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.)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Bus Ride From Hell

The plane left three hours late, but amazingly arrived on time. (We were supposed to stop in Panama, but we skipped that. But what if you wanted to get out in Panama???) We spent an interminable amount of time in the customs line behind Ecuadorians returning to Ecuador -- again with some of the largest suitcases I have ever seen in my life, before an official realizes that we are not Ecuadorian and whisked us out of the line, because we don't have to be inspected. The customs officials were opening and going through almost all of the big packages and big suitcases, so we could have been in line for a long time.

Two men put our bags onto a cart, wheeled it out through a throng of people, and tried to put us in a taxi! Fortunately, Al, his lovely wife Lupe, and his equally lovely teen age daughter Lupita found us and rescued us from the certain nightmare that we would have had in that taxi. Al put about 8 or 9 of us in a van and told the driver where to take us. Well, the first address was Ciudad F.A.E., Manzana (manzana means apple, but here it means a city block) 31, Villa 7. We had no street addresses, just a block number and villa number. We'd ask directions, drive a bit, get lost, ask directions, get lost again, etc. One time we asked two women who were together where the block was, and they pointed in opposite directions! It took us one hour to find the first house -- and our driver was FROM Guayaquil! (note, I later found out he was from Chile. . . but he had been in Guayaquil for a long time.)

After we dropped off the third person I said, "I'm going to get sick!" So, Eduardo (our driver) stopped the bus and I tried to vomit. This was a futile exercise, because I had very little in my stomach, and the last thing I had to drink was some orange juice around sun-up. Eduardo bought me a Guitlig (brand of bottled water) and that helped until we started the stopping to ask directions, driving slowly to avoid the bumps in the road, stopping again, etc. This time I fell out of the van into the gutter (at least it was a dry gutter -- the first dry one seen all day) and scraped my knee and shin. Then I really threw up. I had a horrible headache and was tired from having no sleep in 30+ hours, and it was hot and I was apologizing for being sick.

Finally they took me to the American School where they tried to see if I needed medicine, but I said that all I needed was some water and a nap. So they let me take a nap and they fixed my leg. Al and Lupe came by and I threw up for them! They said that the reason my host family wasn't home (I was so out of it that I didn't even know that we'd gone to her home) was because Esperanza was out making her rounds for the school. They said she'd come to get me soon. Well, she did -- and she led me to her auto which was a VW van filled with at least 10 children! I was going on another bus ride from hell!!! What if she couldn't find their homes either?! Fortunately, she knew where everyone lived and I was feeling better, so it wasn't too bad. She welcomed me to her home, 'Mi casa es su casa," and I took another nap and she woke me up about 9 pm and took me to get gas and we drove around and she showed me a few things and told me important things like don't go in the big park downtown -- it's dangerous and someone may steal your watch. More about Esperanza & familia later.

28 June 1989

Ok, day 1 of our trip at last.

We leave Brookdale Community College at 6:00 p.m., wondering why 6:00, because our flight doesn't leave JFK until 11:45 p.m. So -- as we are standing in line at 7:30, the gentleman behind us tells us that the flight has been delayed until 2:30 a.m. He is putting his father-in-law on the plane to Guayaquil. Father-in-law did not confirm his ticket, so it was canceled. Son-in-law gave me an 800# to call to see if our tickets had been confirmed. I got a recording every 30 seconds that said an agent would be with me in a moment. I heard that recording 20 times, but finally the phone rang. "Aha!" I thought, "I have broken through the bureaucracy barrier." Well, all I got was, "Our office is now closed. Our hours are. . ." Everyone I spoke with afterwards was really impressed that I had gotten that far. Usually you get a busy signal or no one answers.

Someone said that you could tell the Ecuatoriana Airline line from the American Airline line by the BIG suitcases and the BIG packages. The line was the longest I've ever seen (well, perhaps Star Wars was longer), and everyone had huge packages wrapped in paper, wrapped in cloth, tied with twine, and strapped with tape. Most of the people were dark haired, and there were a few Andean Indians with high, sharp cheekbones and aqualine noses.

Anyway, I guess it was good that we arrived at the airport so early. I have a feeling that they take the first few hundred people and then cut the line off -- even if you have a ticket!

The Reality of Ecuador: June/July/August 1989 -- Introduction

In the late 1980's, I worked at Brookdale Community College, in Lincroft, NJ, not far from the Shore. Following are excerpts from a journal I kept of a journey to Ecuador.

Brookdale Community College has an extension campus in Guayaquil, Ecuador. We sometimes refer to it as "Brookdale South." Besides offering college courses for Ecuadorian students, we also have a service learning program in which American students take classes and work at various social agencies such as Children International, hospitals, adoption agencies, schools, agencies for the handicapped, etc.

In July, 1989, Brookdale, in conjunction with Ecuador's Laica University, hosted a conference on the cultural geography of Ecuador. The purpose of this conference, "The Reality of Ecuador", was to acquaint educators with Ecuador so that we could incorporate this experience into our classroom activities and contacts with students. We were each to prepare a module based on what we'd learned at the conference.

Each of us stayed with an Ecuadorian family so that we would get a better idea of what life is like for an Ecuadorian. Every weekday morning for two weeks we were picked up by a van and taken to Laica University for a seminar. We usually went home to our families for lunch. In the afternoon we would visit social agencies, museums, etc. We visited two cities in the Andes mountains, Cuenca and Quito, during the weekends.

Most of us chose to visit the Galapagos Islands for a week. I was stuck in Ecuador for an additional two weeks because of the problem with my ticket.

Brookdale also sent a group to France for the same type of seminar. Whenever we were having problems with the water, food transportation, etc., I just kept telling myself, "the other group is in France, and they are eating French food, looking at French scenery, and drinking French wine! You idiot! Why didn't you apply for the French conference??!!!

I hope that in this Journal I don't give you the impression that I had a rotten, miserable time. There were rough times, but this was one of the most interesting, worthwhile experiences I have ever had, and I wouldn't trade a minute of it for the world -- except, perhaps getting sick and falling out of the van into the gutter.