We left Portland middle of the night on January 2 in icy cold, and arrived in the ninety-degree coastal heat and humidity of Guayaquil the next afternoon. This being the eighth year of our bifurcated life, our two-day travel routine is well established. We check into the homely Hostal Tangara near the university, drink cold beers from the hostel’s fridge, walk to the outdoor seafood restaurant for crab soup, and walk back to the hotel for a nighttime rum to congratulate ourselves on having “done it again!” – that is, arrived safely in Ecuador with a money belt full of cash, four heavy suitcases filled with electronics requested by friends here, and no trouble with customs or migración (though an agent studied our passports for an eternity) – and drift off to sleep to the hum of a noisy air conditioner.
The next day at 9:00 AM a car and driver waited at the door of the hostel to bring us up through clouds to Cañar, or rather through the fog and mist, with visibility at twenty feet at times. We had hopes that the road project from Guayaquil to the highlands would be done, but no such luck. Jolting potholes, verges gone into the abyss below, trucks and buses and cars backed up for construction delays… At least we were not on a bus, remembering the six hours it took friends last year to get from Cañar to Guayaquil.
In Cañar, we find our house just as we left it, dusty inside and cobwebby, but dry and clean – this climate is kind to houses left shuttered – and not a sign that our caretaker Jose Maria’s family had used the guest quarters and kitchen since October, when their daughter Lourdes came home from Quito after a kidney transplant (more on that story next time).
Two or three dogs greeted us at the front gate, and two weeks later they are still here, sometimes with mutt friends, gamboling on the lawn, rolling in the garden, mating, coming and going like they own the place. They were possessive of their adopted territory at first, but now seem to realize we live here. We’ve no idea where they belong, but they are getting fed somewhere, and we can’t do anything to keep them out anyway.
Our interior patio garden, now in its sixth year, has grown to alarming size, at least on Michael’s side with his predatory succulents, phallic cacti, aggressive jade plants, and towering macho aloe. My side, more demure, is suffering from “inappropriate plants,” as Michael loves to call my efforts to introduce flower varieties and ferns. His first job was replacing the pump in the fountain so we now have a real gusher that can be calibrated according to our moods and visitors and time of day.
All our neighbors seem to like us now, warmly greeting us with a Feliz Año Nuevo and bienvenido when we meet them on the road. José and Rosario, who sold us their cornfield eight years ago, when Rosario agonized over losing her “children’s legacy” and blamed us (along with her husband) for tricking her, have now sold all their land around us. They welcomed us back like long lost friends. Magdalena, our neighbor on the other side and below, who accused us of encroaching on her land when we built a stone retaining wall that she wanted to prevent erosion and flooding, couldn’t have been sweeter when I ran into her with her two daughters.
We heard gossip that Mama Julia, the curandera (healer) who lived two houses down and dressed all in white, walked barefoot in the road with her followers, and built a chapel in her back yard to hold services as a sort of Pentecostal Catholic sect, is gone. “Brujeria! The bishop came and put a lock on the door,” is how someone described it. Brujeria means witchcraft, but I suspect the bishop simply told her to stop her faith healing activities, which had brought folks from far and wide and generated enough income to build this chapel, now standing half-done. “She’s gone to another village, high in the mountains,” the same informant told us. I rather miss the sounds of hymns coming over our tall hedge.
It also harvest time, so we’re overwhelmed with sacks of potatoes and baskets of fava beans and peas. No matter how much we protest that we are only two people and cannot eat all that is given us by José Maria or the families of the scholarship women, they ignore this. I’ve learned to simply accept their largess. José Maria is a partidario and therefore feels he has an obligation to share his harvest with us, the owners of the land. We press potatoes and favas on all who visit.
In the field way below, I see our neighbors plowing with yoked bulls, a man handling the animals, a woman walking in front to guide them and make the rows straight. If the last crop was potatoes, this one will be corn, getting ready for the rains that the informal farmer’s almanac and long experience says always begin at Carnival – February 11 this year.
I’ll end this first chronicle with a photo I took minutes ago of the view we love so much. It’s about 5:30, the day has been beautiful, Michael has mixed his favorite cocktail (rum, mineral water, lemon), begun to build a fire, and I’m about to join him. Next time I’ll write about the Fiesta de San Antonio I photographed yesterday, when I fell in the road and got bopped on the head with a vaca loca, or crazy cow,the big puppet-like thing in the first photo of this chronicle. Until then…