Well, the time has come, as they say, to talk. Last week, on a late afternoon walk in the countryside near our house, enjoying the cold air on my face and the good feeling of simply moving after a day spent at the desk, a neighbor called out,”…y Señor Michael?” He leaned on the entrance to his earthen patio, watching me. I didn’t recognize him, but called back, “Michael’s at home, by the fire. He doesn’t like to walk as much as I do.”
“His health is good?” he asked. Yes! I called back. “Gracias a dios!” he said, making a subtle prayer gesture. Walking on, I thought about this exchange. He was not the first neighbor to ask about Michael when they see me on the road, or Michael about me as he walks into town. People are watching and wondering about us, still the only two extranjeras in Cañar, living alone in that big house. No car, no obvious family. “Do you have children?” they often ask. Then, “Do they come to visit?” Then, maybe, the bolder ones: “How old are you?” The subtext is always, What’s going to happen to your property when….?
I know they are especially interested in Michael – watching him over the years as he grows more stooped, his pace slower as he trudges into town daily with his Orvis shopping bag. He usually takes a taxi or truck back, so all the drivers know him and with affection will ask me the next time I grab a ride: “Where’s Michael? What’s he doing?”
We’ve lived in our little comuna of Chaglaban for 15 years now, and longer than that in the town. I know that our neighbors are watching us grow older, and are thinking – how much longer will they keep coming to Cañar? That’s a question I ask myself sometimes, but mostly we – Michael and I – simply carry on with the assumption that we’ll keep living indefinitely in our “house in the clouds.” Witness our running list of items to bring next December, when we expect to return: larger chimney brush, arugula and cardamom seeds, yeast for popcorn, Earl Gray tea, 1 ceramic knife.
No question, however, that we gave a nod to age this year when we canceled our trip to Spain. Once we really talked about it, after we’d let our plans float for a few weeks, Michael said he just didn’t feel up to lugging around his bags on buses and trains for a month, (our modus operandi after we stopped driving in Spain), changing hotels every few days. Then there’s getting through airports, Covid tests, and the 10+ hour flight from Guayaquil to Madrid. Last time we were in Spain was 2019. The following year, we’d already paid for tickets, made reservations, and then…. well, you all know what happened. 2021 was also a bust. So, as I regretfully cancelled the hotel reservations I’d made this year, I felt a moment’s sadness thinking this might mark the end of our serious traveling days.
But then….Michael suggested we take a mini-vacation in Ecuador, as long as we could travel slowly by bus a few hours a day. So I started planning again, made hotel reservations for two nights between Cañar and Mindo, and three nights in Mindo, a bird/butterfly reserve/resort northwest of Quito. Smooth, yes? Well, not so much. I hadn’t remembered that the buses blast non-stop movies with sound so loud that those at the back won’t miss a single shot, scream, or car chase. Imagine passing through this magnificent landscape with sounds of an explosion or machine gun in your ears.
I wondered what the nuns thought, though Michael hardly seemed to notice. But by the time we got to Mindo after 12 hours on three buses, (broken up with two overnights in hotels), slogging through one interminable bus station and waiting in a tiny one at opposite ends of Quito, plus two long taxi rides, I was already planning to convince Michael we had to return by plane.
Mindo itself was a sort of mixed-up-mishaps-mess, but in the end it seemed the more setbacks we had the more cheerful Michael got. A small resort town mostly aimed at younger travelers with tours for night bicycling, “canyoning” the rivers, rappelling waterfalls, zip lines, and 6:00 AM treks for bird watching. We stayed near town in an “eco-lodge” made entirely of concrete, including the bed, side tables, floors and benches, with bamboo details. It was hot, and rained torrents every afternoon, so we stuck with one activity a day, walking into town for meals. The food was not good, Michael complained.We did enjoy the butterfly garden…
and watching birds from the bird watching tower…
But the day before we were to leave Mindo landslides closed the road to Quito. By then I’d talked Michael into flying and bought tickets, so we hired a truck driver who promised to get us through to the Quito airport. We were there in plenty of time, but as we tried to check in for our afternoon flight, the agent wouldn’t let us pass because our national IDs were not “legitimate.” They were photocopies in plastic; same with our passports, which I had thoughtfully brought. I protested, I begged, and then I pulled out my Oregon driver’s license. The agent grabbed it and said, “Now THERE is a legitimate ID!” But Michael hadn’t brought his so….…back to Quito to the office of a mini-bus we heard about from the taxi driver that serves Quito – Cuenca – Quito, where we made a reservation for the next day. “Let’s check out this Hostal Caribe,” Michael said in surprising good spirits as we walked a couple of blocks into a down-at-the-heels part of the city. That’s how we ended up enjoying a good sleep at a $15/night/per person, flocked wallpaper, leopard-print blanket, master-bedroom of a long-ago elegant mansion on the last night of our misadventure-some mini-vacation. Which gives me real hope that our traveling days are not over yet.
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C a ñ a r B o o k C l u b
Dearest readers: I’ve thrown caution to the wind lately and started paying for kindle books instead of waiting for the library. Most of these titles hooked me with the “look inside” or “sample” from Amazon, which offers about 20 pages before turning blank. That’s how I ended up with These Precious Days by Ann Patchett, one of my favorite essay writers (her fiction not so much). I’ve read some of these essays before, but still enjoyed sinking into her perfectly constructed sentences. Reminding me of when she appeared at Literary Arts in Portland a few years back, pacing the stage in front of about 3,000 people telling without prompts a complicated anecdotal and meandering story that she brought to a perfect conclusion. I also bought the novel Free Love by Tessa Hadley, a favorite short-story writer I read in The New Yorker. This one set in 1960’s-70’s London, and I know from the acknowledgements that Hadley did a lot of research but I found myself saying, “Did that really happen? Could that character really have made such a radical change in her life?” My feeling after finishing the novel is that I prefer her short stories.
Found books in English are a special treasure in Ecuador, and whenever I end up in a restaurant or hotel with shelves of books left by travelers, I make a beeline. That’s how I ended up with The Witch Elm by Tana French. I’ve read her before, and was reminded with this one that her set-ups and characters are brilliant. You can’t stop reading (in the beginning). But then I find myself flipping pages as her characters’ conversations go on and on and on, wanting to get back to the action. I can’t say more without a spoiler, as I’ve just loaned the one to a friend, but I think my Tana French days are over.
So, on to suggestions by club members.
Mel in Vermont: This Tender Land, by William Kent Krueger about the odyssey of four young kids who run away from a school for Native Americans and their adventures along the way. It takes place in the time of the Great Depression, and is a thought-provoking read.
Sandy in Portland: “Damon Galgut’s The Promise won the Booker and I think he deserved it. It’s about a South African family during and after apartheid. Beautiful, original writing. (I also read this book and recommend it.)
Portland’s “Everybody Reads: this year is Mira Jacob’s Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations, a graphic novel. She’s an Indian American whose life is crowded with micro-aggressions and whose primary-age, mixed-race son asks hard questions about race, Trump and other related subjects. Eula Biss: Having and Being Had, short essays on trying to live ethically, understand and survive capitalism. Wonderful and LOL funny.
Jia Lynn Yang: One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration – excellent, good writing, interesting subject with great political details, a story I didn’t know and prompting a number of epiphany moments, including how ill prepared, inexperienced and ineffective Kennedy was despite the myth of Camelot.
From Patricia in New York. Francine Prose Sicilian Journey, a delightful essay by this excellent, insightful writer, a novelist as well as essayist. A personal, quirky, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable read for anyone contemplating a trip to Sicily.
Edmund DeWaal’s wonderful tale of The Hare with Amber Eyes, about a collection of Japanese netsuke and their history within his family and their journeys from Odessa through Vienna, Paris, Tokyo and now London as this hidden inheritance tale unfolds. (I also read this one and loved it.)
That’s all for now, folks. If I missed anyone’s book suggestions please send again. There will be one more Cañar Chronicle before we leave on June 1 for Portland. Until then, I send fond regards and remember that I love to hear from you at: email@example.com.