|Gone Walkabout||Journeys around the world by Sean Connolly|
Masters of the Dance
V. Thawing Out[ Back to Chapter 4 | Table of Contents | On to Chapter 6 ]
Halfway down the stairs, I ran into Michele, who seemed happy to see me back. She quickly ran up to the room to get her rainjacket, and the two of us walked down the road to Cafe Sutra. Yum, great sandwich now that my appetite was back with a vengeance. Michele told me about how she had been hassled rather steadily by the men in Quito for the last couple days, and how it ended right now as soon as they saw her with someone else. Hm.
We discussed what we wanted to do next. I was interested in either going far down south to Cuenca and Vilcabamba, or to the coast. After my recent adventure and my still chilly toes, however, the idea of warm sands and strong waves held a much greater attraction than more churches and mountains. And since Michele was going south after I left the country anyway, she was indifferent which we chose. Being a fair-skinned Brit, I don't think she intended much time on the beach, but with the cold grey skies outside, the idea of warm, sunny weather was almost irresistible. We briefly looked into visiting the Galapagos as well, but that was a pricey endeavor. Everyone we had met was extremely enthusiastic about the islands, saying how amazing they were and how they were worth the money. But I considered the cost (over US$1000 by the time you considered the flight + the boat + permits) and remembered how bored I was on safari in Africa despite the amazing wildlife, and decided to give it a pass. We went out to the bus station and bought our tickets to Esmeraldas, intending to take a bus from there down the coast to more pleasant surroundings.
Remember Sarah and Leslie? Well, surprise, surprise, they emerged from their amazon adventure down South. When we returned from tea, there was a note from the two of them asking to meet. And ten minutes later, there they were! Despite Michele and my misgivings, it turns out they had an excellent adventure. They lived in huts along the highway out in the middle of the Amazon, far from any sort of civilization. The "village" was simply a series of primitive wood shacks strung along the road, with several extended families living there. Just taking a bath was an adventure, as they quickly found out. The first time they tried, the guys ended up walking them all the way down to the river, which was a long way into the forest. And then having to wash while still in their clothes, as they didn't exactly have privacy there with the guys along. They had a good time for New Years except for one rather frustrating custom. The entire village had gathered for dinner (excellent food, I'm told). And they had several bottles of hooch. But, and this was the frustrating part for the girls, only one glass! The custom was a drink was poured and handed to someone. They would drink, pass it back, it would be refilled and passed to the next person, and so on. With maybe 30-some people there, as Sarah put it, it took a damn long time to get drunk! *chuckle* After New Years, the girls returned with their boys to Banos, where they stayed a few days before returning to Quito. Funny coincidence. Leslie's guy took off for the States only a couple days ago, going to earn his way playing his Andean music.
Since Michele and I were leaving town tomorrow, the four of us decided to go out on the town tonight. After a filling dinner, we started drinking at Papillon. It was still early, but the club soon filled up, and the dancing was good. The last I saw of them was through blurred vision, a hug from Leslie and a kiss on each cheek from Sarah before they went back to the many fans they had waiting to dance with them. Oh, my blurred vision? It wasn't entirely due to drinking. My contact lens, which had been bothering me since before New Years, finally decided to go walkabout on its own, and ended up somewhere on the dance floor. No worries, they're disposables, and I have extras, but Michele had to help me home a little bit, as my lopsided vision virtually eliminated any depth perception added to the drink... :-)
The trip, though, the scenery along the way! Leaving the asphalt jungle of Quito behind, we plunged down out of the Andes to the coast. Dropping almost 3000m in only a few hours, the long narrow winding road passed some amazing scenery. Vast valleys, raging rivers, torrential waterfalls, villages perched on the edge of a ravine, burned out wrecks of other, less-fortunate buses briefly glimpsed through the misted up windows as the bus raced along.
We reached Esmeraldas just as it was getting dark. I was feeling impoverished from the luxury bus ticket, so I suggested we take a public bus down the coast. But after confidently setting out in exactly the wrong direction for several blocks (forgetting to look at my compass), it was truly night, and neither of us had any clue where we were. And the night is a scary place when you don't know where you are... But, my!, there was a taxi driver who would take us out of town. OK, there were only a dozen or so who had followed us the entire way, trying to talk us into going with them to Atacames... Argh. We chose one at random, haggled a decent price, and climbed in. We still hadn't seen the ocean. Our driver knew this road, and we raced around sand-drifts, passed slow-moving buses, and chased other taxis running the same route.
When we finally arrived in Sue, it was late, and absolutely nothing was open. Sue is not a tourist destination. My book referred to it as a small fishing village with just a few places for tourists. This was an understatement. After we finally found someone to show us a room, it was a grim sight. Michele was not impressed, so we emerged back into the humid night and continued down the ocean-front road. At the very end, we stumbled across a nice-looking hotel and quickly checked in. I was tired and hungry, and nothing else looked available in this town. Not exactly sure what I got us into...
After cleaning up, (I'm actually hot and sweating!) we went out to find food. Um, our choice was fish... or... fish. Hm, well that didn't take long to order. We celebrated our escape from Quito with a couple large Pilsener, breathing the moist ocean air deeply and planning what we would do tomorrow. Which was, exactly, nothing at all! :-)
For dinner, we had, surprise, surprise, fish! Our very friendly host laughed when I asked to have it minus head, but it came quickly and tasty. A few kids played on the road outside. From time to time, one or another of them would wander over, rest their head on the top of the wall, and stare at the "rubia loca". They were a cute lot, and both Michele and I got a kick out of trying to speak with them.
At lunchtime, neither Michele nor I were really that hungry, but we bought some chips at our friendly host from yesterday's place, and sat in the restaurant to snack and relax. My rib was hurting rather badly today, so I wasn't up for anything more strenuous. The children from yesterday were becoming bolder. A game started, with us as unwitting participants. A flurry of conversation broke out, with the kids pushing each other until one brave lass stepped out from the crowd.
Boldly, she walked right up to Michele, held her hand out, and said "Hello!" After Michele shook her hand, the girl gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, and ran back to her friends, her courage proven. Joining the other children, a pushing contest once again broke out, until one other girl stepped forward, repeating the first girl's performance.
We passed most of the afternoon with the kids. They taught us some Spanish, we taught them some English. Each of the kids eventually worked up the nerve to kiss us, but as soon as they had managed this, they lost interest in us and began some other noisy game on the floor under our feet. It was a peaceful setting aside from the kids. Pelicans glided past with their huge wingspans. Fishing boats came in and out. No cars anywhere to be seen. And not another gringo in the entire town. Very nice.
At the end of the ride, we were dumped at a wharf. Muisne was on the other side of the river, and the road went no further. No problem, onto the ferry, and on to the other side. It wasn't far to the beach area, but we were both feeling lazy, and hired a bicycle taxi out to the place we had planned to stay. After seeing the place, though, we quickly reconsidered. Inside the high prison-like wall, a bleak establishment squatted. The manager sullenly tended the weeds. Even the rooms breathed decay. I don't think so. 100m away, we found a nice cheap place right on the beach that was much more cheerful.
Muisne seemed much more promising than Sue, as sad as that statement might be. There was more of a tourist infrastructure there, as well as a bustling town. As soon as we checked in, Michele and I strolled down the beach. It looked like El Nino hit hard here. Many places were damaged, trees uprooted, and sand washed away. But not all. A few places still managed to thrive. We had our first non-fish meal in days, and it was good! :-)
There was a grand beach there, stretching as far as the eye could see. Things were cheap, there was great surf, good bodysurfing and lots of sun. Just what I was hoping for. We spent a few days there, just relaxing.
Deciding to look for a party, we caught a bus back up the coast to Atacames, the local party beach. What a pit. Nothing but beach bars, discos, and souvenir shops. Just about what I expected. The beach was still nice, though, and the accommodation expensive, but very comfortable. We took a room in a fancier place after seeing the grim budget alternatives. The night started slowly, but was soon in full swing. We drifted from bar to bar, drinking a bit too much and listening to the dueling sound systems. The night ended in a night club, with decent music, and a good dance floor.
But stresses that had been building for a while over several smaller fights exploded that night, and Michele and I had an out and out fight in the club. She stayed behind when I told her I was going home, and that just made things worse. A half hour later, she bursts crying into the room, pounding my back as hard as she can with her fists, and screaming about how she was just almost raped. Supposedly, some man tried to grab her arm as she walked back to our hotel. She had never told me this, but a friend of hers was raped here in Atacames while her boyfriend was held down next to her with a knife, and it wasn't a safe area. Now, she tells me. Nothing more happened, but she was furious and scared. Next thing I knew, she had packed her bags and left the hotel. I tried to find her, but there was no sign of her anywhere, and I had no idea where to even begin looking. I finally gave up and went back to my room, disturbed but pissed off.
The following day, I checked out of the hotel. Turns out, she had crashed in an open room downstairs last night and paid half the bill this morning before leaving an hour or so before me. I grabbed a couple buses back to Quito with little trouble.
Email me at nomad3 @ GoneWalkabout.com
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