“Dejame aqui por favor,” I asked the cab driver as his dimming headlights revealed the narrow footpath cutting up the steep bank. After an unnerving cliff side bus ride from Quito to Santo Domingo, I had hoped to arrive in Bua before dark – to my dismay I threw on my headlamp, paid the cabby, and climbed up the bank into the humid darkness of the banana trees.
Half a year had passed since I last walked the dirt path to the Tsachila village where I was first introduced to Hermania and Alfonso. Half a year’s time since my infatuation for the simple tranquility of tribal life was conceived; half a year to reflect on how our worlds differed, yet at their core were so similar. I had spent the 3 hour bus ride consumed with worry. I worried would not remember the mile count to turn off from the main road, or not be able find my way through the trees at night, or that I would be chased by the rabid guard dogs, or not even be able to hail a cab at this hour. The possibilities were endless, for this was the very start of my walkabout. But as the familiar aroma of exotic night blossoms expanded their sweetness into my lungs, I smiled and gradually recognized the bend in the trail that led to my new home. All doubt was erased when their distant laughter reached my ears in between flickers of the buzzing neon of iridescent fireflies.
I sighed in relief, and picked up my pace.
I was greeted with open arms and a warm meal. It was a welcoming array of indigenous faces and food – voices and flavors I had grown to miss back in the states. The 4 other members of the Portland EWB travel team were waiting and had become increasingly concerned by my delay – having missed my flight in L.A. I was a day overdue. But that is a whole another story, merely an unexpected precursor to my journey.
Following Tom, our team leader, we meandered down the slick muddy hill to find our cabanas along the Rio Pucta. I found it comforting we would be staying in the same thatched huts we had lodged in previously, closest to the mud staircase down to the river with a convenient porch for airing out our perpetually damp clothing. I organized my things and set my day pack tremulously on my bunk tucked under the safety of the mosquito net. My 3 weeks here last march instilled in me a leeriness for the giant spiders that live tucked within the dried palm bundles of the roof. Having been startled by one of those hairy critters tucked deep within my Nike running shoe was by no means the start to a trusting friendship, and made me uneasy at best.
I stowed my larger pack on the bottom bunk letting out a startled chuckle at the sight of the wooden slats spaced between the two long runners that held the straw mattress above. That was the bed Danny broke during our last trip -his knee busted through one of the thinner slats while tucking in at night; we of course teased him mercilessly the remainder of the trip. Re-living the memory made me realize how much I missed him. He was native Chilean, and the strongest Spanish speaker in our group.
With Danny unable to accompany our installation trip, that left me being our most proficient communicator with the tribal leaders…