Siga No Más

Read Jane's other adventures

In the Shadow of Tungurahua, Galapagos, No Pasa Nada, Bolivia and Chile, and CuencaTravel Tips for the Ecuadorian Andes

In March, Jane took a driving trip through the Ecuadorian Andes with her father and stepmother.   They found that the everyday response when they asked for directions was to point in the way they should go and say, "Siga no más."   While this literally means continue no more,  in Ecuador, it is short for "Siga, alli no más", which means "It's not much farther", or "Go on it's just right up the road". Please, Siga no más.

Lake Quilotoa, high is the Andes.

Sunrise leaving Sigchos

A young woman sat opposite the large, dark grey, granite desk from her father.   Her hair was a mess, her suit was disheveled, and her eyes puffy from lack of sleep and the proximity of tears. 

At 5:30, her father's office was winding down.  The ringing from the last calls of the day filtered through the closed oak door.  The secretaries turned off their computers and hollered their goodbyes. Hearing the click of a lock and the last bang of the door, the daughter knew that everybody had gone.  Only she and her father were left sitting in the quiet of a day completed. 

The father sat uncomfortably in his chair, rubbing his worry beads, one right after the other.  They had been discussing her anxieties over her upcoming departure, and the daughter now watched her father search for things to say to her.  It was a conversation they had had frequently over the past year. Ever since she first began considering the possibility of living in another country, they had debated over the pros and cons of her options, the positive and negative points about giving up her job and foregoing a career path in the United States, the avenues for getting to another country, visas, job opportunities, and advantages and disadvantages of living in a developing country over a developed one. 

Her father had been her sounding board, her testing ground for every idea until she finally made the decision to just do it-- to sign up for a teaching position in South America.  Once her decision was made, their conversations turned to expectations and preparations for a year abroad.  And now, with only a couple of days before her departure, there seemed to be nothing left to be said between the two of them. 

They sat in silence, but the daughter knew her father's thoughts well.  He was worried.  He thought about the possibility of sickness, of her feeling isolated, of someone taking advantage of a solitary foreigner, and of all other imagined evils that could take place when someone is away from their loved ones.  While she had addressed all of these problems with her father in her list of anxieties, she actually didn't think twice about them. She was nervous and upset, but she couldn't exactly put her finger on what made her so. 

In all of their discussions, there were things that she hadn't mentioned.  She had talked about her dreams, her excitement, the tangible problems, and the expected pitfalls, but she never once brought up the true reasons for her decision.  She believed that all risks are taken from a point between desperation and desire.  Her fear was that she had made the decision more out of desperation from a loss of direction than from a desire to move.  In being honest with herself, she knew that she had no explicit reason to stay or go anywhere, no dream career to pursue, no boyfriend to follow, no family member to latch onto.  This was what she presumed that she feared most of all--that she was alone, and that she had made her decision from a lack of anything better to do. 

She looked at her father and watched him start to get up.  She, however, crossed her arms over her chest and looked down at her hands.  As a result, her father merely changed his position and settled back down in his chair. 

The daughter was the youngest of the family, and she knew that in some ways, the youngest was the hardest to raise.  She thought about a story her mother had told her about when she was a little girl and broke her arm.  Her father found her in the alley, walking towards the house.  The bone pushed against her skin.  Upon seeing the mangled arm, her father picked her up and started running.  It was a half of a block before her mother could catch up with them in the car. 

Inside the hospital, her father had conferred with the doctor, ''She has fragile bones, doesn't she?  We're really going to have to watch her in the future.''  The doctor only laughed at this possibility, ''She seems like a normal, strong girl to me.  She just took a bad spill, that's all.''  Her father, however, ignored the doctor, and for days after insisted that his daughter was so small...that she must have fragile bones. 

The daughter looked at her father's worried face, his nervousness, and his reluctance to sit still.  For a small instant, she smiled. 

''What?'' the father asked, perplexed by her smile. 

The daughter thought again about her upcoming journey.  She contemplated the fact that she would soon be boarding the plane and going to an unfamiliar place.  The reality that she would probably never again live in her hometown crossed her mind, and a feeling of bewilderment and loneliness came upon her. 

''I don't know what I'm doing,'' she finally said and threw up her hands. 

''Are you sure that you should be going?  I mean if you're nervous about even boarding an airplane,'' the father laughed, referring to her illogical fear of flying.  The daughter knew that he was trying to make light of the situation, but he knew as well as she did that her departure was inevitable. 

''It's not that,'' she frowned. 

''Then, what is it?  I can't know what's wrong with you unless you tell me,'' he sighed.  He was frustrated with her. 

The daughter ignored the furrow on her father's brow and looked straight at him, his aging face, his balding head.  She felt a lump rise in her throat, and tried clearing it before she began talking. 

''It's just that I'm really going to miss you,'' she admitted and finally began to cry. 

The father, on the contrary, didn't say anything, but for the first time since the conversation began, he put his worry beads down on his desk and was calm. 

And this is how, two days, forty-eight hours later, the young woman's journey began. 


The old red, silver and blue passenger bus hovers not even six inches above the dirt driveway.  Its four tires lie flat against the ground, the axels are bare and the hood is propped up.  A skinny man in grubby clothes stands on a stepladder with his head deep into the throat of the engine.  To the left, a modest cinder block house, more dirt than house, sits in front of the edge of the plot.  Behind the house is a drop off straight into a lush, cloud-forested canyon and river below. 

The entire family fills the gaps between bus and house, house and canyon.  The mother, grandmother, a small boy, an older girl, dogs, cats, donkeys, lamas, geese and chickens all watch the man bang on the engine with his wrench.  Everyone hopes for a miraculous recovery. 

I stand there too, hoping for the same. I have only just arrived from about a half mile around the bend from where my father, stepmother and I had gotten stuck in a landslide; mud as thick and inconsistent as pea soup. 

''Puede ayudarnos?'' I asked the man when I arrived the house, putting on my sweetest, gringita smile. 

''Claro.  Ya mismo.'' the man replied, which basically means of course in two seconds.  Afterwards, he turned his back to me and peered deep inside the engine. 

Fifteen minutes later, the man continues to work on the engine and I still stand in the same position--with strangers, expecting a miracle when I should be giving up hope.  After a while of banging, the man jumps off his stepstool, and begins working on the tires.  The children clamor around their father's body as he kneels next to the tire.  One, two, three, four...he fastens the tires back on just like that--in a snap. ''Cuidado,'' he yells to the children before lowering the bus back to the ground. 

''Vamos,'' he yells and the children all pile into the bus. 

''Bueno,'' I say and start to climb on as well, but then I hear the motor as he turns the ignition.  It whines and coughs like the sick old bastard it is.  It finally reaches a long standing wheeze and cuts off.  I look at the grandmother who has come to stand by me.  She is amused.  I know by her face what she's thinking--Another worried gringa when there is nothing to be worried about.  The answer is simple--either the bus will start or it won't.  Whatever happens-you're in no worse shape than you're already in. 

''Tranquilo,'' I can almost hear her say to me, but when she talks, she simply laughs.  ''So, you and your family got stuck,'' she says. 

I look down the road in the direction of the landslide, and think about my father.  He's too far away and I can't see the car, but I'm sure he's still stuck deep in the mud.  Before answering the old woman, I glance in the other direction at the sky and canyon behind the house.  The sun is fading.  The varied greens of the mountainside darken.  Clouds rise from the hollows of the canyon.  I know that night will come in less than an hour, and my dad's mind is probably racing.  It's been almost forty minutes since he watched his daughter run off into nowhere.  A blonde, foreign girl alone on a deserted country road and if a group of men were to find her..... 

I look back at the old woman who also watches the slow process of nightfall.  ''Si,'' I finally say in answer to her question.   In my bad Spanish, I explain ''La tierra se cayo sobre el camino,'' which more or less means that the earth fell over the road. 

The woman smiles knowingly and doesn't say another word.  Instead, she walks over to her son and talks with him. 

The next thing I know her son yells ''Atras'' and I realize that he wants me to push the bus.  So, with the small boy and girl, who are no taller than my waist, I angle my body against the back of the bus and push.  Somehow, the bus moves forward, the father pops the clutch and once again, the engine lets out a whine and then stops. 

''Enfrente, enfrente,'' the father yells.  The children and I comply, running to the front of the bus, so we can push it back into its original position.  ''Atras,'' the father yells again with his head hanging out the window. 

We resume our original position, hands against the back of the bus, pushing until the engine finally gasps for air and dies.  The father shakes his head and gets out of the car, opening the hood again. 

I begin to wonder how I got my dad and stepmother into this mess.  I guess that I could say it started with the rumor of the Black Sheep Inn, a completely organic joint with solar powered hot water, extensive gardens, good home-cooked meals and a composting toilet all set in some of the wildest and most spectacular scenery in Ecuador.  Then, of course, there was Laguna Quilotoa, described in guidebooks as an emerald green volcanic crater lake resting in a place where heaven meets earth.  It was all supposedly chocked full of amazing views and surrounded by indigenous culture. 

There had been travel warnings in the guidebooks about the lack of transportation and accommodations in the area, but I thought that the rental car would cover those inconveniences.  As for rough roads, my father is a cattleman and has spent his whole driving on rough roads.  Finally, who could plan for a landslide not even ten minutes from our final destination? 

The rest of the trip had been more or less easy and incredibly beautiful.  True, the road was extremely rough, changing from potholed pavement to cobblestone to barely cobblestoned to dirt.  To say it was bumpy would not even begin to describe it, but the scenery--Ah now, that was something else altogether. 

After the hour and a half drive from Quito to Lasso, we began our journey on the Latacunga loop at a beautiful 400-year-old hacienda named La Cienega.  At the entrance of the hacienda, we were welcomed by a promenade of tall trees canopying over a dirt road and finally terminating at a circular driveway.  A fountain stood in the center of the circular drive with the white adobe hacienda behind.  We ate lunch on a glassed-in porch and enjoyed the views of the well-landscaped gardens as we ate a delicious three-course meal.  After lunch, we took a walk through the gardens and admired the geraniums, the purple agapanthus and the variety of roses. 

Cotapoxi, the largest active volcano in the western hemisphere, acts as a backdrop to the hacienda, but due to clouds, we were not able to see it.  At two o'clock, we were sorry to leave, but we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to make the three-hour drive to Chuchilan and the Black Sheep Inn.   We had also wanted to spend a little time in Saquisili's Thursday market to break up the trip. 

The market didn't disappoint us.  Like most of the markets in Ecuador, it contained the brightly colored rugs and tapestries, the sweaters, the scarfs and a few cultural masks.  It also had an animal fair and produce market, but our time was limited and after my father bought a Panama Hat, we decided to make our way back to the car and begin the long stretch to Chuchilan. 

We drove through one patch worked mountainous field after another.  Along the road, the houses became fewer and farther between, but we were always welcomed and greeted by the indigenous people who tended their crops.  They were also our sources of direction, waving us ahead with smiles, beautiful in their bright colored tribal clothes.  They constantly told us "siga no más," which literally means, "continue no more", but in Ecuador, means "go ahead".  For two hours, we drove this way, continuing no more, with landmarks for direction and relying on the help of strangers.  Ultimately, we found ourselves switch backing into greener lands, worse roads and a deep cloud forested canyon.  The people had made use out of the rich soil of the canyon in the same manner that they farmed the gently rolling mountains.  Very few of the steep sides were without their crops; a patchwork that defied gravity and stretched straight up out of the canyon and towards the sky.  The green patchwork was only broken by the occasional waterfall, plummeting straight down to the river below.  It was incredible. 

In fact, the scenery and the friendliness of the people would have made up for everything---the long drive, the poor roads, and our aching backs.  ''If it just hadn't been for the landslide,'' I think to myself, but then again, I have learned not to be so vain as to think that I have the ability question the course of nature. 

Instead, I turn my attention to the man and the bus.  He hits his wrench against the battery and calls his wife to bring him a capful of fuel.  ''Maybe this will do the trick,'' I think, as he pours the fuel into the engine. 

''Oltra Vez,'' he yells, and I return to the back of the bus.  This time the whole family has joined me, including the grandmother, who anchors her body against the bus.  Despite our efforts, the bus again dies.  We, however, continue rocking the bus back and forth, back and forth with the engine quitting each time. 

I watch the clouds turn to darker greys and pinks and am sure that my father must be beside himself with worry.  I think about his desire for me to write up the trip in the same way that someone would write a travel book and have a laugh about adding a section on pushing a bus in the back roads of Ecuador.   Then again, I feel that writing a pure travelogue would leave so much out of my experience here.  Scenery is scenery, and a story of only present events would be like a person with amnesia, wandering around without a home, having no past to put his life into context. 

I think again about my current predicament with the bus, my father's vacation here and my own life in Ecuador.  I realize that my journey probably began long before the rumor of the Black Sheep Inn and even before my initial decision to join World Teach.  I could say that it began with an internal urge to travel that I have had for most of my life or from daydreams of being part of something entirely new.  Both of these reasons are true and not true in the same way that it can be true to say that a decision is dictated by fate, while also admitting that a decision is controlled by consequence. 

I think about my life three years ago and how I lived on a road divided.  One side was new and smooth and the other worn and fragmented.   I oscillated between the two, always having one foot in Texas and the other in New York.  In Texas, I had my home, my family, and a romance that I could never quite really end.  In New York, I had my selfish pursuits--my studies, my writing, my friends, and my overall removal from real time, real events.  I knew that each of these roads had their time constraints.  One by graduation and the other by the fact that my family had split and separated--my mother living in Washington D.C., my sister in Tennessee and only my father remaining in Texas.  As for the boyfriend, I knew that I had no business continuing on with him especially when I had no interest in marriage. 

I, however, chose to remain blind to all, neither committing to nor breaking from either road.  When forced to choose, I searched for signs, anything to tell me where I should go.  Because of my inability to see the obvious, I chose the familiar.  I didn't go with my college friends to an unknown life, an unknown city.  I moved back home, ignoring the fact that that road had already splintered, and that it was time for me to move on as well.

I look back up at the man, who still tinkers with the ignition, believing that the bus will have a change of heart and come back to life.  I think that it is just about time to throw in the towel and give up.  I decide to give the bus one last chance before returning to my father and landslide, when suddenly, I hear the honk of a horn, and I see my father and stepmother in the muddy, white Vitara.

My dad gets out of the car, smiling and shaking his head about the fact that I am having to help our helpers.  I introduce him and my stepmother to my newfound friends and my father suggests that we use the Vitara to jumpstart the bus.  Consequently, I once again move behind the bus and push with the family so that my dad can tie a rope onto the grill of the bus.  And strangely enough, my dad's plan works--the bus actually starts.  The whole family, mother, grandmother, children, dogs and chickens pile onto the bus to check out the landslide.  Five minutes later, we all arrive.  The dark grey mud grasps the road like a buzzard's claw.  The man and his wife, equipped with mudboots walk across the landslide.  We do the same, searching for hard spots from which we could possibly gain some traction.  We discuss the possibility of the bus pulling us.  

First we tried to push the bus and we finally pulled it out onto the road to pop the clutch going down hill.  This Vitara could pull.

''I can do it, if we just don't high center.  That's the only problem if we high center,'' my father says.  ''If it were three, I would definitely do it, but now with the sun going down...I just don't like not having a back up plan,'' my father says.

I talk with the family, asking them if they think it is possible to cross the soupy mud.  The man pokes at the unstable ground with his walking stick and slides a bit in the mud.  ''No se,'' he says, shaking his head, but I know that the 'I don't know' probably means no.

''What do you think?'' my dad asks me.  ''I mean, I could try it.  I've been in worse deals than this before, and we're only ten minutes away from The Black Sheep Inn.  I just wish we had an alternative plan if this doesn't work.''

I look at my father, the family, my stepmother and the landslide.  I take a deep breath and smell the earthiness of the vegetation above and the thick mud head of us.  I search the sky for the fading sun, which has long ago fallen behind the mountains leaving only a trickle of sunlight.  I think again about my life, the choices I have made and not made.  I debate with myself over our options.  If we can only make it across the one rough spot, I know that we will be home-free with a place to stay, a warm bed, a nice shower, and a good dinner.  We won't have to worry about looking for a place to sleep or finding a meal.  However, I know that if we get stuck, then we could be stuck for a long time with no place to go and nothing to do but wait beside our car until morning.

I decide to take one last walk across the landslide.  With each step, I sink into and stick to the mud.  I listen to the sucking sound the mud makes against my shoes as I walk.  After about twenty yards of walking, I look back at my father and stepmother and I know that I've made my decision.

 ''No, I think we'd better turn back.  This mud isn't looking too stable,'' I say and walk back towards my father and step-mother, the family and their bus.  As I walk on top of the disintegrated road back to the dry dirt, I begin to think about our options and how to deal with our present circumstances of having no place to sleep and no food to be eaten.


Last night, I had one hell of a time. We went out dancing until 6 o'clock in the morning. I met a great Ecuadorian, who professed his love for me the entire night through. I have never connected with a person as well as I did with him. I'm madly in love and we are planning to elope before I go back to the United States in June. I guess Cusin (ed: when Jane was at Cusin with her dad, she decided this was where she would marry) will come in handy after all. I hope that all is well with you and that you remember what day it is!  Happy April Fool's!


Today, I waited outside an Ecuadorian chain restaurant called Texas Chicken to meet my British Council friends.  In Ecuadorian fashion, they were a little late, and luckily I had brought a book to read as I sat on the step of the restaurant.  So, there I lounged, with Jack Keroack's On The Road in hand, minding my business and getting caught up in the tales of adventurous spirits panhandling and hitchhiking their way across the great Western Frontier.   

With my extranjera status, I automatically caught the attention of a shoeshine boy, who followed protocol and approached me to ask for spare change.  ''Por Favor, seņora, hagame un favorcito.  Tengo que comer,'' he said, repeatedly putting his hand to his mouth to demonstrate his hunger.  And what did I do, this young foreigner, reading about the need to rely on other people to continue on the journey?  I ignored him.  This was no middleclass youth looking for kicks, living a life on the road--this was a real little boy needing food to eat.  Moreover, there are hundreds of children just like him faring their way on the streets.   

It's a difficult question to answer about what to do for these kids who approach me day after day, and it's a question that never puts my conscience at ease.  If you give one money, there are a hundred more just like him that need it.  What's worse is that many of them never actually see the money, but have to give all of their wages to their parents at the end of the day.   

When I first got to Ecuador, I told them not to bother me for fear that I would be pickpocketed.  I can't count how many times I have found a small child's hand in my pockets, searching for money to steal, things to sell.  Now, I have followed suit, and have started ignoring their small bodies and dirty faces, feeling guiltier and guiltier each time I do it.  After all, this isn't the United States where programs take care of children and where jobs can be found for those who need it.  Many of these children have no other choice but to look out for themselves.   

If I have food on me, I usually give it to the kids, but then there are always cries for more food, more money, more charity.  As I said before, I am at a loss of how to handle the situation.   

Here in Ecuador, when there is tragedy, it always seems to be followed by more tragedy.  If a child is living on the street, he is not only homeless, but also has some horrible disease.  And as holds true for all people, no one is exempt from these tragedies.  The other day I came home from lunch and my host mother told me that she was with a lot of pain.  What happened? I asked her, and that is when she began her story about her friends with tears sliding down her cheeks. 

Every year, her good friend brings truckloads of fish up to the Sierra from the Galapagos to supply families with a special Semana Santa meal.  This year, her friend picked up the fish in Guayaquil, and made it as far as Riobamba, before a couple of men with guns held up the truck and stole over 600,000 fish.  Now the man doesn't have any fish to give to the families in Ambato, and no money to pay them back for the money they had previously given him.  This is a bad enough stroke of luck on its own, but the story goes on from there.

It seems that this family has a son, who was in a car accident around Christmas last year.  He bumped his head on the roof of the car, and now at thirteen years old, the boy is having trouble walking, talking and doing all normal human functions.  The family is already in debt from the medical bills, and the boy doesn't seem to be getting much better.  The family wanted to send the boy to the United States to get medical care, but visas are virtually impossible to get here and even passports are hard enough to acquire.  Now, with 600,000 fish missing and no money, it is not likely that the boy will ever be able to go.   

I listened to my host mother's story, and told her how sorry I was for this family and that I wished that I could do something.  In reality, there is nothing that I can do, nothing that my family can do and nothing that the family who got robbed can do.  It's life and everyone just takes what it gives, picks up, and somehow, someway everyone all carries on down the road.


Well, we went to Atacames on the coast last weekend and had a marvelous time.  I have been there before, but I really didn't get the chance to appreciate the beach since we were staying with my friend's boyfriend and most of what I saw of Atacames was at nighttime.  Even then, I didn't get to enjoy the water, because the guys wanted to get drunk until 5 in the morning and we never had a chance to sleep.  Furthermore, our cabaņa in the next town over had an over eager rooster beneath it who couldn't tell time. 

This time, we took a flight from Quito to Esmeraldes on Thursday and arrived at dusk.  We enjoyed the green, hilly countryside on our thirty minute taxi ride from Esmeraldes to Atacames.  I love tropical vegetation and tropical climate--there's nothing like it--especially when you get views of the ocean over the hills.  Once in Atacames, we were smart and got our own cabana right on the strip.  The place was packed for Semana Santa, and I saw probably forty Ambateņos there.   

Along the beach are bamboo, cabaņa bars booming different types of music all right next to each other.  If you don't like the salsa at one bar, you can walk thirty feet and enjoy the reggae at the other bar, walk another thirty feet and you can hear techno.  If you like a song, you don't have to worry about requesting it, because they'll play it again in a couple of hours. 

The drinks are great--all fresh fruit and daiquiris of every flavor to suit your pleasure (banana, strawberry, melon, etc.)  You just can't beat it.  I, of course, took a night swim the first night there since I love to swim so much.  The next day, we went to the beach right across from our hotel.  The sand is very fine and gray, which creates a green hue to the water--hence the name Esmeraldes. 

On Friday, we went to the beach right across from our hotel, which wasn't too crowded since our hotel was at the end of the beach.  Further down towards the middle of the strip, it was packed, which offered some great forays for people watching.  There were speedos and bikinis galore-- outfits that put Baywatch to shame.  The next day, we skipped the crowds and decided to head over to Same to a private club called Casa Blanca.  We snuck in without paying and enjoyed less people and less crowded beaches.

At night, we headed back to Atacames, rode a cyclo which they call eco-taxies--enjoyed watching the people on the strip, guys in muscle shirts, teenagers dressed up for the night--It was great.  However, in the cyclo, we felt like we were gringas on display.  One guy even reached in and petted my friend, Dayna's hair.  After that, we hit the cabaņa bars once again for more tropical flavors.  We then went to the discos where I once again tried my hand at salsa, though very clumsily.  I luckily had a good leader and teacher--the brother of a guy Dayna is dating from the Galapagos.  Overall, it was a fun and very amusing weekend.  Oh, and the seafood was also especially delicious.

My other friend, Julie, and I were sorry to leave on Sunday.  We couldn't get a bus back from Atacames, because they were all full, so we went to Esmeraldes hoping we would have better luck.  In Esmeraldes, the direct buses to Ambato had already all left.  So, we tried to get on a bus to Quito, so we could get off halfway to Santo Domingo and then switch buses there.  Unfortunately, all the nice buses to Quito were also booked.  So, carrying our large backpacks and sweating profusely, we went to another bus company.  There, I had my first experience with a chicken bus.  Julie and I were lucky enough to get the last seats on the bus, which was jammed-packed with people.  Everyone dripped with sweat and the guy behind us had a nosebleed.  The man in the isle next to us had the chicken cradled in his arms.  People passed around cold beer to cool off.  I stuck to water, believing that I was already dehydrated enough.  My hair was plastered to my forehead.  Once, the bus squeezed in ten more people, it cranked up the salsa and we were on our way.  What can I say--The whole weekend was another great Ecuadorian experience. 

The good news is that I have another three day weekend this weekend and I will be making my way back to the coast, this time further south to some private beaches.  I love my life.  


Last night, my host parents called the house and told us that Tungurahua was having some major explosions.  The whole family and I piled into the car and drove to a high point on the outskirts of Ambato.  From there, we watched the lava shoot straight up into the air and then slide down all sides of the volcano.  When there was an explosion, the circle of the crater would glow a deep red in the black night sky.  It also shot sparks of fire, which were probably huge incandescent rocks.  It was incredible, and today, I heard that the volcano started exploding at eight o'clock and didn't stop until almost one in the morning.


With only two months left in Ecuador, I feel like time is slipping away.  To take advantage of the little time we have left here, my friends and I have been traveling almost every weekend.  Last Saturday, we met some of our WorldTeach friends in Patate, and stayed at the Vino del Rio resort right smack in the valley below Tungurahua.  We were all hoping to see some eruptions during the night, but it was cloudy and even though the volcano was right in front of our faces, we couldn't see a thing.  During the night the clouds didn't let up, and we tried in vain to see something, sitting under a tent in plastic chairs, facing the volcano. After about thirty minutes, we decided to turn our backs to the volcano, arrange ourselves in a circle and opt for good conversation to make up for our failed attempt to see Tungurahua.

As often happens, when a group of people, not all well acquainted, sit around outside in the chill of the night, the conversation turned to ghost stories.  Most of the stories were the normal run of the mill ghost encounters--mysterious sightings, strange sounds, misplaced and rearranged objects and untimely deaths.  However, there were certain images that were strong and while I won't recount the ghost stories, I would like to write down the images that stuck with me.  One of my friend's mothers was living in Canada. She was a writer and was at her desk working, when she heard a strange noise coming from the hall.  She left her desk to see what the noise was and when she returned, she found that an enormous rock had been placed in her chair.

My friend's boyfriend from the Galapagos told two stories.  One was about a pirate haunting at a military base.  He said that one night a soldier was supposed to go talk to the night watchman.  When he got to the watchman's post, the watchman was not there, but the soldier saw a line drawn in the dry, volcanic dirt.  He followed the line for quite a distance until he reached the point of a man's bayonet.  The watchman was lying next to his gun, alive and unconscious and foaming from his mouth.  The story involved the ghost of a pirate and a cemetery, but the scariest image was the soldier following the line drawn in the dirt.

The Galapagos guy also told us another story about Isabela Island.  He said that a penal colony used to be located in the highlands of Isabela near a volcanic crater. Because the prisoners were abused, isolated and worked to death, there were several ghost stories surrounding the area. The ghost stories didn't spook me, but he said that even though they closed down the penal colony in 1930 or 1940, you can still see the places where the prisoners had been chained to the rocks.  It just seems strange that sixty years later, you can still see the traces of so many people's suffering.  Furthermore, these prisoners viewed this life as hell; and now people pay a lot of money to visit the Galapagos for tourism.

All in all, it was a fun night even if we didn't catch a glimpse of Tungurahua. In the morning, however, I felt the presence of the volcano. At eight o'clock, I woke up because the windows were rattling.  Then, I realized that my bed was shaking.  Before the word tremor or earthquake could even register in my brain, I jumped out of bed and ran underneath the doorframe.  I asked my friends if they felt the tremor, and they said they had.  I have never felt an earthquake or a tremor before, but I knew exactly what it was when I felt it.  Supposedly, they have a lot of volcanic tremors in Patate and ours was not an uncommon occurrence.

Aside from that, we had more excitement when we went swimming in the afternoon.  The hacienda boasts a large waterslide and we all decided to test it out.  The guys told us that it was great, so we all went down.  The guys followed us, deciding to go down on their stomachs instead of sitting up.  The pool was shallow and one of our friends hit his head on the bottom of the swimming pool. He came up stumbling with blood running down from his head.  We applied pressure with towels and called a doctor.  When the doctor came, he had to transform one of our cabaņas into a makeshift clinic.  The doctor gave our friend eight stitches.  He had cut two arteries so there was quite a lot of blood.

The hotel was very nice and the owner paid for the doctor and drove us back to Ambato after our friend was stitched up. It was pretty scary, but I'm glad that our friend is okay. 


Big news on Tungurahua!  It's been having major explosions, and has even started making the news, again.  They recently had to close the road to Baņos because of the danger of the volcano and the fact that the magnitude of the explosions have produced landslides which obstruct the highway.  One landslide even destroyed the emergency bridge the government had built to evacuate people from Baņos if and when the volcano does have its major eruption. Furthermore, foreign and Ecuadorian tourists have been flocking to Baņos in the hoardes, because they have become accustomed to the erupting volcano and are no longer afraid.  As a result, people don't have a way to leave Baņos until the workers clear the landslide.

I also heard from my students that the volcano is emitting a lot of noise and that the tremors are increasing in force and frequency.  I am sure that the people in Baņos are especially nervous since their options for leaving are limited at the moment.  The government called in a foreign volcanologist and discussed the possibility of changing the alert to red.  The volcanologist confirmed the fact that the volcano is getting closer to an eruption, but said that it could either happen tomorrow or take a lot longer.  At any rate, they're keeping the volcano on orange alert. As with all natural disasters--they may give warning, but they are fundamentally unpredictable.


I've been busy, busy, busy and the days just seem to fly by.  Today, I spent the whole morning making an exam for my class.  Teaching takes a lot more time than you would think, but I love my classes.  

Yesterday, I spent Mother's day with my host family.  We had a picnic out in the country and the food was delicious.  I had a nice time with the family, but for some reason, I was having trouble speaking Spanish this weekend.  That happens sometimes. 

 Saturday night, I went to a high school formal, because my friend's students are high school teachers.  It was fun being at a high school dance--Actually, I had more fun at that dance than I had at my own high school dances.  A fifteen-year-old boy came up to me and asked me to dance.  He was so cute.  He was wearing a suit jacket that probably had belonged to his older brother.  The sleeves fell past his hands and the shoulders were way too big.  It added to the cuteness factor.  He asked me if I taught at the Catolica and said that he was taking first level English there.  He even threw in a couple of English words that he knew and told me thank you in English when I accepted his invitation to dance.  I also think that he was pretty proud of himself for asking a 24-year-old gringa to dance, because he kept on looking over at his friends and smiling.  It was really sweet.  The rest of the night, I danced with the other teachers, but the little teenager was by far my best dance partner. 

Oh, I also saw a couple of my students at the dance.  Today, I asked my 15-year-old student if he had a good time, and he said more or less.  I asked him why and he pointed to his lip, which was a little swollen.  ''What happened? Did you get into a fight?'' I asked him.  ''No,'' he replied.  ''Then what gave you the fat lip?'' I asked.  ''A girl kissed me and bit my lip,'' he replied and I had a good laugh.


There had been rumors of strikes for weeks in late April--transportation strikes, teacher strikes, dollarization strikes, indigenous strikes, student strikes, and on and on.  Here in Ecuador, there are several different words for strikes that I hear used interchangeably--paros, huelgas, manefestaciones.  I still haven't figured out the difference between them.   

At any rate, the demonstrations were supposed to start on the national holiday for workers, May 1st.  However, my friends and I also had a three day weekend, so we decided to take our chances and travel down to the coast with the knowledge that we might have some difficulties making it back to our jobs on Tuesday.  We also figured that no Ecuadorian would want to spoil his day off with strikes and, if we did get stuck, then there could be worse things than to be stranded on a beach for a few extra days.  In fact, we also decided to take an extra day off work to enjoy our vacation. 

Consequently, we left at 5:45 in the morning on Friday on a bus to Guayaquil.  Now, the journey from Ambato to Montaņita and Puerto Lopez is not an easy one nor is it a short one.  Because there are no direct roads from Ambato to Montaņita, we had to first go south, 6 hours, to Guayaquil before heading up north, 3 and a half hours, on the coast to our destinations.  As always, the scenery made up for the inconvenience and the long journey.  I think the drive from the sierra to the coast is my favorite.  We switchbacked down thousands of feet in altitude from the paramo of the higher sierra to the green cloud forests and then to the final stretch of flat coastal land with banana field after banana field.  In Guayaquil, we withstood the hot mugginess of the polluted city for a half an hour while we waited for our bus to leave.  The bus led us along the southern coast through arid land, cactus and long stretches of deserted beaches interrupted by the occasional fishing village.   

After the three and a half hour bus ride, we made it, hot and sticky from sweat, to the small surfer village of Montaņita.  What Atacames and the Northern Coast is--Montaņita is not.  We did not see the green, semi-tropical, rolling hills of the Northern Coast, nor were there booming cabaņas crowding the shoulder of the beach, nor the hoards of Ecuadorian tourists donning speedos and bikinis and strolling the strip.  Instead, Montaņita is an old fishing village that has been converted to a mecca for surfers and extranjeros to chill.  Surrounding the town are rolling, arid hills, which culminate at a grayish white sand beach, blue water and nice waves.  At the end of the beach, cliffs complete a tranquil view and provide good conditions for surfers.  It was simply beautiful, and absent of crowds of people.   

The town, itself, is fairly quiet, but offers a lot of restaurants and bars for the foreign palate--vegetarian food, pizza, seafood prepared in a variety of ways, crepes, etc.  All of the restaurants serve the typical tropical drinks, batidos and jugos.  As for places to stay, there are also plenty.  We stayed in Casa Blanca, which provided us with a large white-washed adobe room, three double beds, mosquito nets, private bathroom, our own private balcony with hammocks.  It was nice, but my favorite part about Montaņita was not the chill atmosphere, nor the cuisine, nor even the beach (even though the beach is my favorite place in the world).  Instead, we enjoyed looking at the surfers, who probably have some of the nicest bodies I have ever seen.  It was impressive.  Seriously, however, Montaņita would be a good place to relax for a while or learn to surf if you had the time.   

We, on the other hand, were tired from our long journey and didn't have the time to soak up the chill atmosphere for long.  We returned to our room early that night only to find that cockroaches also enjoyed our nice accommodations.  There must have been twenty or thirty of them crawling throughout our room.  We decided that the mosquito nets were probably more for keeping out the roaches than for keeping out the mosquitoes (I didn't get one bite in Montaņita).  I have since heard that other places don't have the roach problem that Casa Blanca has and that Casa Blanca has recently sprayed for roaches, but they weren't much fun to deal with.   

Anyway, we decided to leave early the next morning so that we could fully enjoy Alandaluz and the national park a few minutes outside of Puerto Lopez.  We had a great breakfast, took a stroll down the beach, and watched the surfers catch waves before we got our stuff together and took our next bus ride.  The bus winded around hills and headed further north through greener and more tropical lands, offering frequent vistas to the blue ocean and deserted beaches below.  We had told the bus driver to tell us when we got to Alandaluz, and he did, stopping the bus and shouting the name of the eco-lodge.  We got off the bus, surprised because we had heard that Alandaluz was a virtual paradise.  We not only did not see a virtual paradise, but we did not see anything--just a dusty road in the middle of almost nowhere.  We asked the bus attendant if we were at the right place and he assured us that we were, pointing at a sign across the road.   

We followed the bus attendants directions across the barren highway and walked to the sign, below which was a dirt road that descended down into a virtual paradise.  It was beautiful, the entire structure made of bamboo and open and breezy.  Surrounding the main lodge and bar and dining area were gardens and trees.  The people were incredibly friendly and even carried my backpack against my protests to our cabaņa.  The bamboo cabaņa had two rooms for three people, a hammock and was just beautiful.  We had a nice bathroom with an eco-toilet (I had requested the eco-toilet even though conventional bathrooms were available).  It was heaven.  We even had a pet deer that lived behind our cabaņa.       

As a side note, an eco-toilet works by putting leaves into the toilet after you go to the bathroom.  The matter is later used as compost for the garden and saves water in an area that frequently suffers water shortages.   

Because we loved Alandaluz so much, we decided to stay there for the day, having lunch and then later going to the dark gray sand beach.  While the beach was beautiful, the current was strong so we weren't able to swim for fear of the undertow.  The next day, we decided to go to the park, hiking through dry vegetation, reading about the different plants and cooling off with a swim at the different empty beaches in the park.  It was hot and a long walk, but well worth it.  We finally ended up at the main and most famous beach, Playa de los Frailles, where we decided to stay for the afternoon.  It, unlike the other beaches, had some people due to the fact that they could drive there in their cars.   

I enjoyed swimming and playing in the waves the entire afternoon, but none of us were looking forward to the 6 km. walk back to the main highway.  Fortunately, as I was swimming, some guys took a fancy to talking to us.  Somehow, I worked it in the conversation how we really didn't feel like making the hike back to the highway.  The guys, taking my cue, offered to take us back to the highway.  So, we caught a ride with the guys and two of them had to ride in the very back with the surfboards while the three of us, girls, all got seats.  We offered to buy them a beer for their troubles if they would take us all the way back to Alandaluz, so we stopped in a small town called Las Tunas, had a beer on the beach and watched pigs run through the surf, rooting in the sand for crabs as the sun was setting.  The guys then took us to our lodge, and we thanked them and bid them farewell.   

That night, we lamented the fact that we were going to have to leave Alandaluz, our nice cabaņa, surrounded by flowers and tropical vegetation, but we also knew that we had to leave fairly early in case of strikes.  We had our last dinner, a mixture of shellfish stewed in coconut milk, and went to bed early, falling asleep to the sound of the nearby waves and the chirping of frogs.

The next morning, our fears were confirmed--there were a few transportation strikes and there were no buses running from Alandaluz to Guayaquil.  As a result, the owner of the lodge offered to take us to Jipihapa to catch a bus for a small fee.  The owner was very nice and I cannot recommend Alandaluz enough.  It has gotten prizes for being one of the best eco-lodges in the world and it well deserves it.  I am planning on returning there in July to catch the whales in mating season.  

At any rate, once in Jipihapa, we had no trouble getting buses to Guayaquil and in Guayaquil, the buses ran right on schedule to Ambato.  While we did have a flat tire in the bus, we weren't delayed at all by strikes until we were just about 30 minutes away from Ambato.  There, some people had set an old car on fire and were burning tires.  They had the road blocked and we had to pay to get through.  It was a little scary driving on a road with fire around, but it was a short patch of fire and it didn't do us any harm.   

As for the other strikes, they didn't come until two weeks later with the teachers' protests, which close down the high schools.  The transportation strikes probably won't begin until the first week of July, but talking about all that would begin a whole other story.  


This weekend the government has outlawed all alcohol for the elections (don't ask me what alcohol has to do with voting, but we're not in the world of logic, here).  At any rate, my friends and I decided to celebrate our last night for inebriation at our favorite Cuban bar.  We started out hanging out with Christina's student and his friend.  Her student is super cool, his friend is super lame.  He went through the archetypes of women for me last night and I know it is a cultural perspective, but it still disturbs me.  At any rate, at the bottom of the ladder are the locas, who the guys don't respect but like to go out with.  In the middle is some girl that they just kind of like and would date but they wouldn't want to go out dancing or to bars with her.  At the top is la novia, the girl whom the guy wants to give his heart, whom he wants to marry, whom he considers to untouchable, whom he respects, etc.  At any rate, the guy explained to me that he leaves Ms. la novia at home, so that he can go out with la loca.  Las novias can't go out because their parents don't let them and if they did go out drinking and dancing all the time, then they would lose all respect.  As for La loca, the guy basically just views her as a whore.  I bet you can guess where the extranjeras (we, who can stay out until three in the morning) stand.  At any rate, the conversation really annoyed me, but not everyone thinks that way here.   

Later in the evening, Christina's students left and we met some guys who asked us to drink with them, and they ended up paying for all of our drinks, etc.  So, we talked to them for a long time and salsa danced with them.  I think I'm getting a little better, but I still can't dance.  At any rate, the time went by quickly, and the next thing I knew, it was three in the morning.  So, I told everyone that I really had to get home, because I was tired and had to work today.  My friends, however, weren't as eager as I was to get home and the guys and the bartender, whom I am friends with, wanted to buy us one more beer to split.  Fine, I said, I'll stay for a little bit longer, and then I have to get home.  The guys had been drinking tequilla (not me because I didn't want to feel sick in the morning), and they had probably had about 3 bottles of the stuff.  Finally, at 3:30, we left the bar, and there were absolutely no taxis to be found.  One of the guys promised that he would take us straight to our houses, so we agreed to go with them.  It's not quite as sketchy as it sounds--I kind of knew the guys because they are really good friends with one of the professors at my University.   

However, the guys did not take us to our house, but took us to this look out place that is popular for drinking.  They proceeded to split another bottle of tequilla, and by this time it was 4:30 in the morning.  I really wanted to get home, so my friends and I started to walk to find a taxi.  The guys said, ''No, no, no....We'll take you home.''  We had no other option, but to go with them because there are absolutely no cabs at 4:30 in the morning on a Thursday night.  At any rate, we knew it would be really stupid to get in a car with someone so inebriated, so Julie convinced him that she missed driving so badly that she just had to drive the car.  Julie drove us to Sam's house, and from there, Julie and I were able to find a cab.   

It was crazy and I'm tired today.  My body can't take sleep deprivation very well any more.   


I'm on the ship of nausea waiting for each swell to calm so I can have time to prepare myself for the next one to rise.    The amoeba and bacteria seem to be having a showdown in a little town called my stomach.  As a result, my face is a greenish-gray pallid that would make a heroine addict jealous.  Not only that, but I think that I've lost about ten pounds.  The bones on my shoulders are sticking out.  I look gross.  Even the Latin men, who never fail to make some comment as I walk past, are keeping their mouths shut.  At any rate, I figure I must look pretty bad. 

As for the medicine, the doc tells me that I should be feeling a-okay in forty-eight hours from yesterday.  I can't wait.  I'm taking an antibiotic in the morning and one at night, each twelve hours apart, to combat the bacterial infection.  I'm eating yogurt to prevent a yeast infection, which sometimes results from taking antibiotics. At night, I take two pills to get rid of the amoeba, which have the side effects of giving me a metallic taste in my mouth and a slight headache.  Life is just roses.  That's about all.  I cancelled my classes today.  I should be heading back to Ambato tomorrow. 


This week, I was still having some symptoms of illness so I made an appointment with the doctor in Quito.  Yesterday morning, I left Ambato at 6:30 to make my appointment.  Unfortunately, when I was about 40 minutes into my bus ride, we hit some major strikes.  My bus decided to turn back: so, I got off the bus and started walking towards a major traffic jam and burning tires plumed with smoke.  I walked for about 30 minutes with several offers from truckers to help me.  They were stopped on the side of the road; so, I said, ''No thanks, I can walk faster than you can drive me.''  Finally, a moving camioneta picked me up and drove up to the traffic jam.  Once we hit the traffic jam and were stopped behind trucks, cars and buses, the driver bade me good luck and I went on my way by foot.

From there, I joined forces with some indigenous people who were also walking. We climbed over a barbed wire fence and walked on a path that ran parallel to the road.  Once, we passed the protesters and the military opposition, I got on a bus to Quito.  I sat down in the back of the bus, and we were on our way.  Then, we hit some more protesters, who decided to throw rocks at the bus.  The guy next to me ducked down to the floor; so, I followed his lead.  Unfortunately, a woman in the center of the bus wasn't as lucky as we were.  One of the rocks broke the window, and some glass cut her head.   She rode the rest of the trip with a plastic bag pressed against her head.

I began talking to the guy next to me and found he was really nice.  He studies art in Quito and did some murals at an eco-lodge called Alandaluz.  He is actually really talented.  He showed me his paintings to pass the time and I was impressed.  For the rest of the ride, we didn't hit any more protests.  We actually had a normal conversation.  We talked about art, history, politics and Ecuador.  It was a good conversation and not once did he ask me if I had a boyfriend, how old I was, if I was married, or if I had a telephone.  When I got off the bus in Quito, he shook my hand and told me that it was a pleasure to talk to me and that he had found the conversation, stimulating.  I said the same.

At any rate, it was a very eventful day.  The cut on the woman's head was fortunately shallow.  I watched her get in a cab to go to a doctor.  As for myself, I'm fine.  My problems were a side effect to the medicine I was taking.  I feel fine now, but I don't think that I'll be traveling when there are any strikes going on again.  Better safe than sorry. 

Elegant Jane at her sister's June weddng. Jane, Jane's mother Lucy, niece Sarah Pangburn, brother-in-law Kam Manahan, sister Emily, father Jay, step-grandmother Pat and grandfather John.

6/29 Jane has returned from her sister's wedding in the states.

I went to go take a shower today.  First, I had to yell downstairs to tell them to quit using the water so I could have water upstairs.  Then, when the message finally got through the chain of family, each family member unnecessarily yelling at the other, I turned the hot water knob.  Unfortunately, the water pressure was very weak so there wasn't enough water to take a shower--only to brush my teeth and wash my face.  I had to skip the shower.   

This was a common occurrence before I left.  I just got used to my showers in the U.S. while I was home.  I've decided that we've been spoiled by convenience in the United States.  Not only do we always have water for our showers, we also can control the water temperature and there is water pressure.  If we do not have water, we call the plumber or the water company.  If they can't fix the problem, then we get angry.  Here, I don't get upset, I shrug my shoulders and slap some water through my hair and go about my day.  I have had to do this for two weeks before.   

In fact, we have everything at our fingers in the United States--overnight delivery, dishwashers and clothing washers and dryers, access to good medical care, convenience stores with every munchie and quick necessity you might need, well-maintained highways, etc., etc.  We are in fact so consumer oriented that major companies have a customer service attendant whose job is to simply listen to our complaints and cater to our needs! 

In Ecuador, I have learned that complaining or getting angry will get me nowhere.  This isn't a consumer-oriented culture.  I have found it much more convenient to develop friendships to get what I want or feign tears around men when things don't go my way.  Most of the time, however, I have learned just to shrug my shoulders and accept the fact that I can't change everything and that I am not in control.  And surprisingly enough, while I have found this frustrating at times, it is also very liberating.   

On Tuesday, I was riding on the bus and I discovered that my wallet had been stolen from my purse (I think that a man took it when I got on the bus).  For a few minutes, I was very upset and told the bus driver what had happened.  The bus driver commiserated with me for a few minutes and said that there were always thieves targeting foreigners on the buses.  I told him that I was very aware of this because I had been living in Ecuador for almost a year.  I had just been careless and stupid.  What can I do?  I asked the driver.  He shrugged his shoulders and said what I already knew, ''Nada, no puede hacer nada.'' 

I knew he was right.  The police couldn't do anything.  The thieves were long gone with my cash and credit cards.  The only thing that I could do was cancel my credit cards and kiss my cash and the wallet goodbye.  Such is life.  This is exactly what I did, moved on from one careless mistake, picked up the pieces from where I left off, and I tried to think about the next logical course of action.  Seeing that I could do nothing for the next 2 hours until I got back to Ambato, I sat back in my chair, enjoyed the mountains and the scenery and welcomed myself back to Ecuador.


Last night, I went to our favorite Cuban bar with my friends. My friend, Dayna, reminded me of a story that I keep on forgetting to write about. Perhaps the fact that I neglect to write about the story is more significant than the story itself.

When we went to Atacames last weekend, Dayna and I decided to break up the long journey by going halfway to Santo Domingo the first night and then continuing on down to the coast the next morning. Santo Domingo doesn't have much to offer the tourist. It is more of a pit stop for buses since most buses From Quito or Ambato to the coast pass through the small city.

Dayna and I arrived at about ten at night and decided to check into a hotel. To our surprise, the hotel was completely full. We asked where we could find another hotel, and the owner pointed us down the strip. The street was booming with tons of people, loud music and bright lights. Since I have never spent much time in Santo Domingo, I thought that the guidebooks must have gotten the description of the town wrong and that Santo Domingo was actually a very happening city.

At the next hotel, we asked for a room and once again heard the same answer-- all of the rooms were booked. We couldn't believe it. The receptionists were very friendly and offered to call every hotel in the town to see if they could find a room for us. After about fifteen minutes, we found out that no hotel in the whole city had a vacancy.  Then, the receptionists explained that the city was in fiestas and there was absolutely nowhere to stay.

Suddenly, the owner of the hotel appeared and told us he could scrounge up a twin bed for us if we didn't mind sharing it. We were so happy to just have a bed that we didn't care. ''Give me one hour and I'll have a room for you,'' he said. A half hour later, we watched two men carrying a twin mattress up the stairs of the hotel. And exactly an hour later from when we had talked to the owner, the receptionists told us that our room was ready.  We went upstairs, tired and ready to sleep from our journey, and welcomed ourselves to our ''room,'' which was actually a storage closet with a twin mattress on the floor. Neither Dayna or I blinked an eye, knowing that this was our only option and that the hotel had saved us from sleeping on the street.

Now, we talked about how relaxed we were about the whole situation and how it really didn't matter to us where we slept. She wondered if this had happened to us a year ago, we would have taken it so calmly.  I couldn't really answer the question.  I've slept in pretty uncomfortable places both in the United States and here in Ecuador and while I might not have enjoyed sleeping in some of the places, it's never really mattered that much to me.


Every Tuesday morning, I drag myself out of bed at a quarter to five to teach at the high school from 7 until 11. This morning, I did the same not expecting anything different. I taught my class as planned, and thanked my students for allowing me to have such a wonderful time with them since it was my last day at the high school.  When the class was over, I heard my students whispering, but didn't think anything of it until they told me that I had to stay in the classroom a little longer.  The students had baked me a cake and planned a going away party for me.  It was really sweet.

Then, I went to the next class, suspicious that I was in store for a little more than the normal teaching day.  The students made a speech and gave me a necklace and a bracelet. We spent the rest of the time talking about marriage and romance.  The students were shocked when they found out that I would be 25 on Saturday.  I went around the room asking how old they wanted to be when they got married.  Those who were not married already said around 23 or 24.  I guess this makes me an old maid in this country!  It was a really fun day and I was sorry to say goodbye to my high school classes.  There are definitely perks to being a teacher here.


Leaning against a bar, waiting for my bill at a salsa club in Cuenca, it's 2:30 in the morning on a Friday night and most of the people have already filed out to find an after hours party or go to their respective homes.  I wait alone, arms propped up on the bar with my back to the lingering crowd.  My friend, Kate, stands only a few feet away in a line for the woman's bathroom.   

''What do you want?  I'll get you anything you want.''  I hear a man say in broken English.  ''No, gracias,'' I reply without turning around to see who's doing the talking.  Five minutes later, I feel someone press themselves into my back and I inch myself forward closer to the bar and hand the bartender my cash to cover the bar tab.  Then, I feel it, hands around my waist slipping underneath my shirt to fondle my bellybutton.  This, I assume, alludes to what he could do in other places.   

Because of a quick elbow in the stomach, the man behind me immediately lets go and I duck under his raised arm to find my friend by the bathroom.  ''Cuidado, Seņor,'' I warn as I leave.  When I meet up with Kate, I laugh.  ''Did you see what I did?  I would never elbow someone in the States.  Everyone in the States always comments on how nice I am, how they could never see me doing anything to hurt anyone else.  Here, I elbow men.  I have become a very reactionary woman.'' 

''True,'' Kate smiles, ''but in the States, a man wouldn't be so aggressive.  You do what you've gotta do here.''   

''Mmmmm.  La vida aqui,'' I say and we both laugh reflecting on both our good and bad experiences with men.  

And while we joke about our interactions with the men in Ecuador, I think about an idea that has been rambling through my head ever since I took a hike two days before with a guide through Potocarpus, a national park near Vilcabamba.  The guide was exceptionally knowledgeable and most of the day passed with my two friends, who were visiting from the United States, and me learning about the diversity of plant life in the cloud forest.  We hiked to a waterfall, scaling rocks, ducking under trees, tramping through streams and listening to the guide talk about biospheres and how the forest is being destroyed every day.  While the hike itself was beautiful and the information extremely interesting, I was most intrigued with a stop we made at the end of the day, after we left the forest.   

Outside the boundaries of the forest were green rolling pastures and an old Incan fortress now buried by grass with only a few concentric circles of rocks showing.  The guide discussed the last battle when only a few hundred Spaniards and their horses defeated thousands of Incans including Atahualpa.  The guide's description was evocative and I could picture it all as I have heard many similar tales about battles between the Indigenous people and Europeans both in the United States and in South America.   

The guide also discussed how the Incans used to conquer other tribes and while I had heard of their tactics before, it really sent my mind reeling.  It seems that instead of using war tactics to conquer a group of people, the Incans would rather ingeniously dislocate people to other areas, away from their home and culture.  In this way, the people would lose their identity with their tribe, intermarry and be less likely to rebel.   

Now, with less than three weeks before I return to the United States and almost a year under my belt in Ecuador, I wonder how much I have changed since I have been here.  I know that I won't have the answer until I've been home for a while, but the director of my program brought up a good point.  She wondered how it was possible to take the good and exciting aspects of her life back to the United States, to be able to live there without losing all of the things that she has learned from Ecuador. 

While I have also wondered the same, I am in a different position than my director.  I, unlike her, will be coming back to Ecuador to live for at least a few months.  My questions concern how my life of dislocation is affecting me and how I can continue learning and being inspired by this country when the newness has already worn off.  This will probably be the most challenging aspect of living here in the future when I will no longer be dealing with culture shock and will have actually become accustomed to the way things work.    

I think again about the man at the bar and smile.  He has now moved to another gringa, who is a bit nicer than I and actually smiles and chats with him.  I lean against the wall and wait for Kate, who has made it to the bathroom.  Above all, I know that whenever I do finally leave the country that I will be sad.  I will miss the friendliness of the people and the beauty of the countryside.  And although I have had my fair share of run-ins with slimy men, I have met enough nice guys to compensate for the bad ones.  However, most of all, I think that I will miss having the ability to step outside of myself and my association of myself with my culture and to understand myself through a new perspective.


Read Jane's other adventures

In the Shadow of Tungurahua, Galapagos, No Pasa Nada, Bolivia and Chile, and CuencaTravel Tips for the Ecuadorian Andes