“No tengo nada mas!” (Part 2) (Ecuador/Peru)

I had just escaped a spot of flash kidnapping. I had spotted an escape and had run with all my possessions into the most crowded place I could find, the bus station. There, one of the attackers had caught up with me but the place was crowded. A shouting match ensued between some helpful bystanders and him but thankfully concluded with a dollar being given so that he would go away.  I was indebted to my saviour, a young woman dressed in typical Andean indigenous clothing. Her face had the strong jaw line that we associate with the descendants of the Incas and her hair was arranged in a single plait.

She spoke very good English and I learned that she had emigrated to New Zealand and had come back to see her family. They had just had a holiday in Peru and now were going back home to Ecuador. They told me there was no bus for a couple of hours and that they were on their way to have lunch at a restaurant and asked if I would like to join them. I gladly accepted the offer and within a few minutes we were sitting on the plastic chairs of a busy restaurant.  There were six of them, four children and two ladies. The elder lady was in her late forties or fifties, her smooth golden skin deeply creased at the corners with sunbaked wrinkles. The two women and the small girl were identically dressed. They wore a frilly short-sleeved white blouse under a black shawl that was tied around one shoulder and a simple, long black skirt. Their hair was also identical; a single plait of straight black hair. The boys, there were three of them, also had long hair but just tied up in a ponytail. Their clothing however was typically western.

I paid for the meal thanking them once more for their help. The young lady asked me where I was going. I said I didn’t know, I had no plans, I didn’t know anything about Ecuador. “You should come over for dinner then.” She said, offering the invitation.  I eagerly accepted, not only as a sign of gratitude but I was intrigued by their friendliness, plus it wasn’t like I had anywhere else to go. “I would love to come to dinner!” I said. Together we went back to the bus station and I got onto the same bus as them. Almost everyone on the bus was indigenous. The men also had long plaited hair and always wore a cowboy style hat. Otherwise their dress was like the boys, western. I didn’t bother asking them where they lived, it can’t be too far...right?

The bus was meant to stop at the Ecuadorean immigration office which was a few kilometres away from the town. After thirty minutes though I started wondering, ‘have we passed it?’ I asked my new friends, they said that they didn’t need to stop at immigration. I looked around on the bus and realised I was the only foreigner. But my skin was brown, like theirs, my hair was long and black, like theirs. The bus driver obviously thought I was an Ecuadorian! We had passed immigration and I was in Ecuador illegally!

I protested to the driver, he said we passed the office about half an hour ago and there was no way he was going to turn around. I resigned myself to another complication and went to sit down again. I would have to go the next day back to the border and hopefully sort out this situation. I almost immediately fell asleep after all the excitement of that day.

When I awoke, the bus was still going and it was dark outside.  I looked at my watch and about six hours had passed! ‘Where are we going?!’ I thought. The family along with the rest of the bus were either dozing or locked into a state of stasis that people used to enduring long and uncomfortable rides adopt. When the lady woke up I asked her as nonchalantly as I could where their home actually was. “Just a few more hours.” She said. A short laugh escaped my mouth. I was amused, my situation was becoming more and more bizarre.  I had already resigned to be like a leaf in the wind – unable to decide its own path against the forces of nature. “Okay” I said meekly and went back to sleep. I was exhausted.

I was shaken awake. I was cold and groggy with sleep. “Get up! We have arrived.” I looked around. Other sleepy figures were pulling off blankets and gathering their possessions to get off the stationary bus. It was dark but fluorescent lights overhead lit up the surroundings. I checked my watch it was 2am. We were in a bus station and even at that time a few hardy taxi drivers were waiting for weary travellers. I stumbled off the bus noticing that it was hard to breathe. Unlike the bus driver a couple of the taxi drivers recognised me as a foreigner and started their selling pitch involving a lot of yanking. I declined all offers and fought my way to the family who were huddled around their possessions: Several boxes tied together with twine and a couple of sports bags. “We have to take a pickup now.” Said the lady. There was some negotiating between the lady and several pick-up truck drivers. I stood around with the sleepy children. “Get in.” She said pointing to one of them once negotiations had concluded. I helped move the luggage onto the truck before climbing onto the back. We departed, the fresh air buffeted my face.

All I remember from that journey are a series of still images punctuating the cold and drowsiness of the early morning. The wind in the open pickup truck was biting. The journey lasted a couple of hours; we left the dark streets of the city, which city I did not know at the time, for the hills. Dawn was arriving when, later, we got off of the truck on a rocky path in between fields in a hilly country. A cloud of dust rose when the pickup truck went on its way. Only the sound of waking birds broke the silence. We walked for about ten minutes passing well-kept maize fields interspersed with houses. In the distance I saw a large three-story house, fairly new with blacked out windows. I was surprised when we stopped at this house and entered it. It was now over thirty-five hours I had been travelling.

The next thing I remember was waking up mid-morning in a bed. Sun streamed through the large tinted windows and there was a young man and one of the boys from the yesterday peering in. The man was in his early twenties and had smooth skin, a boyish smile and he too had long hair. “Esta despierto!” (He’s awake) The boy exclaimed and ran away shouting to everyone. A crowd formed around the door as I got up and laughter erupted at my broken Spanish.

That was my first night in Peguche village (2,600m) near Otavalo, Ecuador.

I stayed for a month.