On the Inside

Same.  Home. Peace. “Ahhh…” I let out a huge sigh of relief knowing Captain and I were heading ‘home’.  We walked the beach and watched as the sun settled in for the night.  After a week of packing, flying, driving, renting and searching, I looked forward to settling in myself.

As we neared the apartment, I saw Landlady peering out into the distance sunset. Had she been crying?  Was this time she desperately needed to her Self? Was she dreaming of the life she wished she was living? I could relate and wished we had not interrupted her personal time.  She quickly wiped her eyes and greeted us with her beautiful Spanish words and smile.

She told us Landlord and the neighbor had gone fishing today.  With hand gestures and the few words I recognized, I translated her questions to, “Do you like fish?” and “Do you cook in the kitchen?” If I had connected her questions as a conversation, I would have known what I was getting into.

As we were unpacking our bags from the overnight Quito trip, I hear a knock. There Landlady stood, with a plate of fish. In her other hand, she was dragging behind her a massive stalk of plantains.  How generous of her to share the fruits of their labor.  I graciously accepted the gift and went inside to show Captain.

Smiling ear to ear, I walked inside and began examining the fish closer. My smile faded.  There on the platter laid 2 whole ahi tunas, fins and all.  “What are you going to do with all that?” Captain asked.  There had to be 27 plantains.  “I guess we are going to eat it,” I said.  Only having ever cooked filets and rarely with the skin, cooking with the head and tail intact was going to be a first!  “Do you know how to prepare it?” he asked, looking at the gut-less fish.   I stared at the fish for a minute…and they stared right back.   At this point preparing them was the least of my concerns.  I didn’t even want to touch them.

I fell asleep dreaming of next day being all mine…

The first moments of my day were spent in meditation.  As soon as I left my sacred space, life quickly hit me.  The Landlords had land for sale and wanted to show it to us…today.  I was perturbed considering we are going to be here for several more weeks but agreed. Captain and I were certain this wasn’t what we were looking for but the ‘showing’ gave us an opportunity to shop around. Envisioning a short walk and a simple beachfront property helped to coax my tired mind and body…

It looked like rain so I was sure to grab my raincoat.  Wearing shoes instead of flip-flops was a given but I questioned whether I should put on pants.  The morning was very humid so I opted for wearing shorts.  It seemed everyone was in a rush to get going, so when I saw only clouds for miles, I skipped putting sunscreen all over and out the door we went.

First I noticed Landlord. He was dressed in a green tank with faded red MC Hammer pants and yellow rubber boots. With a machete in hand, Landlord was jungle ready.  After seeing his pants tucked into his knee-high boots, my initial thought was, “Maybe I should go change?!”  But then I saw Landlady in her short, flowery cotton dress and flip-flops. Landlady even dresses up when she goes to the jungle?! I forgot about changing when I saw her in her cute sun dress…

The short walk I had envisioned could not have been farther from reality.  We hiked at least 2 miles down the busy two-lane highway; the rain began to fall as traffic whizzed pasted, often throwing me off-balance.  The Landlords paid little regard to the commuter buses flying by us but I was sure to keep an eye out for all vehicles passing!

The four of us scaled the steep beachside cliffs to get the view of the Pacific Ocean.   Landlord cut us a path through the tall, thick brush with his machete.  He says that just 2 months ago the brush had been cleared.  Landlady followed closely behind in her flip-flops…

The rain began falling harder and we were drenched within minutes.  Despite being sopping wet from the rain fall, Landlady still looked exquisite.  I, on the other hand, was like a wet dog-covered in burs, and scraped, reddened, and beat from head to toe from trekking through the lush jungle.  “Next time, I will just wear the pants…”  The rain clouds quickly moved out and the sunshine began drying everything.

Landlord walked us for acres, showing us the family land since 1954. “Tradicion!” The Landlord introduced us to sons, brothers, aunts and uncles-the whole family!   All the families are selling their long stretch of beach property and much of their land on the other side of the road.

My favorite plot was a variation of the farm I dream of; a pig rooting in the mud, a hen being followed by her chicks, dogs wrestling with each other, a flourishing rice patty, fields of sweet corn and of course a talking parrot!  We noticed two papayas on a nearby tree turning yellow so Landlord shimmied his way up the tree, chopped them off with his machete and Captain caught them as they fell. Landlady instructed me to make little slices in the rind and it would be fully ripe tomorrow.

The property is beautiful but too expensive for our budget. They were quick to tell us it is much cheaper across the road-the emerald rolling hills with ample farmland was enticing but not what we are looking for.  This land will be perfect for someone else…

We finally made our way back home—4 hours later! It was time for a nap…napping is what noontime is all about here-it’s too hot to do much of anything else!  What little skin was exposed to the hour of sunshine got fried! Damn! Pants AND sunscreen!!!

Landlady inquired about the fish and we confessed we had no clue with preparation!  Again, through our small vocabularies of the other’s language, Cap’t and I translated Landlady saying, “6:30 tonight for a quick tutorial on preparing fresh fish!”

When 6:30 rolled around, Cap’t and I arrived for our lesson.  I would have needed only a brief demonstration how to cut the fillets, season and prepare and perhaps use her filet knife!   But Landlady was ready to give me an Ecuadorian cooking lesson and kindly invited us to dinner.  Captain and I had no intentions of being dinner guests but clearly we had made the plans this afternoon!

Captain went to the apartment and got a bottle cabernet to share with The Landlords.  Landlady was thrilled.  “Me encantado vino!”  She loves wine!!!  While the ladies were in the kitchen, the gentlemen exchanged short conversations and taught each other words of the other’s language.

Quietly, I observed the Landlady in her kitchen.  I had not mentally prepared myself for a bilingual dinner party but I was doing my best to blend in…even with a little vino to loosen up my shy persona, the language barrier still trumps!

Much was lost in translation, I am sure, but we were made to feel like family and everyone enjoyed their vino, especially Landlord who Captain noticed gulping it more than a few times… “He was chugging that wine!” Captain said.

What I first noticed in the kitchen was the main entree.  Four whole fish were laid out to begin preparing.  Landlady rinsed the fish, laid them on the cutting board, grabbed her machete and hacked their heads and tails off…I am pretty sure it was the same machete Landlord used to lead us through the brush earlier today.

Landlady says, “Luna, you learn”. Landlady handed me a fillet knife.  She instructed me to make slices through the fish’s skin. For quite some time, my stance on consuming fish has been teetering.  A part of me was appalled but the other part of me was immersed in the experience.   In Ecuador, eating sea creatures is a way of life, a means of survival for some.

A stuffing was created for the fillets. On the cutting block, Landlady laid out several cloves of garlic and began smashed them with a round stone from the sea. When a paste had been created, she tossed in cumin and a little salt, mixed it up with her fingers and viola.  The slices in the flesh were stuffed with the paste and ready to fry!

Corviche was my favorite dish served.  A breading is made of mashed plantains, peanut butter, and a dash of salt.  The breading enveloped boiled fish and was placed in the oven to roast.  Side dishes of fried plantains and steamed broccoli accompanied dinner also. With almost every meal, fried fish and plantains are the norm in the coastal area of Ecuador…

At several moments in my life I have experienced numbing fear of touching something “dirty” or eating “unclean” food.  Americans are bombarded with commercials promoting “clean this, clean that, clean everything”! It wasn’t until nursing school that I became a serious germaphobe.  “Hand washing saves lives.”  In my transition to a simpler life, I began looker deeper into my beliefs about cleanliness.  Washing my hair now happens only every 3 or 4 days.  I believe hand washing is very important but taking care of one’s immune system is more important. All of our commercial cleaning products were thrown out and replaced with baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice.

Coming to Ecuador really has challenged my beliefs and practices regarding ‘cleanliness’.  Today, I handled raw fish, sliced through its flesh, finished preparing the other dishes and never washed my hands.  There was no soap to be found. I rinsed my hands with tap water and then ate dinner with my fingers.  I thought I had been living the simple life…The Landlords life seemed to be much simpler.

This was our first weekend in Same (pronounced sah-may).  The town that looked deserted when we first drove through turns out to be happening on the weekend!

Saturday was a party! The buses bring hundreds of city folk the 4 hour drive to the beach in Same. The beach was full of soccer games, ice cream men with slushies for sale, cerviche stands, hombres drinking beers, chicas in their skimpy clothes and really loud music.  Even the Landlords were getting rowdy with their family and friends!  “Is there a holiday today?” I wondered. Nope. Every weekend is a celebration!

Captain and I needed to exchange our empty 20L water jug so we walked the beach to the store and watched the people. I learned my lesson yesterday with the sun and told Captain to put on sunscreen.  But he said, “I want to get tan.”  At one point we encountered the only other ‘white’ guy on the beach.  He was a glowing pale red-head and getting really burnt!  Captain commented, “Lobster better put on some sun screen!”  Sure enough, Captain was a lobster that night too! It only takes a few moments in the Ecuadorian sun to get burnt. Wear your sunscreen regardless!

Home was quite a walk with the big jug so we hitched a ride.  In the big cities, you will see yellow taxis.  Getting from one village to another in the distance, trucks haul loads of people on the go.  Occasionally a local will offer you a ride to make a quick buck…for short distance travels you catch a ride on the motorcycle ‘buggy’.

Captain calls it a rickshaw.  I call it dangerous.  I don’t know what they  call it but it was our only option for transportation.  Imagine: a 1980s, beat down, oil burning motorcycle. There is a two-wheeled , 2-seater cart, attached to the bike’s frame and it sits right behind the exposed back tire.

Captain and I hopped aboard the hoopty-ride and without a warning, Fast and Furious hit the gas and we were off!  I had yet to recover from the whip lash when I got a huge mouthful of exhaust.  As we accelerated, I felt as if the rusty cart could disconnect at any moment.  While the commericial buses were passing us at high speeds, Fast and Furious was ramping off the road and swerving to miss the occasional chicken and the frequent pedestrians.  The faster we went and the more buses that past, the higher I became on exhaust fumes… what would you expect for a $1 ride home?!?

As the evening drew near, the music was drowned out by the increasingly slurred voices singing about their “familia tradicion.”  It reminded me of a hick party in my hometown and everyone singing Hank Williams Jr. It is said Sunday is the day of rest but I think everyone drinks so hard on Saturday, Sunday is spent recovering from the party! Nothing gets cleaned up until Monday…

This week has been quite an adventure and a cultural experience that I had never imagined. On the surface people look very different; our dreams differ, our kitchens’ necessities vary, and each family carries a different tune but instilled within us all are similar wants and needs.  On the inside, we all look the Same…