(A Written) Postcard From Ecuador
January 3rd, 2011

With scenes truly worthy of Kafka or Fantozzi (with a bit of Joseph Heller blended in), Silvia finally managed to submit her application for travel documents at the US Embassy in order to be accepted back into the US when we return in a week’s time. To give you an idea of what I mean, one of the documents that was requested (once we got to the Embassy and not before) was a copy of an electric bill. How many of you travel with a copy of your electric bill? Her name isn’t even on our electric bill. It’s pure insanity. Nonetheless, her documents are meant to be ready by Thursday (the only day that the DHS staff work), which means we will have to head back to Quito on Wednesday afternoon.

On the way out of Quito, we got to participate in one of the interesting particularities of the New Year celebrations here. On New Year’s Eve people burn an effigy, a sometimes larger-than-life dummy, that represents the year that is ending. It contains all the bad things from the year and traps them so that they won’t happen again. As it burns, people jump over it 12 times (for luck in each of the 12 months to come), which can become daunting as the fire begins to roar. (They’re designed to burn as not burning completely would bring bad luck—or would at least negate the cancellation of the ending year’s bad luck.) The effigy represents an old man; so young men dress up as women, including balloon breasts and buttocks at times for an exaggerated effect. They represent the widow of the old man year who dies. They stop traffic, which is how we participated, and ask for coins. They dance, let’s call it expressively, in front of, and with, your car. Sometimes they string a rope across the road to be certain that you stop. They ask for small coins. Even taxi drivers will stop and give their own money. But it doesn’t end once you’ve arrived at the airport. They’re in the airport too. And, yes, then also on the plane. It’s all done in great fun. Most everyone gives a small coin. I have no idea to whom the coins eventually go. However, as the practice was clearly sanctioned by our airline, my best guess is that they go to so some charitable cause—perhaps even for actual widows, which would be nice. Regardless, it’s good fun.

After a quick flight to Loja, we managed to arrive in Vilcabamba on Friday in time for dinner and New Year’s Eve celebrations. Known as “Vilca” to the local international wanderers, it’s an end-of-the-world, beautiful little spot nestled at about 5,000 feet in the mountains of south-eastern Ecuador. It’s sunny and hot. Our hotel room opens to a garden of banana trees, a giant avocado tree (with some avocados nearly the size of American footballs), and all sorts of other beautifully exotic plants—with the mountains and in particular the peak Mandango (The Sleeping Inca) in the background. I could easily stay here for much longer. Most do. Vilca is a magnet of sorts for those who wish to escape the routine of normal society. Popular topics here include veganism, UFOs, conspiracy theories and yoga. But it’s not at all new-age hippy. You can sit at the same table with somebody who is eating a raw-vegan lasagna and enjoy a nice pork loin. It’s a place of acceptance. If you’ve managed to find your way here, then you’ll be accepted. If you stay a couple of days, then you’ll know everybody. It’s small. It’s cosy. It’s friendly. It’s worth the trip.

Normally, in this blog I would at least mention something photographic. Without any cameras, that’s somewhat complicated (and why there is again no photo accompanying this post). I have, however, been taken photos in my mind. I even like a couple of them. Maybe. One thing that really stands out for me here is the sky. The layers, structure and colors of the clouds are simply amazing. I noticed it in Quito, with wonderful contrast to some of the stark-white Spanish colonial buildings. And I notice it here too in Vilca as the rolling afternoon clouds, in shades from dark blues to greys and whites, mimic the shapes and shades (albeit green) of the rolling hills. As the mountains rise, the clouds fall. Often they touch.

Another thing I noticed is that this would be a great place for a Defender. I mean… here when one wants to wash one’s truck, one just drives into the river, gets out and starts splashing water on it. Were I to have a Defender, perhaps one named something like Jessie, then this is where I’d like to have it.

And speaking of trucks… the taxis here are (seemingly) brand new, extended-cab pickup trucks—all white. For fun, children and thrill-seeking gringos (and really, what’s the difference?) truck surf. You stand, legs spread for support, in the back and cling (tightly) to the stainless roll bar as the truck speeds around corners and up hills. Watch out for branches!

I hope that everyone had a great New Year’s Eve. All my best for the new year! I hope to see many of you again in 2011 and to meet many more of you in person.

11 Responses to “(A Written) Postcard From Ecuador”

  1. Mark Olwick says:

    Happy New Year, Jeffrey, and thank you for the word postcard! Vilcabamba definitely sounds like someplace I’d love to see.

    Mark

  2. Eli R. says:

    Sounds wonderful! Happy New Year, old chap!

  3. Happy New Year! I visit two times Ecuador but I never been in Vilcabamba. I hope that we can meet again in the future (may be in 2011) with a bit more time. best wishes :-)

  4. Brian says:

    Hah – sounds like quite the time.

    Hope all the documents get sorted. I’m about to start another yearly round of visa renewal work – it’s horrible.

    HOpe all is well,
    Brian

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  6. I’m feeling like, at points in this postcard, you were talking right to me! :-) Hope to pick Jessie up from the shop today with new headlights and batteries and so on. Next time I drop her off she’ll be going in for some expedition fittings – security cages, a large split in the load space so I can lock stuff down and organize things better, not to mention the installation of the checkerplate on the hood, the expedition shovel and the autohome. Ah, she’s going to be a right pretty sight, lad. Fit for washing down in a river in Ecuador! Safe travels, friend.

  7. Amie says:

    I am glad to hear of the wonderful things you are experiencing, especially after the scary incident. It sounds amazing!

  8. Jilske says:

    Without photos they’re more notes than postcards. But I might possibly love them more:
    “As the mountains rise, the clouds fall. Often they touch.”
    More notes from Ecuador please! And then some more.
    Wonder if one can learn patience in Vilca. Sounds like a perfect place for a WTF workshop ;)

  9. Lisa O says:

    Yes notecard, this postcard is blank on one side…. Is it hard not having a camera? You don’t sound like your missing it that much. Best of luck getting the paperwork sorted out.

  10. Jeffrey Chapman says:

    @Mark, if you ever make it to Vilcabamba, I can give you suggestions for where to stay and dine.

    @Eli, Happy New Year to you too! Can’t wait to meet up in Norway.

    @Òscar, I’d be happy to bump into you again anywhere, anytime.

    @Brian, it leaves one wondering just how we’d manage without all the bureaucrats. Probably too well!

    @David, yes, some of that might have been direct to you. It’s just perfect Defender country––steep, dirt “roads” and river crossings.

    @Amie, it’s hard to keep me down. Life’s too short.

    @Ilse, I think that in a place like Vilca that patience is forced upon you. It doesn’t bother to ask.

    @Lisa, perhaps it’s a DIY postcard; everyone gets to draw their own on the blank side! I wouldn’t say that it’s hard not having a camera. It’s certainly easier on my back! It is, however, very odd. And I see lots of photos. They’ll just have to be for the next time. I’ll replace my cameras next week when back in NY.

  11. Andreas says:

    I was shocked to hear about the robbery in Quito. After a lot less traumatic events, I have felt violated and helpless. I have read that attacks like this are quite common in Quito, unfortunately. I spent 6 weeks in Ecuador in 1986 (time flies) and it was the one of the safest South American countries at the time. We were worried more about the military checkpoints in the Amazon low lands and the police in the capital than criminals but times change. Best to you and I am looking forward to your writings and of course photography.

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