(link to Part 1 for those readers just joining us)
I turned on my phone, which didn’t have service, and wandered the length and breadth of the arrivals terminal at Mariscal Sucre, looking for anyone who might be looking for me. No one was.
I went outside to smoke a cigarette, tried my phone again, went back inside and made another circuit. I checked out the cabbies, thought about renting a car. I’d google-mapped the directions before I left in case I needed them (and/or to double-check against where my theoretical driver actually drove me; you never know, after all) and it looked pretty straightforward on paper. Of course it wouldn’t be, and I didn’t relish the idea of driving off into the jungle at night, but if my contact didn’t show I’d have to decide between that and negotiating with whoever I could find at the airport. That theoretical person might or might not know the way, might or might not be on the up and up, and would have to be negotiated with in Spanish. After twelve hours in transit, neither option had much appeal. At least I didn’t have to worry about changing money.
I decided I’d give whoever might be coming half an hour, then either find a hotel near the airport or start negotiating (whatever uncertainty that entailed, I decided renting a car would be my last fallback, and not something I’d chance til morning if it became necessary). I went outside and smoked another cigarette. It was good smoking weather: the air was cool, but it felt nice after the recycled atmosphere of the plane, and the new airport is far enough outside the city for the air to be comparatively fresh (the old airport was in the middle of town, a much more overwhelming transition).
I wasn’t quite worried, but I was relieved when I went back inside and saw a young Ecuadorian man holding a sign with my name on it. He led me outside and called the driver, who was waiting outside the airport so he wouldn’t have to pay parking. We talked a little, but my Spanish wasn’t back online and I was too tired to say much, anyway. He told me Michael was feeling better and then the driver showed up in a brand new mid-size, quad-cab Chevrolet pickup. We loaded in and were off into the night, along shiny, well-lit, brand-new highways that were nicer than most of the interstates I’ve driven on lately. Up in the front seat, the driver and my contact, whose name I later learned was Eduardo, chatted amongst themselves while I looked out the window and tried to follow what they were saying. Their relationship wasn’t clear, and though there was little overt cause for concern I was now in an unmarked vehicle with two other men and a bunch of cash in my pocket. I was ninety percent sure it was all good, but the non-negligible remainder bothered me enough I started gaming out scenarios for how it would go down if I was wrong, and how I might handle it. I knew I was probably just being paranoid, but if something did happen I would need to be mentally prepared to react quickly and decisively, the odds being what they were.
Hey, I told you I’m obsessive/compulsive. Used properly, it can come in really handy in life, though as with all super-powers there are downsides.
We went through a few roundabouts, and I watched the signs. We seemed to be going the right way. I couldn’t follow Eduardo and the driver’s conversation in terms of what they were actually talking about, but the nonverbal cues were pretty clear. They were just two guys, minimally acquainted, making conversation to pass the time. Eduardo, being young, spent a lot of time on his phone, and the driver seemed maniacally focused on taking every turn and stretch of highway as fast as possible, while being as delicate with his brand new vehicle as he could, which meant a lot of quick acceleration and sudden braking. The radio filled the cabin with the major-chord melodies and sprightly rhythms of Ecuadorian country music.
I got a little sketched out when we pulled off the highway onto what looked like a dirt road. I’d turned on my Kindle, gone back to reading Hild — if for no other reason than to spare myself the mental strain of a conversation in Spanish — and was just checking in with reality every now and again to appease my paranoia. The driver, as solicitous of his brand-new vehicle as he was determined to exploit its accelerative capabilities, announced the turn with a sudden and definitive application of the brakes and next thing I knew we were on dirt and rocks, heading toward darkness. I ramped up just in case, started paying attention, but the vibe in the cab hadn’t changed, and we went around a bend and there was a tractor-trailer, which we passed, and then we were past the place where they were expanding the highway and back onto pavement, a perfectly serviceable two-lane road that twisted and climbed and generally just snaked its way through the mountains, which the driver took with his by-now familiar blend of attentive aggression and gusto. I would later discover just how beautiful the country I was passing through was, but all I could see was darkness out the window except when we passed what few vehicles were out on the highway.
They were driving me into the middle of nowhere, sure. But that’s what I was paying them to do. I put my paranoia to bed and settled back into Hild for the drive. The Anglisc had just taken Lindum when another sudden deceleration announced our arrival at the driveway of the eco lodge. We tumbled down a quarter- or half-mile of dirt road and pulled up at a compound of newish, well-constructed two-story cabins with landscaping and gravel paths, surrounded by chittering darkness. I paid the driver, and Eduardo checked me into a room upstairs in the main lodge. It was two or two thirty in the morning, and I’d been on the move for fourteen-plus hours. I was someplace I’d never been, someplace I still hadn’t really seen, though I could sense the thick density of life outside the penumbra of comfortable luxury the eco lodge offered its guests (Michael had found a pretty nice place to get sick, at least). It reminded me of being out in the sticks back in Florida, where I grew up, but of course it had its own flavor, its own terroir.
Eduardo told me Michael was sleeping, and the lights were off in the cabin he told me Michael was sleeping in. I grabbed my toilet kit, which had the various meds and supplements I’d brought with me, and the plastic container of Gatorade powder I’d grabbed from the cabinet last-minute (thanks to Michelle’s perspicacity and foresight), and headed over to knock on Michael’s door. The noise of my arrival had woken him, and he opened the door by the time I got to the top of the stairs.
He looked beat up, tired and pale, but he was on his feet, at least for a few minutes, and he was awake and present and able to tell me about what he’d been through. For a couple of days he’d thought he was going to die, and the laundry list of symptoms was about as bad as you can imagine, though it could, obviously, have been worse. In the last day or so he’d started feeling marginally better, and was able to make his way to the lodge to watch Netflix in the afternoon for a few hours. He didn’t know what had caused his illness, but like I said, he comes from hearty stock, and I was relieved to see he wasn’t likely to die or need to be rushed immediately to a hospital or anything. I broke out my small pharmacopeia, made him take oregano oil (stuff’s damn near magic in my experience, like a natural antibiotic) and some heavy-duty probiotics, since whatever the bug that had bit him he’d been puking and had diarrhea and his stomach biome was probably cleared out of all the good bacteria a body needs to function well (pretty sure that’s a blog post in itself; seriously, one of the best things you can do for your health). I offered him the wide-spectrum antibiotics I had left over from my own trip to South America, but didn’t push. Michael was most excited about the Gatorade. I made him mix an Emergen-C with it, to restore water-soluble vitamins along with the electrolytes he was probably missing, and left him half a dozen packets.
We talked for half an hour, then I let him go back to sleep. I think I saw a monkey scurry off into the darkness when I went back outside. At least, I hope it was a monkey.
Satisfied Michael would survive the night and that all further responsibility could be punted til morning, I went back to the lodge. The lights were on, but no one was around, what with it being three in the morning, so I did what any sane person would do in my situation and started rummaging around behind the bar. I was pleased to discover a mostly-full bottle of Macallan, and poured myself a healthy dram. As a former bartender, I felt a small twinge about the liberty I was taking, but consoled my conscience with extenuating circumstances and the sure knowledge I’d own up and pay when the time came. I went up to my room, discovered I had a balcony, and went outside to smoke a cigarette and drink scotch and listen to the chorus of insects and the rustling of foliage. I connected to the wifi network and updated my facebook status. The one I’d left the night previous, announcing the trip, had more likes than anything I’d ever put up, and the comment thread warmed my heart to the cockles. I began to allow myself a certain cautious optimism that things would work out.
It took a long time and more scotch and cigarettes to wind down. Despite the weird sleep, worry, and transit, my body thought it was three hours earlier than the clock did, and I’m often up late as it is. It was four or five in the morning, local time, when I finally put aside Hild and went to sleep.
Ten hours later, I woke up in paradise.