Sunday, October 30, 2005

Day 2 or 3 -- The Taxi Ride from Hell

Today we were to visit a water project, so Eduardo picked us up in the van. The fun started when Al and Filloberto (the other car driver) took us to the cambio to change our money. We met an art student from Oregon who is studying in Guayaquil. We then drove for about 2 blocks and our van started making these horrid noises, so we stopped for a while& then started and the horrid noise was still there so the driver removed the hub caps (?!) and drove off, but that made it sound even worse and they decided that the axle was broken, so Al hailed a cab and put six of us in it and told the driver to take us to the Daule Peripa Damn (that's how it's spelled on our itinerary!) and we were to meet the rest of the group there. Well, as we were driving out of town, I saw a sign that said Daule and it pointed one way, and there was another sign that said Vaya la Playa and we went that way and I thought, maybe that's wrong, but what do I know, and we drove for quite a while and we found this irrigation project but they just laughed when we said "Daule" -- "No, that's on the other side of Guayaquil."

By the way, this was a genuine "mambo taxi" in the tradition of the Spanish film, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown", complete with fringe on the dashboard, packets of tissue, a carved Madonna and child, the innards of a clock, a child's shoe, and salsa or mambo music blaring from the radio.

And the way people drive here! I'm surprised I haven't seen more wrecks. There may be two lanes on a particular road (judging by size as there are no lines painted) but there are 3 lanes of autos driving. Very heavy use of the horns, but it's usually not a "mean" honk, it's a "watch out, I want to be in your space" sort of honk. Several times I've observed autos pulling up to a red light, stopping and then driving through the intersection. Sort of like how we have "right turn on red" here, only it's "go straight on red!" I've also been told that, "A stop sign is 'only a suggestion'"!

Well, our Mambo Taxi driver wanted us to come to some sort of financial arrangement in the midst of all this. We said, "No, you take us to Al & then you and Al can figure it out." So -- we head in the direction of Daule. And we drive and we drive. We cross the Rio Daule. Aha -- the dam must be near! We see some massive power lines -- aha -- the dam can't be too far -- look! there are the power lines! Ellen smells water. Aha -- we must be close to the dam if we can smell water! We drive through the town of Daule -- through streets that drop off 10 inches. We sort of slide over the drop offs. Aha -- if we're in the town of Daule, then the dam can't be too far away!

Most of the little towns we drive through have a gigantic speed bump at either end at which you must come to a complete stop in order to prevent serious damage to your vehicle. As you are stopping, vendors try to sell you fruit, chocolate, papers, bread, etc. Many of the houses are on stilts and appear to be one room and without running water. Many do have electricity -- when we finally return to Guayaquil that evening we can see the glow of televisions in the little homes. Most of the people seem to be fairly well nourished and many are dressed quite well. In front of one rather squalid shack, I saw a lovely child of about 6 or 7 wearing the prettiest red lace dress. This would not be a cheap dress in the U.S., and I'm sure it's not inexpensive here.

Burning seems to be the dominant method of waste removal here. Along with the exhaust fumes from the car, my lungs were burning.

We kept asking our driver when we'd get to the dam. He'd ask people: "it's not far -- 15 minutes" . . . "just past the next crossroads" . . . "1 hour" . . . "just around 2 bends" -- all given in that order. Thinking back, many of these people probably haven't been very far from home, so their conception of distance may not be that accurate. Also, I found that sometimes people wanted to be helpful, and instead of saying that they didn't know where something was, they would say that it wasn't far, or just ahead, etc.

Finally we decided -- "enough is enough". We stopped at a roadside stand and ordered 6 Pepsis which came to about 240 sucres. (just a few cents) I made the mistake of offering too large a bill (5000 sucres) and then a 1000 sucre bill, which she couldn't change either. Approximately 540 sucres = $1. They also have pesetas (cents), but you can't buy anything for one sucre, so it's sort of ridiculous to have 1/100th of something that isn't worth very much to begin with.

We negotiated a ridiculous price (I don't even want to mention it) for our ride back. (It was twice the minimum monthly wage here.) Did I tell you that the car kept popping out of gear -- he had to drive with his hand on the shifting mechanism on the steering column. We stopped for gas in a little village. There was no pump -- the people brought the gas out in a container and put it in with an old hose.

We saw rice paddies and people drying rice by the side of the road. We even saw people drying rice ON the road. Also -- banana plantations and lots of donkeys and chickens and cattle in the main streets of the towns.

O.K., back to the Mambo Taxi ride. He let us out and we had a nice dinner at the Gran Hotel Guyaquil. Then we went to get a taxi to go to our homes. The first one was like a British "Mini" car. Tom (6'8") couldn't even fit in the back sideways, so he sat in front. The taxi driver's seat was a lawn chair. Before we got in, we asked him if he knew how to find all of our addresses. He said, "yes", so we got in. We hadn't driven half a block before he stopped another cab and asked him where F.A.E. was!

Once again we drove around and around, looking for Manzana trece y cuatro. Once he stopped to ask directions in the right lane of a busy street and the cab died and he had to get out and push-start it. It took us 45 minutes to find Tom and Emily's apartment. Ellen said, "We're finding Esperanza's house and she's taking me home!" No argument from me. We asked one man and he asked the driver, "Do they speak English?" (Ellen is quite fluent in Spanish.) The driver said, "Yes," and the man said (in English) "BE CAREFUL!" Not reassuring. We asked some people if they knew where our block was and they thought a moment and said, (honestly, I believe) "No". Well, it turned out that they were on the corner of Esperanza's block. No one knows where anything is exactly because there's no apparent logic to the way the manzanas are plotted. A lot of people don't know the names of the streets (and the names aren't always posted.)

Later we found out that the first place that we went to was the right place. The person we were supposed to meet wasn't at the dam yet, and the people we spoke to really didn't know what was going on. So we went on that long, strange expensive taxi ride for nothing! (In retrospect, it was a lot of fun in a way.)


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