Here I am sitting in our little, but increasingly well-equipped room, staring past the screen out of the window towards the East where the virgin rainforest has not yet had to yield too much to large scale logging for urban settlements, roads or resource extraction. Right near the window, however, at least three concrete houses are being expanded skywards. I wonder whether this room will have the same view a year from now.
This is not a place for concrete houses with tin roofs. It seems so strange that anyone would have thought it to be a good idea. Moss and mould covers most walls after a very short time, and without ever having experienced it at great length I miss the roof of palm leaves over my head that helps circulate rather than trap the indoors atmosphere.
It is almost six in the evening and the light is dimming. It all happens very fast at this time of day, suddenly it is night. Just as sudden, it is bright in the mornings, not much dwelling on the ambiguities sunlight can afford at the higher latitudes. “Twi” basically does not exist around here.
I am drinking rum. I’ve decided it would be best to become either a subliminal alcoholic or a smoker. I can hardly stand myself straight anymore, and the edge of life is ever so slightly increased here – just so much that existence seems infinitely more bearable when under the faint, but undeniable influence of mood-altering substances.
Rain is arriving. Mostly the drops are big. Much bigger than the usual rain drop in Europe. Things and beings soak quickly, paved roads turn into little streams and then rivers within minutes. But most of the time, clouds empty themselves very quickly, too, and the fallen water vacates the tarmac and travels further towards the oceans via the riverbeds through the forest, leaving the little towns behind sweating and steaming.
Tena strikes me as a picture book frontier town. Everybody seems in constant preparation for the final fulfilment of some long-standing, regularly renewed promise of prosperity and success. Shops selling the same variation of some (frequently useless) merchandise open, move and close with weekly regularity. Food outlets and hotels are ready to cater for the ever-absent hordes of tourists the local government busies itself to attract with great eagerness.
It can’t have always been like that, for the current resolve to close the province for the black gold of oil exploration and open it instead to the green gold of ecotourists was a serious social and political struggle, with many people taking to the roads. But even though the nature of the promised success has changed from black to green, the promise has remained just that – a promise. And so everyone here seems to prepare for some future that might just never take place.
This all fills me with a strange, silent anger. The anger of concrete, tin, plastic and mouldy promises eating their way into the forest, maybe.
Why is it that I always wake up early in Quito – notwithstanding being exhausted, drunk all night long or otherwise in need of sleep? Is it the altitude, is it excitement, -the latter has never kept me from sleeping long in exotic parts of the world, and it is not hot like in the tropics (in the past I have failed to sleep for more than a few hours at a time for days on end in places like Bangkok, that is no mystery). It is a phenomenon the experience of which I share with Colona, perhaps we will never know why.
In any case, it is between seven and eight when I first wake up, around noon would have been more like it – and a quarter to nine when I switch on the TV, we watch “El Club de la Mañana“, a local variety of the universal morning television show, Tele Cuenca, some soap, some news and slowly begin our first day, which takes us via two of the ever present juice bars for carrot juice, jugo de zanahoria, to a nice salad and a hot drink in celebration of the dead (Halloween) called Colada Morada on this Dia de los Difuntos, and finally to the Old Town branch of Papaya.net on Plaza Grande where we enter cyberspatial dimensions and slowly begin to breathe more normally in front of a copy of van Gogh’s “Cafe Terrace at Night” making us feel at home (here’s to you vintage dudes in Lagorce). Three blog entries later it is time to get out of here, no more pop music pumping in our faces, no more computer screen – a new, fresh hunger announces itself and only time can tell where our impulses will take us today. We leave the But for any readers out there: it will surely become more, dare I say enlightening, than some anecdotal references to poor (or good) hostelling.
Foresight you may call it, the plan was like this: a hostel had been booked over the phone and an airport pick up added to the order. Why not make things easy? But the dream plan was shattered: the pick-up remained absent. Well, whatever, we took a taxi and cruised through the valley of Quito, where the capital of the same name sprawls at the foot of the Pichincha Volcano, home to slightly less than a tenth of Ecuador’s estimated 13.2 million people. Arriving at the not so Secret Garden (not commendable given the way they “treated” us) in Quito’s Centro Historico (in guide books this is the “Old Town”) where the hostel is nestled in impressive colonial architecture (a walk around the Old Town is imagination candy – about which more later, perhaps), we learn that the promised room has the same status as the airport pick-up: it is not available. There is another double room possible without bath, but we’d have to vacate in the morning (we have around 100 kilos luggage of books, papers, computers, cameras and this and that), move into a dorm bed, up and down floors, then wait until Saturday for the room we had booked over the phone – it is Wednesday and we feel cheated, but also glad to leave the little backpacker haven where well-geared globetrotters mingle in a predominantly U.S. American blissful ignorance: it is not the place for us to be. An old friend, so to speak, come to our rescue, the Hotel Huasi Continental, which is a lovely old fashioned hotel, with roomier and cheaper rooms than the poxy Secret Garden, and an astounding pressure on the hot water shower. Delivered from evil we have arrived in the promised land. Bags dropped, and a bit of pottering about, no faffing!, and we stroll for dinner. Back in the room between nine and ten o’clock, jet-lagged and suffering from lack of breath at 2850 meter’s height we fall asleep to Ecuadorian TV.
Halloween, at night, in Madrid, the day had begun in shock and awe, that is in Manchester Airport where it is “certainly not hysterical” to consider lip balm and bottled spring water very dangerous items that are consequently confiscated – along with toothpaste and other essential terrorist items: ever seen a terrorist with bad teeth maybe? (Another surefire way to recognise a terrorist is that he, yes it is a (mussel-)man of course, carries more than one piece of hand-luggage, so we had to gaffer tape a bag with a video camera and check it in, pick it up again in Madrid once we were out of the hysteria zone.) The Spanish speaking TV was bringing news and images from the streets where plastic barbie devils and grave yard regulars mingled with the business as usual beer swilling, jamon eating Madrileños. “A night of witches and fear – La Noche de Miedo”, the beautiful and anything but Spanish looking blonde TV reporter communicated from the streets of desire. We changed the channel and watched Tom Hanks take a pee in Spanish, prayed to Shiva and slowly sank into our own exciting dreams of times to come: tomorrow we fly to Ecuador to spend 9-10 months doing whatever we will be documenting in this blog.
The wake up call came knocking on our door and we were torn from deep epic dreams – went to sleep slightly nervous in the partly joyfully anticipating manner that besets the ambiguous travelling soul woke in travelling mode: turn on the TV, tune into the bathroom and drop out for the complementary breakfast. A taxi was as easily found as we had been delivered to Hostal Cantabrico (commendable) near the famous Puerta del Sol, and we’re on the road. Madrid’s Barajas airport is huge and we aim for terminal four, which handles all Iberia’s flights. Bags checked in already in Manchester, checked in and boarding passes acquired upon arrival last night we waltz through the escalators, lifts and shopping havens, grab a sandwich, buy a peculiar crystal based electrical current mosquito bite treatment device and head for the gate: soon we will be flying high again.