New Years Day in Ecuador

Whenever I get really cold, like one of those deep chills in my bones, I think about the time when I was living in Ecuador, a couple of guys in my town asked me if I had any plans for the day after New Years. I never had any plans, not really, a big thing that I took away from my experience in the Peace Corps was that feeling of being like a little kid. My communication skills weren’t really one hundred percent, and it wasn’t exactly like I knew what I was doing down there, so I basically relied on the good nature of the people of Pucayacu for everything.

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So I went from no plans to having plans, they’d take me to these natural waterfalls nearby, we’d cook, we’d swim. Great. And it was great. That morning the guys came by to pick me up. They were in the back of a large dump truck, which isn’t supposed to be some sort of a joke or creative imagery or anything like that. This was a heavy-duty dump truck, like right off of the construction site.

I guess that word of our trip had spread, one invite led to another and this casual daytrip snowballed into a community pilgrimage. Normally it would have been easy for us to take the bus, but apparently these waterfalls were pretty far off the paved roads, and besides, all of the drivers were hung over from the New Years festivities. This guy’s uncle had the truck, and he didn’t mind dumping us off at the waterfalls about an hour and a half away from town.

Seriously, he actually dumped us out. As soon as we got to where the path was no longer wide enough for the truck, he hit the dump button and the whole back of the truck tilted up. “Jajaja!” everyone laughed as we fell over each other, smashing and piling out the back door.

The day was like was any other day in Ecuador, that is, a total adventure. I learned within a few weeks in country that, regardless of what I was doing, I couldn’t rely at all on my expectations of how something was supposed to happen. Ecuador always had a way of throwing me for a loop. Like, it’s only a four-hour bus ride, right? Yeah, it’s actually an eight-hour trip, and there’s a military checkpoint, and you’re sitting next to a guy holding a chicken.

We had a great time, a lot of swimming, tons of eating and drinking. As the sun set, my neighbors had me play volleyball against unwitting opponents oblivious to my spiking ability. A few hours after that, someone said, “Well, I guess we should get going.”

“Great,” I offered. I was exhausted, and I wanted nothing more than to take a shower and get to bed. “How are we getting back, is your cousin picking us up?”

“No, my cousin only had the truck for a little while.”

“So …”

“Yeah …”

And this began what felt like an eternal quest to get home. Like I said, it was a holiday, and even if there were pickup trucks or buses traversing these sparsely paved back roads, it would have been unlikely even on a good day to find a ride capable of getting all twenty or so of us back at once.

After what had to have been two hours of waiting, somebody somehow convinced a passing cattle truck to haul us up the long mountain path. No sooner had we all piled in, standing room only, in a sawdust covered flatbed, did it start raining. Pouring. As we ascended in altitude, the nighttime chill plus the downpour made every second a test of endurance.

We were bumping along the road, I was kind of hunched over so as to try and maintain some sort of standing up balance, and my thin t-shirt and jeans combination was soaked through. And then we stopped because there was a flat time. And nobody uses jacks in Ecuador, you have to walk into the woods and find some stones big and flat enough to pile up underneath the wheel.

I eventually made it home, shivering, wondering if I’d ever get warm again. I know that the mind has a way of exaggerating pain and discomfort, but I remember even in the moment that feeling of being beaten down by the elements with absolutely nothing to provide me with even the tiniest bit of comfort.

Anyway, yeah, so whenever I get cold, whenever I’m walking to the grocery store and I get to the point where I say something to myself like, “It’s freezing out,” I just put myself back in that pickup, I can still feel the rain on my back, and I know that it’s all going to pass, no matter how bad things get, it’s all momentary, I’ll be back in bed soon enough.

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