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My Aching Back December 28, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador Personal Experiences, Ecuador Writing, My Aching Back.
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(This letter to family and friends was written on September 29, 2000.  Getting around in Ecuador can be an adventure at times and is certainly almost always an educating if not an edifying experience.  The same can be said of executing most any transaction.  What I describe in this “a day in the life” letter is not atypical of the strains of accomplishing every day tasks.  Living in the beach/fishing village of Playas, which is about 50 miles from Guayaquil complicates life no end (not that the benefits don’t greatly outweigh the difficulties); but there is no avoiding making the trip more often than I would like to, not only because that is where most of Carmen’s family live – keep in mind that Carmen has seven half sisters from her father’s first marriage and eight siblings from her father’s marriage with her mother – but also because there are so many things that are not available in Playas.  This is changing as Playas grows.  Just this, for example, week canola oil came to one of Playas’ two large markets (not genuine super markets, something like large mini-marts). Taxi service came to Playas about three years ago.  Before then (and today still) you flagged down a pick-up truck.  When we moved from Carmen’s tiny apartment rented from the Ampueros to our new home about ten blocks away, we carried all our belongings out onto the street and waved down a pick-up, which took about five trips to complete the move.

 

There are large deposits of oil in the ocean that Playas abuts, and if the government ever allows it to be exploited, Playas will probably become a boom town, with all the sin and corruption that comes with it.  A recent political development has and will have profound implications for Playas.  The federal government allowed the other major beach towns on the same peninsula as Playas to separate from the Province of Guayas and form a new province.  This leaves Playas as the only beach town near to the metropolis of Guayaquil, and it means that over night Playas goes from being the Province of Guayas’ step child to its spoiled child.  Amongst other construction, a new eight story condominium is going up along the beach.  This does not bode well for our peace of mind.  Already the weekend and holiday tourism has increased greatly, bringing with it more noise, garbage and congestion.  I imagine that our “property value” – our home is ideally located two blocks from the beach and three blocks from downtown – will go up.  Some consolation). 

 

Wednesday, IWD.  Didn’t start off too well.  At about 8:30 am Carmen and I are on a bus from Playas to Guayaquil (car needs repairs) when I remember that I had forgotten to turn off the pump that pumps water from the cistern to the tank on the roof.  Panic.  Once the cistern is empty and the pump keeps working, it will burn itself out.  We are already 20 minutes outside of Playas.  I stop the bus and get off, leaving Carmen to continue on her way.  I hitch a ride back to Playas, turn off the pump and get on another bus to head to Guayaquil.

 

We are scheduled to meet with Clara Medina, the culture editor of El Telégrafo (“the dean of Guayaquil’s dailies”) to deliver articles we have written for her full page IWD coverage (for Thursday’s edition).  Carmen, of course, gets there about an hour before I do.  No problem.  Once we take care of that business, I go off by myself to run some errands.  Carmen will go with Clara to the town of Vinces, a two hour schlep from Guayaquil, to participate as a poet in a forum for IWD, which is being organized by Clara’s brother, who apparently has political aspirations.  Carmen is invited because everyone knows that she is the only writer who would take the trouble to go to an out of the way event for no pay. Saint Carmen.

 

My first errand is to use my VISA card to get a cash advance.  I used to be able to do this in Playas, but the banks will now only provide this service at their head office in Guayaquil.  At the Bank of Guayaquil, after standing in line for the requisite half hour, the computer denies my request.  The teller can give me no explanation.  The woman in client services tells me the problem is not necessarily with my Royal Bank of Canada credit; it could be that the line between the bank and the VISA approval centre is out of service.  Naturally, there is no way to confirm this.  I don’t have my emergency VISA telephone numbers with me, so she gives me a Canadian number to phone (but not on the bank’s phones, thank you) but suggests I first try the other Guayaquil bank that has an agreement with VISA to see if their line will confirm for me.  This is inconvenient for a couple of reasons.  First, their will inevitably be another long line to wait in.  Second, I will then have to carry back a large amount of cash (we’re talking ten million sucres -about US$400) back to the Bank of Guayaquil to deposit in my account there (and another lineup).

 

But I have no choice.  At Filanbanco, where I have never tried such a transaction before, I am told to go to window four where I wait fifteen minutes to be told that I need to go to window six.  This is a slightly longer line, but their computer mercifully approves my withdrawal.  I stuff ten pounds of Ecuadorian currency in my back pack and head back to the Bank of Guayaquil, where the line has grown to hour-long-wait-proportions.  I hate to have leave to look for a branch with a hopefully smaller lineup because it means going around town with a large amount of cash, but I decide to take a taxi to a branch where there is usually a much smaller line.  I arrive there, it is now early afternoon, and the line is longer than usual but not bad.  I am number eleven and there are two windows operating.  Naturally, at one of the window a transaction is going on that lasts for the entire 45 minutes it takes the other window to service the ten people in front of me.  When I finally get to the window and complete my deposit, I head to the customer service desk, as much to get off my feet (there is a chair there) as to complain about the service.  I get patronizing smiles and head nodding but the silent balloon above her head is saying “aren’t these Gringos cute, they expect to not to have to wait in lines.”

 

In leaving the bank for my next errand I realize how bad a shape my back is in, and realize I have to make some priority decisions or else I will end up with a serious sciatic episode.  Which errands to complete?  I decide against going to Central Bank museum.  Carmita Lopez, the librarian there, is the partner of Jimmy Saltos, who is organizing a collective exhibition in May, and I was to drop off slides of two of my works that he has solicited.  This will have to wait, along with a visit to my pals in the museum’s print workshop and a stop to greet my “cousin,” Madelaine Hollaender at her nearby gallery. I decide I can only make it to a part of town where some photos have been waiting since early January to be picked up, where I can also pick up some paper for my printer and some Flor de Manabí coffee, the best available in Ecuador and Carmen’s favourite (I am not that much of a coffee drinker).

 

 This involves three bus rides, including a transfer at the main bus terminal where I will be returning later to catch a bus back to Playas (Carmen will return to Guayaquil from Vinces with Clara and will spend the night there).  While waiting for my bus that will take me to my errand part of town, a woman asks me for five thousand sucres.  My policy is usually to give out a thousand at a time, as there are so many requests.  I say to myself, “Hell, it’s IWD,” and give her the five thousand.  Then she tells me that with

another five thousand she will have all she needs to get home, and would I please.  I do, and am rewarded by the quick arrival of the Number “2” bus that will take me to where I need to go. 

 

The three errands take a bit of walking, and I decide not to stop in to visit Cecilia, which I would normally do while in that neighbourhood.  My back is in pretty bad shape, and I realize that I had better head back to the main terminal to catch my bus back to Playas.  Before I had left downtown, I had stopped at a pharmacy and picked up some Celebrex (the new miracle anti-inflammatory) and some Vitamin B complex, which I had taken with a quick lunch, but the combination of walking on top of all the standing in line, has taken its toll.

 

My luck is both good and bad at the terminal.  The good news is that, being late afternoon on a Wednesday, there is not that much travel to Playas and the bus is only half full, which gives me a pretty good seat choice and little likelihood during the trip to pick up enough more passengers so that I have people, knapsacks and chickens falling all over me.  The bad news is that the bus is probably older than I am.  Its seating is designed for midgets and its springs and shocks must have given out sometime during the Carter administration (late Trudeau, for you Canadians).  The run of the mill pot holes are bad enough, but the speed bumps, where the bus slows down just enough to avoid a full take off, are murder.

 

Just what my back needs.  Finally, about half way to Playas, going over a speed bump (there is one at the entrance and exit of every small town) sends me up into the air and down so hard that I destroy the back of my seat and have to change to another.  The bus ticket-taker gives me a dirty look, tries in vain to repair the seat, but says nothing.  In my new seat, I wait, bracing myself for the next bump.

 

Then, I remember a movie I saw ages ago.  I remember the line, word for word, but I could be all wrong about the movie.  I think it was The Maltese Falcon, and I think that Humphrey Bogart and Sidney Greenstreet (he of the 300 pounds plus) were riding in the back of an old jalopy on a bumpy dirt road somewhere in North Africa, when one complained to the other of the extreme discomfort, and the other said: “try posting.”  Having been a horse owner thirty some odd years ago in Knowlton, Quebec, and the father of children taking riding lessons, I happen to know what “posting” is. 

 

So I tried it over the next speed bump.

 

And you know what?  It works.

 

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