Colombia still collapse in storms and that your little life is nothing to the mountains.

Palomino Beach – deepening my relationship with nature

11 Nov

It starts with green, every shade: jungle, emerald, yellow, sea and grass.  The leaves shimmer with green and the Palms sway.  The sea reflects back both blue and green and they blend into each other.  This is the scenery that is waiting to welcome us, as we, Jenny, Christy and I, bus to the Northern Coast of Colombia.

Catching buses can be a special Colombian challenge.  One stands beside a road and hopes that a bus will pass.  When one does, a Walnut man leans out a window to shout destinations.  The bus never fully stops, while  bags and people are thrown on.

The three of us receive special Gringa treatment and are charged double the other passengers.  Despite our arguments, we’re forced to pay.

But, it’s hard to stay angry when faced with such scenery and the knowledge that each minute brings us closer to the beach.

When we arrive we’re encouraged to take motos to the hostel.  Christy hops on one, but Jenny and I decide to walk.

Ten minutes later we find out that we’re going in the wrong direction.  We’re told to take a turn down some road and walk through town.

The road has no name so we guess and we’re rewarded with Palomino’s residential district: small shacks with thatched roofs and groups of gawking children.  (Later I find out that there’s only enough teachers to have school three days a week; that’s why so many children are free.)

It’s clear that we still have no real idea of where we’re going so a kind local woman, on incredible platforms sandals (and purple mascara), happily navigates the rocks and shows us the road that leads to the beach.

That’s where all the hostels sit and many are empty.  The beaches of Palomino are calling the tourists.  What was once a forgotten place is now becoming a destination.

The locals are worried.  This what I hear when a thunderstorm traps a new friend and I at a hostel down the road.

It’s not really a hostel, but a place to stay for those who are interested in Yoga and living with the land.  While I prefer the pools of our hostel (aptly named the Dreamer), I cannot resist the daily Yoga classes.  Marta, the owner, is a serious Yogi who is interested in the community; it’s why she left her life in Toronto to root back down to her roots as soon as she could.

She owns an adorable puppy who falls asleep in my arms, making it impossible for me to leave.  As I cradle the cutest thing I have ever seen, I realize that I am overhearing a passionate discussion on how to best mange the influx of tourists and maintain the integrity of the community.  I learn that the politicians could care less and Marta is leading the way for local involvement.

Since I am not a local, I know it’s time to silently leave, and so I do – celebrations await.

It’s Halloween, but half the hostel doesn’t care as they’re not American.  Sadly, the only costume I can put together is an “American flag,” though I’m fooling no one.  My red dress with stars and blue bandanna makes me look like a confused version of Rosie the Riveter.

Fire-dancers come, perform tricks and ask for money.  Afterward, I sit at an exclusively Spanish-speaking table and entertain my new friends with stories from my trip. We sit and drink terrible Colombian wine until sun exhaustion drags us all into bed.

Though, before we all go our separate ways the entire hostel decides to go tubing down an unnamed river.

All 22 of us rent large, black rubber tires, hop on the back of motos, grip onto our driver with one hand, hold our tube in the other and roll up to the beginning of what will be another unfortunate hiking experience for me.

We’re told it’s a 20 minute walk to the mouth of the river.  This is a lie.  It is at least twice as long, over rocks, mud and uneven ground. Indigenous people pass us leading donkeys and each time they do we all have to scramble to the side of the brush.

Laura, my new Colombian friend who is just as tiny as me, ends up carrying my tube because I am too busy clutching my mud-slick sandals and crawling on all fours.

Again, I see a donkey, and I yell, “Fuck that fucking donkey!!”

Of course, right behind the donkey is an indigenous woman dressed entirely in a white sheet, and of course I know we are really intruding on her land.  Ashamed, I apologize and tell the woman, “really I love donkeys,” as if this makes sense.

Eventually the frigid river appears and all 22 of us plop down our tubes and hop on.  Most link feet, drink beer and float on.  A few get flung around, frantically kick and stay sober.

While beer wasn’t my goal, neither was continued frustration.  However, in time I equalize  and look up to see that I am surrounded by majestic trees; that I am floating down a jungle river on a tube, so really, what’s my problem?

As I catch up with the others I hear one man yell, “I am a Wizard,” and I see that he has found a big stick, or as he fondly named it, his Wizard staff.

This is how I know most others have finished their beer.

The Wizard continues to wonder about many things in life, such as, “Why do tattoos have meaning?” and “Why do we have to get off our tubes before we hit the ocean?”

Luckily, for all of us, the Wizard’s girlfriend saves him from getting swept away and we begin the long walk back down the white beach, carrying black tubes, wondering just how long we can really stay.