Ecuador in September: Part 5 - The Last Stretch

Ecuador in September: Part 5 - The Last Stretch

The plane is shaking. Flight attendants are rushing towards their seats with the seatbelt light flashing. The cabin lights come on, and the pilot’s voice is heard overhead.

September 24:

06:45 From one incredibly long night to one incredibly long day. We all get up and get ready. While waiting for Juan Carlos and Luis to arrive, I take out my camera to snap a few pictures of the dogs outside and the birds that are flying around and perching on nearby trees. 

Birds are something Tandapi is known for, and they’re incredibly interesting creatures to watch through the zoomed-in lens of a camera: black and blue, white and black, brown, yellow, red—seedeaters, wrens, swallows, birds I’ve never seen before. Through the lens, I can see the small lines separating individual feathers; I can watch the mechanics of the birds’ songs when they sing—see the color of their eyes. I wonder what the world looks like to them.

07:10 The dogs come up to the gate on the porch outside the house. I sat down with an extremely fluffy puppy for a while just enjoying the morning. Eventually, Luis pulls up to the main gate with Juan Carlos and Jostin. Shane, Max, Jostin, and I all climb into the back of the truck. Max and Shane have to help me up; the ledge is chest level, and the only step is situated a full foot under the truck bed. My shins obviously do not bend to make this task easier. 

08:20 Driving along, we pass La Cara del Diablo, The Face of the Devil. It’s a face carved into the side of the mountain on one of the busiest highways in the entire country. We arrive at Mr. Rower’s again for breakfast: eggs, toast, and coffee. Juan Carlos tells us about his historical family home that sits across from where we stayed last night. Over the centuries, it’s been visited by conquistadors, government officials, and religious leaders from all over South America and the world.

10:00 After breakfast, we get back in the truck to drive over to Juan Carlos’ coffee farm. This one is much different from Ramiro Pauta’s in that it is almost exclusively coffee, at least from what we can see, with only a few citrus trees in its midst—surrounded only by the natural foliage of the landscape. It’s beautiful. 

There’s a station where a few of the workers are planting coffee saplings. Juan Carlos has been consistently developing methods with his farmers to cross strains of coffee, both arabica and robusta, to form resistance to broca and leaf rust which can be detrimental to a coffee crop. This process can also help in improving the overall taste and quality of the final product. Celio Bustamenté, another worker on the farm, took the time to explain to us, with Juan Carlos, the methods they use in order to make this happen. 

10:45 After some time, we got back in the truck. This time, my foot slipped off the step, and I slammed into the back of it, which did indeed hurt (like really bad). The worst of the bruises lasted for months, but I took it like a champ. 

We drive back to Juan Carlos’ farmstead where we wait for a taxi to come pick us up. The goal is to get to the Quito Airport in time for Doc’s flight to Guayaquil. Waiting outside the main gate, Max and I begin again discussing fairly serious topics while Shane continues discussing coffee and agriculture with Juan Carlos and Luis. Before we leave, Luis requests a group picture of Max, Shane, Jostin, and I. In every posed picture of Jostin, he flashes a peace sign at the camera, and I find that he reminds me a lot of my cousin back home.

11:15 When the taxi arrives, I’m thankful to see that it’s a bit more spacious than those we’ve been in previously. The driver is also much younger and has music playing. After a few minutes, Shane begins telling Max and I that this driver may be a street racer judging by the way he’s driving. I initially think this is a joke, but Shane explains further that a lot of the younger taxi drivers in Ecuador are literally street racers, and the taxi is their day job. According to him, street racing events down the mountains are a common occurrence that bring in fairly large crowds. To this day, I don’t know if he was serious, but the driver did, in fact, have some insane driving skills.

Max and Shane asked our driver if they could connect one of their phones to the car’s bluetooth to choose the music. This produced some of my favorite moments of the entire trip. Max and Shane went back and forth choosing various songs of many genres and at one point even had Doc attempting to rap…which was quite hilarious. They both chose several Spanish songs as well so as not to exclude our driver from the fun. And even though I do not know Spanish, I do know Selena. When it was my turn to choose, I had to go with “Como la Flor.” As soon as it started playing, the driver began laughing and singing, looking in the rearview mirror to figure out who had made that decision. Max pointed at me, and when the chorus began, the driver and I both sang to our hearts’ content. To me, it felt comparable to those moments back home when you’re driving down the road with your best friend, and Whitney Houston starts playing. A simple joy in life.

13:00 Once inside the airport, Max and I sit against a wall and wait for a while as Shane ensures that Doc gets through security okay for his flight. Thus began the seemingly endless airport visit in which we all slowly began losing our minds—if we hadn’t already. Our flight was not until 23:30 that night. Ten and a half hours from when we arrived. Thinking back on it now, I quite literally have no idea how we spent all that time.

13:30 When Shane comes back, the three of us set out to look for food. Amazingly, they have Johnny Rockets, a comfort food for Shane who has been in Ecuador now for two weeks compared to our one. We sit and talk while we eat and then go and meet the drivers who are delivering the rest of our luggage outside the airport.

15:30 The three of us make our way over to an outside patio to sit for the remainder of our wait in the airport. Shane and Max work for a while on their computers while I scroll through my phone, answering questions and helping where I can. 

17:30 It’s two hours later. Essentially, nothing has changed. However, at some point, Shane and I started making bird noises back and forth across the patio. When you’re running on four hours of not good sleep after an already very long week, your mind starts to abandon ship.

19:00 ABBA’s playing. I love ABBA. Sitting in my chair, I start singing along, and I slowly start to think that I actually am losing my mind. I cannot understand anything being sung over the speaker. Same voices. Same music. It’s definitely Dancing Queen. I know the words, but they are nowhere close to matching up. What in the world is happening? One Shazam check later, I discovered that ABBA has recorded several albums in Spanish. Makes sense.

20:00 Around this time, we ate again, but I don’t remember what.

20:30 ABBA is playing again. Voulez-Vous. Also in Spanish.

21:00 Shane is on a mission to find plastic wrap for some of our luggage to keep them shut. It always amazes me that he somehow always finds a way to do what he’s set out to do. He borrows plastic wrap from a woman running one of the shops in the airport and returns it when he’s done.

21:15 ABBA is playing. Again. It’s Dancing Queen. Again. A long time ago, we started to realize that the music is set on a loop of sorts. ABBA became the soundtrack of my insanity. I couldn’t sleep, nor could I think clearly. I found myself echoing Shane and Max when they spoke. I’m clearly exhausted. When I get to this point back home, I start laughing at everything—dancing, singing, stuttering, and everything I think in my mind gets said out loud. Then I crash. Thankfully, that didn’t happen here. My mother and father can attest to the lunacy of those moments. It would have been embarrassing. 

21:30 YMCA starts playing. Naturally, Max and I do the dance. Next thing I know, Max is also moonwalking while I hear Shane singing behind us.

22:45 My sanity has recovered, but I’m starting to get cranky. I don’t think I was outright mean, but I definitely stopped talking. Oops. Max and I are waiting at the gate with all of our carry-ons while Shane is speaking to security. I hear a woman come over the intercom. She’s speaking Spanish, and in the midst of everything I don’t understand, I hear both Max and I’s names. We’ve been chosen for a random security check. Fun. Did I mention this was my first time out of the country? Had I not been so tired, I think my anxiety would’ve been through the roof, especially getting separated from Max and Shane once I was through.

23:00 On the plane, none of our seats were together. I sat towards the back next to a fairly grumpy Ecuadorian man and his wife who was very apologetic every time her husband was rude to one of the attendants or myself—not that I could really understand what he ever said. It was more the tone than anything.

23:45 The plane is in flight, and I decide to watch a movie. Since ABBA was on my mind, I chose Mamma Mia. Great movie. I can’t completely focus on what I’m watching, but I also can’t seem to fall asleep no matter how hard I try.

00:30 Zero Dark Thirty. Hurricane Ian is in the Gulf, and the turbulence has started to get pretty bad. I watch dinner be brought out and then taken away three times before I’m able to eat anything. The flight attendants’ facial expressions are not reassuring.

02:00 I’ve started Letters to Juliet. From one Amanda Seyfried movie to the next. While this plays, I’m finally able to fall asleep for an hour or so. During that time, however, as luck would have it, the plane very suddenly drops. And I mean…it…drops. My feet came off the ground, and my stomach felt like I was on a rollercoaster. The plane is shaking. Flight attendants are rushing towards their seats with the seatbelt light flashing. The cabin lights come on, and the pilot’s voice is heard overhead. My seat near the back allows me to listen to how panicked the attendants are. Again, I can’t understand what’s being said, but I know fear when I hear it. I’m not comforted, and I’m definitely not going back to sleep now. Each time the plane jerked for the next twenty minutes or so, the woman next to me would jump and start praying. She was on the verge of tears, but after a while, everything settled down.

04:00 When the movie was over, I started watching episodes of The Big Bang Theory to finish out the flight. I was beginning to get antsy. I really wanted off this plane. 

05:30 When we landed, I got off a good many people after Shane and Max, so I found myself playing catchup trying to find them again. Neither of us were in the best of moods. It seemed their experience with people on the plane had been similar to my own, and it weighed heavy on already tired minds. Shane’s wife, Kay, arrived at the airport shortly after we did to pick us up. We spent a few minutes trying to manipulate all of our stuff to fit in the SUV. In the end, I was crammed in the middle again—this time between Max and several suitcases. It reminded me of the time Shane and I picked up shop equipment in the Transit, though it wasn’t as dramatic. One brake check in the Transit probably would’ve knocked me out.

06:00 We stopped at a gas station to stretch and get something quick to eat: Eggo Poptarts and a Strawberry Banana Body Armor. Max started laughing at checkout because he almost answered the woman in Spanish. Back in the car, Shane was driving, and everyone seemed to be in better spirits now—listening to the radio and singing along. I could not wait to go to sleep again. It felt like I’d been awake forever. 

07:30 Back in Macon, they dropped me off at my apartment building. Once I got to my room, I took a shower and promptly went to bed. I slept for fourteen hours.
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