Around two in the morning, we were on our third flight — Mexico City to Quito. After almost a year of joyful anticipation, we were finally en route to Ecuador! I was exhausted from a long day of travel and language translation and had been nodding on and off in my seat as we shot through a storm, but I stirred in my sleep when the flight attendant’s static-y voice began traveling across the intercom.
I peered over at Charlie — my eyes catching lightning in the dark clouds behind him — and saw that his raised eyebrows were asking me to explain.
“We’re making an emergency landing,” I said, now completely awake. “There’s a minor technical error with the plane.”
Although I felt sure we’d all die in the process, we landed safely, and then the flight attendant said that it would take twenty minutes (thirty, tops) for us to be back up and running.
Charlie and I sat there talking quietly. I hadn’t wanted to watch a movie on the plane, but now my nerves were bad, so I scrolled through the airline’s offerings, desperate for distraction. Other than a child’s movie or two, everything looked too violent, sexual, or stupid. Bleh.
I looked back over to my left and saw Charlie dozing off, leaning his head against the window. Lucky. How was he able to relax under these circumstances?! I could tell, an hour and a half before (when we’d first boarded the plane), that he’d wanted the window seat, so I let him have it with the understanding that it would be my turn to #windowseat (as a verb) when we returned to Mexico City a week later.
Anyways, I had resumed facing forward, waiting for an announcement or for something to happen, when I suddenly noticed a sober-looking, uniformed officer stalking down the aisle. Weird; he hadn’t boarded the plane with us.
And in his wake, a man in normal clothes followed, discreetly holding a gun on his right side… as this man brushed past me, looking predatory and severe, time shifted its gears into some kind of bizarre slow-motion and the whoooooole universe felt sickly surreal.
I vividly remember the face of a woman two rows in front of me when the armed man first appeared; her pained and strained expression probably mirrored my own: shiiiiiiiit… nooooooooo…
But right as I thought that some weird hostage situation was about to take place and it dawned on me that I was finally going to meet my end (was there a sense of relief in this? yes, a little, but I absolutely abhorred the means, worried over what kind of violence I’d have to see inflicted on others, AND grew heartsick for my German Shepherds back in Alabama — there are MUCH better ways to go), the police officer and armed guy BOTH returned to view, speeding in the opposite direction – toward the plane’s exit – with a handcuffed man in their arms.
I quickly turned to look at Charlie, to gauge his feelings on all of this — asleep! I grabbed his arm and shook it roughly; opening his eyes, he seemed dazed and disgruntled.
“THERE WAS A POLICE OFFICER AND A MAN WITH A GUN AND THEY JUST TOOK SOME GUY OFF THE PLANE,” I whispered hoarsely, needing him to be afraid like I was.
We all deboarded the plane right there in Tapachula — aka, the real middle of nowhere. Our flight attendant explained that, for everyone’s safety, officials needed to inspect the aircraft for “inappropriate items.” Drugs? Explosives? Harmless bottles of water that somehow made it through Mexico’s intense (and multiple) security checkpoints? Who knows, but we all had fun speculating. We actually passed by the criminal during our brief walk toward the tiny, one-roomed airport… he was being restrained by a guard and grinning at everybody. Insane.
It took us four hours to take off again. I fell asleep on the floor, with my head resting on Governess, after drinking some bottled water and peeing three or four times in a row.
The best parts of this experience? A. We helped catch a criminal in Latin America (yes we did) and B. We got to watch the sun rise over a couplet of nearby volcanoes. They were absolutely lovely.
Our week-long Ecuadorian adventure has been very dreamlike. We’ve ridden taxis (innumerable), buses (4), and planes (5 so far) — stayed by the ocean and trekked through an otherworldly cloud forest… and today, Charlie and I enjoyed our last morning in Quito inside of the Juan Valdez Cafe; he sipped on a grande cappuccino with his left hand and I held a medium-sized, whipped cream-topped caramel latte in mine. After writing (me) and listening to music (him) for a little while, we moseyed onto a cool little breakfast spot that he’d read about online. We’re having a nice, lazy day together.
I told him yesterday that he feels like a brother to me now, and then I cried a little. I’ve thought about Bobby and Bruster during this trip… I grieve for both of them a little bit, every now and then. The well, I know, is inexhaustible.
And I thought about them at the most interesting times; one afternoon in Las Salinas, I was lying in a hammock, looking up at some buildings and over at the sea through the apartment’s open window… there was another hammock next to mine, and the wind was blowing it around a little, making it look like a ghost was sitting there. I asked myself, who would you like to have sitting there? I ran through the names of people — alive and estranged; dead and gone… but the only person I could imagine sitting there with me was a dog. A big, fat German Shepherd: Bruster. He is the one I wanted the most.
And then, when we climbed onto a big old bus for a two-hour ride to Mindo yesterday morning, “I just can’t wait to be king!” (an old Lion King song) started playing in my head. I started humming it out loud and dancing in my seat, smiling over at Charlie, and then I realized that I was actually thinking about Bobby… remembering how my brother LOVED that movie so much; how he wore that stupid Lion King outfit on repeat for months when he was a kid. I knew how much he’d love to be going on an adventure like this right now, and I wished I could have taken him with me.
I wish I could take him all kinds of places when I land in bham tomorrow night — Alaska, San Fran, Vancouver… we could be having the best time together these days. Anyways…
Ecuadorian Highlights slash Points of Interest:
- The outdoor markets here are intriguingly maze-like and overwhelmingly large. You walk through (what feels like endless) “aisles” of dirt, brick, and concrete to interact with the locals who are peddling their goods: fresh fruits and vegetables (14 bananas for $1!), handmade hats and clothes, and cheap souvenirs (like “Michael Kors” sunglasses, alpaca sweaters and blankets, and Ecuadorian wallets). I’ve had fun haggling w/artisans and taxi drivers… it’s a part of the experience!
- We’ve mostly eaten simple, unprocessed foods while here — lots of bananas, scrambled eggs, panaderia bread and chocolate — but we’ve also gone out for Indian food and vegetarian lasagna. All of the food is local and beyond-reasonably priced. I love it. Bought a gigantic avocado from this magical old lady down in Las Salinas on Sunday and it was one of the best ever. Fun fact: Paid $0.15 for Charlie’s fresh-out-of-the-oven (like, we WATCHED it come out of the oven) croissant this AM.
- There are so many dogs on the streets. At first, it broke our hearts — seeing pup after pup wandering around, listless — but as we acclimated to the environment, we realized that the locals do a pretty good job of caring for these animals (whether they’re pets or not). Now — are all of the pets here healthy-and-happy-looking? No. But that’s everywhere, isn’t it? Charlie and I came up with a little game on the bus ride home from Mindo: If you spotted a pup on the street, you got one point; a pup on a roof (which is surprisingly commonplace) equaled five points; a German Shepherd on the street was worth ten points and a German Shepherd “roofpup” scored a whopping twenty. He won the game because I like riding in buses with my eyes closed… it’s less nausea-inducing.
- I found a boyfriend in Las Salinas. His name is Daniel (dahn-ee-ehl) and he offered to ride me around on his motorbike one afternoon, but with Charlie and another non-Spanish-speaking friend in my custody, I declined. We’re keeping in touch (as friends) via email, and I’m mailing a copy of my book to him when I return home to the states this weekend.
- I’ve dreamt in Spanish twice this week. Reading, listening to, speaking and translating the language has been INCREDIBLY helpful in solidifying my current knowledge and understanding of Spanish. It really is the language of my heart. I can’t wait to dig into the 47 million other verb tenses I don’t know yet when I’m back at Red Cat this weekend… 🙂 HA.
- Depression travels internationally (gratis — for free!). I’ve always lightly held the belief that, if I traveled far and wide enough, the people and things and environment around me would all be so different that they would be different enough for me to not feel as sad as I do; as if an extreme change in external landscape could magically heal my internal self. But it’s not like that, and that’s alright… the more you know about your illnesses and weaknesses, the more capable you are of dealing with and managing them. Traveling won’t fix me, because wherever I go, I go… so I just need to keep on unraveling to maintain, I guess; writing and singing and strumming and biking with my shadow punctuating each line, curving the edge of each note, and sticking to my heels.
- Carefully consider your traveling companions. Charlie is very easy to travel with — he’s quiet, self-sufficient, upbeat, thoughtful; but the other friend who tagged along with us was very co-dependent and extremely self-absorbed during the trip. I spent the first five days catering to her whims — whenever she was bored or hungry or tired, we’d stop whatever we were doing (or planned slash wanted to do) to take care of her needs. And when I mentioned, one day, wanting to spend some time alone, she made me feel guilty because she didn’t know the language and didn’t want me far away from her (although she knew about this trip ***nine months*** in advance and could have made some very basic preparations for it; studying the culture, learning some key phrases, etc.). But on the evening of day five, when I finally admitted to her (and that was my fault; I shouldn’t have waited so long to express myself) that I felt like I’d been making a lot of (aka way too many) concessions, she became furious — spat out some of the most hateful things anyone’s ever said to me right there in the taxi and treated me like a total piece of shit. It shook me up so badly that the incident rendered me crying in front of our AirBnB apartment with her glaring down at me and Charlie wrapping his arm around my shoulder and telling her: “Enough — it’s finished.” Ironically, we spent the next day (a nine-hour venture) doing what she wanted (another concession I made, and one which meant I wouldn’t be able to visit Cotopaxi — a volcano I’d been longing to see for nine months), and then – immediately after the outing – she abruptly announced that she was leaving that evening — two days early. Whew. D-R-A-M-A. With all of that being said, I absolutely, 100% prefer solo adventures to group vacations, but as far as future travels involving another party (or parties) are concerned, I will be very cautious as to who I agree to travel with (and for how long, because a two-day getaway is very different from a seven-day, close quartered, international adventure).
- My overall three favorite memories: Splashing my feet in salt water and fresh water — feeling the chill, energy, and pull of ocean and river; holding smooth stones and turning cool rocks over in my hands; and speaking with everyone in Spanish.
- Did I cross paths with the next love of my life in Ecuador? Nah. Daniel is VERY nice, but he isn’t the one, and while another beautiful man (seemingly, a native of Mindo) with long, brown hair and the very best eyes shook my hand quite lovingly yesterday afternoon, I’m still holding out for this Audio character. Stupid, huh? But on the real real, I’m pretty sure he likes me (either that or he’s the freakin WORST). Have he and I spoken while I’ve been away? Sort of; on Tuesday, I sent Audio a picture of a motorcycle I spotted in Las Salinas (I plan on framing and hanging the pic en mi casa) and he replied: “Sweet little bike.” Then, a day or so later, I sent him a few pictures of the cloud forest, and he replied: “Amazing.” I followed up by saying that, while there were lots of lovely cows (oh, I looooooove them!) and so many shades of green up there in Mindo, I was very much looking forward to coming home, and then he replied “night” — with a smiley face. So basically, we’re going steady now.