Plan B

Even with the greatest intentions, life doesn’t always happen as intended.

Day 28

The day prior, Agent made plans for us to take a boat ride with the local tourism in Galera.  Supposedly it is a free boat ride for tourists to view “an small island with a bunch of birds all over it.”  Agent promised the Boaters 8 gallons of gas and a quart of oil in exchange for a ‘showing’ of the coastline properties.

Captain and I were up bright and early as most days when we have an adventure planned.  Agent, on the other hand, is always late, constantly making new plans, forgetting prior arrangements and rarely getting anything done.  When plans with the Boaters were made, Captain and I had the inkling they weren’t happening.  Agent needed to return his car to Quito and his daughter who was visiting, needed to be back to there by this evening…

Sure enough, at the time we had agreed to meet, we found Agent sleeping…and hung over.  Apparently it was a rough night. Agent was still in the same outfit as the day before.  “There was a party in Tonchigue last night! I have 4 girls and 2 guys in Old Blue!”   Captain and I were waiting for Agent to realize he wasn’t going to have time to take us on the boat and get his daughter back to Quito.  But we left for Galera anyways…

During the 36 minute drive, Agent’s phone alarm went off at least 12 times.  It was a recording of his own voice, “GET UP, GET UP, GET UP! LETS GO, LETS GO, LETS GO! YOU HAVE ALL KINDS OF THINGS TO DO! YOU ARE GOING TO BE PRODUCTIVE! MAKE THE MOST OF THIS DAY! GET UP, GET UP, GET UP! LETS GO!”  I don’t know if he kept hitting snooze or if he has 12 different alarms set but hearing this frantic alarm would have me out of bed right away!  The alarm first went off at noon which was when we were to meet the Boaters.  Maybe Agent’s alarm would be effective if he set it for earlier than his appointments!

Our intention was to view the beach front property from the boat, choose our favorite pieces and find out who the owners are.  Captain and I needed Agent along so he could translate.  It wasn’t until we arrived that Agent told us he wasn’t going.  Maybe he just didn’t want to upset us, but I think it took him this long to figure out his plan was not a good one!

Arriving an hour “late”, we found the four Boaters lounging in their hammocks.  Had they noticed the time?  Probably not.  An appointment was made for the next Tuesday instead.  As we drove away and the Boaters returned to their swings, I wondered if they would remember our appointment.  If they did forget, I knew where we could find them…laying right there in their hammocks.

At first, it seemed a waste of time to have driven all the way to Galera.  But I was relieved knowing we didn’t have to carry the gasoline on the bus. Among the many hazards of public transportation here in Ecuador, having 8 gallons of gasoline makes the thought of a bus crash much scarier!

Together a new plan was fabricated. Captain and I wanted to get back to La Tolita, an island of ancient Indian burial grounds.  La Tolita is north of Esmeraldas and en route to Quito through the northern-most passage.  We would catch a ride with Agent and make the bus home that evening for a perfect day trip.

Agent insisted that he stop for ceviche at his “favorite” place.  Assuming that Agent wanted to get back home and be off for the long journey to Quito, I feared he would attempt eating ceviche while driving.  I remembered this man is never timely and eats really slow so this concern faded!!

Along the single road that runs through the sleepy village of Galera, a poster board was taped to an electric pole with the words “ceviche for sale” written in black marker.  A woman stood there along the road, waving at us to join her.  With an umbrella overhead, a plastic table and four chairs were full with customers.  After placing his order, Agent was asked if he would eat downstairs and he agreed. Captain and I followed.

Within seconds we realized we were having our lunch in this woman’s house.  We sat down at the small dining room table and made ourselves comfortable. The family went about their agenda as usual.  The ladies chatted in the kitchen.  Kids swung in their hammocks in the living room.  Grandpa sat in his wooden chair staring at us; we were his entertainment for the day.

After buying lunch and eating in the comfort of the cook’s home, we learned most businesses are often out of people’s homes.  It is difficult to distinguish between homes and businesses because often times they are one in the same. In a nearby village I recalled driving past a house that no matter the time of day, there was always party on the porch!   Turns out the ‘house party’ is actually the happening bar scene!

We arrived home in Same only to find Agent’s daughter getting ready for Quito at a slow Agent pace.   I suppose she has gotten used to being on “Agent time” and is in no hurry to do much of anything.  Captain and I headed home and packed our bag.  We grabbed a few extra snacks just in case this trip turned out to be longer than expected. Captain was going to get in the shower but opted out stating, “I don’t want anybody to be waiting on us!” It was yet another hour before we left…

The trip north was much like any trip with Agent, stopping at stands to buy his “favorites” and running the errands he forgot about days ago.  Doing his best to care for Old Blue, Agent was driving real slow and not passing anyone.  With a headache from partying, Agent sure wasn’t ramping any speed bumps today! We were on “Agent time” and not getting anywhere in a timely manner… might as well sit back and relax.

Just as I got comfortable in the car, Agent swerves all the way left and all the way back right. Yanking the e-brake, he pops the clutch and the car dies.  Agents jumps out of the car hollering, “Did you guys see the tarantula? It was huge!!!” Déjà vu…another ‘rare sighting’ of an imaginary creature.  I reminisced of the time he swore he saw a condor.  It turned out to be a tree.  Who knows what this “tarantula” really was?! I was just thankful we had stopped on our own side of the road.  Agent sheepishly stated, “I knew I would have to run it over for you guys to believe me…”  Brilliant.

As we made our way north, the speed bumps seemed to get larger.  Instead of ramping them, we were bottoming out.  Every time the car’s belly scraped along the bump, Agent cried out in agony.  He was blowing up his rental car!  Each speed bump, his cries became more painful and we tried harder to control our laughter. He should have got the insurance!

Making our way through the villages, we had noticed several crowds gathered outside their homes and businesses. Owning a television set is not the norm in rural Ecuador.  The ‘football’ game was on and large masses of fans gathered around each occasional TV set. Ecuador was playing their biggest rival-Columbia. Beer bottles were clinging. People were cheering. At that moment, nothing in life was more important than watching this game.

Peering down the main, and only, strip of La Tola, we were faced with a mountain of a speed bump. On the sidewalk, right beside the bump, a 1980s television set sat on a round plastic table with at least 16 Ecuadorians glued to the tube.

Agent let out a defeated sigh and slowly approached.  On our first attempt to ascend The Mountain, Old Blue’s frame ground against the asphalt. “SCCRRREEEEEEEECH!!!” Old Blue came to an abrupt stop and was suspended on the apex of the Mt Everest of speed bumps. Agent made several attempts in forward and reverse, each time only grinding the frame deeper. Captain and I were laughing hysterically as Old Blue’s underneath was being ripped to shreds.  “SCCREECCCCHHH! SCCREEEECCCHHHH! SCCCREEEEECCCHH!” Despite our angle, Old Blue was not going to make it.

Every pair of eyes was drawn to us as the destruction of Old Blue’s frame echoed through the strip.  Agent screamed, “Everybody out!!!  This is destroying my car!”  Tears of hilarity welled in my eyes as I felt for the door handle and quickly got out of the car. Old Blue was relieved and given the clearance she needed to make it over the top. All eyes should have been on the final minutes of this huge game but us gringos were more entertaining…

Agent may not be good for much in regards to real estate, but he sure is good for a hearty laugh!!!

For $30, a fisherman will shuttle you an hour to La Tolita and wait for you as you explore the island.  We stood around for at least 30 minutes while Agent worked his bartering skills with the fisherman for a cheaper boat ride.   Agent, of course, found something to eat from a local vendor; “cheese fries are my favorite!” Captain and I chuckled watching Agent trying to make a deal for this ridiculous plan.   It was nearing sunset. Even if we arrived to island before sunset, we wouldn’t have any time to explore it!

Captain reminded him that is was already 6 o’clock.  Agent seriously replied, “No way?! I thought it was 4!”  Agent still had to drive to Quito 4 hours away.  This route, near the Columbian border, is considered dangerous at night because of a history of kidnappings.

Mission failed. We all hopped back in Old Blue; Captain and I had Agent drop us off in the nearest town.  The last thing we planned for was to be stranded at night without accommodations in the unfamiliar area.

We found ourselves in Las Penas, a town located in the region where all the guide books have warned us not to go-especially as night.  We have been through this area once and hadn’t felt our safety was in danger.  But as the evening set in, we were a little more on edge.  No longer was it wise to be on Agent Time.

Las Penas is on a stretch of sandy beach.  As we arrived in the town, our minds were eased.  The main road was lined with bamboo cabanas posing as restaurants, bars and ‘discoteques’. A map of the city showed us the various places with accommodations.  We made our way through the town to find our home for the night.  Every place along the main road was a party! Music from every business was blaring. Young couples were dirty dancing.  There was an occasional drunk woman being carried home by her man.  Had Ecuador beat the Columbians and everyone was celebrating? Maybe…I wondered if this place parties this hard every weekend!?!

Captain and I found a simple cabin on the far end away from party central.  For $20 dollars, there was a clean shower, a fan and even a television with a remote! Having gone without television for a month, turning on tube was the first thing Captain did.  There was only one channel which was disappointing.  He was even more disappointed when the program turned out to be a man in a cowboy hat slurring Spanish and dancing around like a drunken idiot.  It was like the Red-Green Show on PBS but in Spanish.  Captain was no longer impressed that the cabin included a television…

Exhausted from the day with Agent, Captain fell asleep right away.  Falling asleep was not easy for me.  The sound a buzzing mosquito around my head tormented me as I anticipated his bite the moment I let down my guard. Where were the mosquito nets!?!  My best defense was to wrap myself up in the sheet with only a slight opening for mouth to breathe through. My temperature began to rise but the fan overhead kept me cool.

This night, of course, happened to be one of the occasional nights in Ecuador where power is lost.  Is this due to poor infrastructure? Probably.  Could this be the only way to end the fiesta in town? Maybe.  What I knew is without the fan, I was overheating quickly.  And that damn mosquito was still thirsty…

I had just drifted off into a sweaty semi-comatose state, when all of a sudden we were awaken by blood-curdling screams. Captain jumps up of bed and yells, “The Columbians are coming! Save yourself! Hide under the bed!!  Haven’t you seen taken?”  In my sleepy haze, I was not amused.  Could this be a tragic possibility? With the exception to Agent, not a single soul knew our whereabouts.  We were in the “most dangerous” area of Ecuador, without water, food, or light.  The dollars we had in our pocket would surely not be enough to pay off any Columbian cartel member.

We embraced one another through the night and hoped in wouldn’t be our last night of freedom.  Waking in the morning in a bug-filled ‘sweat lodge’ with no running water was heaven compared to our imagined fate.

Originally we had planned to split the cost of the shuttle with Agent and be home the night before.  But after the unexpected expense of dinner and lodging, we were going to be on a seriously tight budget. In counting our money, we rationed a few dollars for bus fare which only left us with $8 to spare. No breakfast. No lunch. No water. No joke.

Considering we had been without a fan and water all night, Captain used his bargaining skills to get the room for $16.  “Four more dollars to spare!” he gloated.   Later on at the bus stop, we learned it is only $10 for the locals…

We had made it all the way here and survived to tell about it.  Captain and I were going to try once more to get to that damn island!  Off to La Tola we went.  Surely one person will want to make some extra cash.

With our greatest attempt to haggle with our fluent Spanglish, the only interested fisherman came down to $16 dollars but no less. They probably thought we had more money to spend and were being cheap-skates.  A single dollar spent over budget and we weren’t making it home!   We held out our $12 and with a big shrug, said, “This is all we got.  Take it or leave it.”  They left it.  We stood around waiting for a change of heart, but we had no takers. Later on we figured this was for the best.  They may have stranded us on the island for being so cheap!

Sometimes the Universe has a different plan…