Huevas de Pescado: Part 1 of 2 (possibly 3)

21 Apr

What did I like the most about Ecuador?  This is a question that, really, no one has asked me.  And for good reason.  I am not a man who naturally keeps close attention to detail; a man who can therefore transport a reader to any destination using only a keypad and his keen memory.  In fact, I forget most of the physical details of any trip rather rapidly. The wallpaper in hostels , the color of the bus I took through the Andes mountains, even epic views I told myself would be life-changing, these things, in terms of appearance and scale are almost entirely lost to me now.  Instead, I remember feelings.  Contentment, confusion and curiosity being the most common and most alliterative, regret and suspicion occasionally jabbing into my consciousness.  I remember my trip to Ecuador mostly in emotions tied loosely to activities and locations, sometimes even smells. I do, honestly, wish I were better at typing out a scene in splendid detail, but I’m not good at it and I do not enjoy trying.   So, sit back, get stressed, and listen to my wicked emotional week in South America.

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Why Ecuador?  Again, nobody has asked me this.  But I’ll tell you.  It’s because of an ex-girlfriend who had studied abroad just outside Puerto Lopez in college.  She was fluent in Spanish and had fallen immediately in love with the country.  Hell, Ecuador was even the basis of our very first conversation; myself being impressed with the phrase “indigenous Ecuadorian community”  tucked into her online dating profile.  We dated for about a year, then, amicably, we went our separate ways as she moved out East for an Americorps program and I stayed where I was, because I’m lame as fuck.  About a year and a half after our split I received an email from her, inviting me to Ecuador, and she’d cover my expenses.  It was a pretty sweet deal and I was in desperate need of a shakeup in my office-riddled life…I also wasn’t completely opposed to the rekindling of an old romance, which seemed very possible, if not likely.  She will be known as “Ex.”

Welp, I agreed and tickets were purchased.  I was to meet her in Guayaquil before we set out to explore the country. We were communicating through emails which came in sporadically as she had to depend on internet cafes.  Sometimes weeks would pass inbetween messages and I would fear the trip was ill-fated, star-crossed even.  But, finally the day came to leave and I left.

The first thing I noticed about Guayaquil was despite my travels in Europe, this was the first time I had felt anything resembling culture shock.  Not that the airport wasn’t as nice as any in the US (albeit smaller, Guayaquil’s terminal was very clean and modern) it was just a sense.  I stuck out a little bit, which was something I had not experienced anywhere in Europe.  I was a minority.  I loved it.

She was waiting for me right off the plane, just as she had said.  She was gorgeously tan and healthy looking having been tramping around Ecuador, Peru and Chile for almost 6 months by my arrival.  I was pale and sickly looking from a long New York winter and a desk job I hated.  I was happy to see her and she seemed happy to see me.  It was a solid start.

Together we booked a bus to Puerto Lopez, which was about 4 hours from Guayaquil.  I wasn’t stoked to get on a bus immediately after a 5 hour plane ride but she was in control and I helpless so I went with the flow.  We caught up with each other as we chit chatted, laughing often and sharing old, inside jokes.I interrogated her about her adventures, anxious to hear all the exciting stories and strange characters she encountered.  Eventually, I noticed the same male name recurring in most her stories. It became apparent that she hadn’t exactly been lonesome down here.  Finally, I just asked if she was seeing someone.  She said she was and I was honestly surprised by the overwhelming feeling of “goddamnit” that descended on the conversation like a curtain dropping at the end of a stage show. I knew that if she had been aggressive, I’d be accommodating, but I had underestimated how badly I apparently wanted to be back together…even for just a week.

I made little effort to hide my displeasure but never scolded or uttered a mean word towards her or her new interest.  I was fully aware that any such outburst would only make me an asshole on top of kind of pathetic.  I stared out the window towards the strange country I was now in, thinking about being lead around by my ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend for a week.  I had flown a thousand miles to be a third wheel.  Suddenly, I was feeling very sorry for myself.  She was telling stories of her new love, who was Belgian and apparently very affluent.  I stared out the window.

We passed many small villages with community cock-fighting rings surrounded by brightly colored adobe homes, all of which with hammocks slung in the shade of the lower story.  Kids and adults worked and napped, cooked and cleaned…all things all humans do, but this was all so different.  Even the sun was different.  Everything was lit up outside like a doctor’s office.  Just brilliant sunlight.  I continued to stare out the window, without a word to the woman beside me who was trying to figure out her next move, probably wondering how she could feel guilty for something she knew was acceptable under any rational form of judgement, and probably starting to resent me for bringing up such feelings…

I began to worry if I maintained my morose ways, I would lose her as a guide, which on a very practical level, would be devastating to my well-being.  I spoke very, very little Spanish and had only the most rudimentary understanding of Ecuador geographically and culturally.  It may not be the best place for one of my solo-excursions.  Also, for whatever reason, the entirely plausible thought that she wished she were with him and not me, began to take a slightly different effect on my position.  I didn’t want to win her back, I didn’t hold any animosity towards her Belgian Waffle, I just wanted her to be content with me and not thinking about him.  It was time to take off the sissy-pants.

‘Alright,’ I told to myself, ‘let’s get this out of the way without any of your typical passive-aggressive bullshit.  You need her, Kevin, remember that.’

I told her I wasn’t ready to hang out with her and her boyfriend during this trip. I apologized for that fact and tried to play into the flattery that no doubt accompanied my admission of lingering feelings (who doesn’t like to hear about an Ex being jealous).  My pitch was simple; Yes, the thought of her with another guy bothered me, but I wouldn’t let it make me a jerk. I would tag along and be a good guy, and if I ever felt comfortable enough, I would part ways and let them continue on with their South American adventure.

To my relief, the spiel was unnecessary (although I think appreciated) because she had left the Belgian with a group back at the surf school at which they had met, where he would remain until I was in the air back to the States.  Our relationship would be platonic and that was fine with me.  I never tried and she never tempted infidelity, but the fact that she had known me well enough to leave the dude a hundred miles away for a week, brought me back to a happy place.  It’s tough sometimes to treat an Ex like any other girl, but it’s a lot easier to handle when she’s not cuddling up next to someone else on a bed beside you.

We arrived in Puerto Lopez late and in good spirits, although I was worn from the flight and the childishly dramatic busride.  The streets were dusty and the buildings lacked any kind of metallic or plastic facades.  Dogs roamed in small packs and only occasionally, a moped would zip past loudly before the quiet once again dominated.  The salty ocean breeze rolled through the streets carrying the dank reek of dead fish that becomes almost pleasant when mixed with sand and novelty.  I was walking through the dark streets of a town that looked nothing like any community I had ever seen before.  Families could be heard chatting happily from hammocks on porches or balconies, a few small pubs radiated laughter and music, dogs walked unconcerned from alley to alley, there was life but without commotion.  She had a hostel picked out already and found it after a short walk.

Our first hostel...not too shabby

Our first hostel in Puerto Lopez…not too shabby

I don't know what's more majestic, the cowlick or the sunset

First night comes to a close in Puerto Lopez. I don’t know what was more majestic, the cowlick or the sunset

Puerto Lopez is a bustling, semi-touristy beach town.  It still has a strong fishing culture and native ties and doesn’t quite embrace the hard-partying nightlife aspect of a tourist town that are much more prevalent in other coastal towns, like Manta (read: there didn’t seem to be as much Cocaine) .  The beach was filthy with garbage and not the type of place you spend a day, but services for snorkeling, and trips to the Galapagos Islands were easily accessible.  There was also a much more pristine beach only a few minutes drive away called Los Frailes.  The beach is considered one of the most beautiful in the country and is maintained as part of the National Park of Machalilla.  It is, for all intents and purposes, split into two beaches; the first one comes upon is the more crowded and sandy beach, where beautiful women frolic and waves demand to be body-surfed.  Towards the end of this beach is a trail that climbs a tall hill where you can look-out onto the ocean or the countryside and take it all in.  You can then descend to the more remote, and rocky, beach where one experiences a sense more like adventure than relaxation.

View from the room of our second hostel.

Decent shot of the town.  Decent for a man with no photography skills.

Only picture from Los Frailes.  Here we have the North American Hairless Walrus emerging from the warm turquoise water to feed on land.

Only picture from Los Frailes. Here we have the North American Hairless Walrus emerging from the warm turquoise water to feed on land.

One thing I picked up quickly (but really should have known from the start) is that the sun is a completely different animal when you’re straddling the Equator.  I had applied ample sunscreen to my mug, but let the shoulders breathe because that’s what a smart person does. By the time we ended our hike my face was holding up just fine and my body was draped in any fabric or piece of sea-debris I could find.  We had set-up camp and tried to make a little shade for ourselves, when i noticed that my arm was protruding out into the sunlight a little bit.  That small piece of flesh, unsheltered by shade, had turned bright red and irritated in about half an hour.  I realized the first day that if I did not pay close attention, I’d end up in an aquarium with rubber-bands around my hands.

We hitchiked our way back into town and had some dinner.  Ex had made quick friends with damn near everyone at the hostel, all of which were locals besides an Austrian woman who had married a local.  We sat at a long table in the hostel’s gardened courtyard and everyone had an animated conversation about things I would never know.  I smiled and nodded like an imbecile when it seemed appropriate.  Nobody tried to translate for me.  My ex was fluent and very comfortable here.  This wasn’t strange and exciting for her like it was for me.  She was just having a normal conversation as she had been doing for nearly half-year.  It honestly didn’t occur to her that I would want to be involved in such mundane activities.  And I, ever the pussy, didn’t want to be a burden, so I did not ask to be included in the conversation.  Instead, I waited until I heard a word I understood in any language; Marijuana.

Within minutes of hearing my trigger-word, Ex had sensed my excitement had arranged for one of the gentleman staying at the hostel to run and grab me $20 worth of the gentle, green herb.  I was ecstatic.  What better to dull these annoyingly pitiful emotions that have been popping up?  The jealousy of that initial bus ride, the exclusion felt at the hostel’s big table, all could be nullified with a few quick puffs on a bone, swinging on a hammock, reading my Bill Bryson book.  The legal repercussions were acceptable according to my “risk reward matrix’ and merriment and contentment ruled the rest of the evening.  As everyone at the hostel laughed and talked about life, I strung myself up on a hammock by a palm-tree and read, smiling like a loon, happy as a clam, dumb as a stone and stoned as a fossil.

The next day we went snorkeling off Isla de la Plata, a tiny island which I had been told was, “a poor man’s Galapagos”  in that it had some endemic species but they weren’t all that cool (no boulder sized tortoises or gargantuan iguanas), and the island wasn’t that far off the coast.  But, for a man who spends most his time land-locked, there is no such thing as a poor-man’s Galapagos.  Every island in the ocean is pretty fucking cool when you don’t see many islands or oceans.  Every landmass before the horizon could’ve been the Galapagos for all I knew or cared.  We snorkeled and it was neat.  That’s really all I got on that.  Here are some pictures:

Isla de la Plata...look at those birds,  all smug and shit.

Isla de la Plata…look at those birds, all smug and shit.

Fishing Boats in Puerto Lopez

Fishing Boats in Puerto Lopez

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The one known as “Ex.” She’s actually coming from the water, to the top of the boat backwards. It was pretty wild.

Some pre-snorkeling camera seduction...notice the hair stuck in my goggles, this would cause a slow leak that pestered me the entire trip...never figured it out

Some pre-snorkeling camera seduction…notice the hair stuck in my goggles, this would cause a slow leak that pestered me the entire trip…never figured it out

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Hair still in goggles

Snapping pics underwater

Snapping murky pics underwater

Kevin

These, I was later told on the boat, are fish.

One of the guys staying in the hostel, the same man who had delivered to me happiness in plant-form, also had an uncle who lived in a small village in the Ecuadorian cloud forests, a region with a seemingly entirely different climate and ecosystem and only about half an hour from the coast.  The town was called Rio Blanco, made up of maybe a dozen small homes carved into the lush, emerald jungle. Chickens, dogs and mules walked freely from place to place. And people sat out on their porches and talked.  For twenty dollars I was going to be lead on a 6 hour trek through the cloud forests accompanied by the Weedman’s Austrian wife (which made me feel a little better about heading into the jungle with strangers).  Ex was going to visit the indigenous village at which she had studied in college.  I will tell of this and many other Ecuadorian shenanigans to come.

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One Response to “Huevas de Pescado: Part 1 of 2 (possibly 3)”

  1. roamingpursuits May 1, 2015 at 7:37 am #

    Nice photos.

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