One Man International Rescue Mission: After Action Report, Part 3

(Part 1 here, Part 2 here)

The Rio Quijos Eco Lodge sits not far from the bank of its namesake river, a well-known and -regarded star in the constellation of meaningful places in the river kayaking world, with many miles of class four and five rapids though the stretch the lodge sits on is lazy and calm. Across the river is a wall of green, forty feet high and infinitely detailed, overwhelming in its undulous profusion. The perimeter of the well-maintained property is the same, trees stacked on bushes competing with palms and bamboo for space in the alluvial soil. Banana plants grow between the stone-lined gravel pathways that lead between newly built cabins and a large timber and stone lodge. Off to one side, a ragged net hangs on a volleyball court whose edges are growing in. The lodge is simple and rustic, made from local materials (funny how the locavore lifestyle we pay such a premium for in Seattle is just how life is in much of the world), and pleasingly authentic, the furniture made from fitted stripped logs, the interior subtly modern, the rooms walled with rough-cut planks stained a pleasing and comfortable dark walnut color.

Michael was downstairs when I woke up, stretched out on the more-aesthetic-than-functional couch watching Netflix. His color was improved, and he looked to be in good spirits, though he was still pretty weak. I met Kathy, the lady in charge, and she made me breakfast while another man — whose name I never learned but who also worked at the lodge — kept yelling ‘El Toro!’ at Michael and telling me Michael’s problem was too much masturbating. I agreed, but I agreed much more with Kathy’s opinion that it was likely some kind of food-borne parasite that had done Michael in. I was inclined to agree, both because she probably sees this kind of thing all the time and because Michael is always hungry (that he hadn’t eaten in days told me a lot about how sick he’d been) and not always picky about what or where he eats. Kathy was obviously quite taken with Michael, who has the sort of unthinking charisma that both causes and comes from things just kind of working themselves out in his favor most of the time. It gives him the sunniest outlook, and because he’s genuinely happy most of the time people respond very positively to his presence, which perpetuates the cycle (a quick f’rinstance: on his way down to Ecuador, Michael managed to get his river kayak, packed with gear, checked onto the airplane for free, just by being Michael and saying ‘aw, shucks, I didn’t know’). As super-powers go, it’s a pretty good one.

But every super-power has a downside. Intestinal parasites are immune to charisma, and because things mostly work out for Michael he hadn’t done his traveler’s due diligence before coming to Ecuador. He hadn’t gone to a travel clinic and made sure his immunizations were updated and that he got whatever vaccines might be necessary for where he was going. He didn’t have a bottle of wide-spectrum antibiotics just in case, or a stash of over-the-counter vitamins and meds to keep his body strong. He’d declined the fifty or sixty extra bucks for the catastrophic travel insurance (you know, to deal with situations exactly like this one) when he bought his plane ticket. He hadn’t even learned any Spanish.

And it had worked until the parasite. After all, here we were, in gringo paradise, because Michael, being Michael, had scored a gig as a river guide for the tour company occupying the eco lodge, who were putting him up for free in this lovely gringo bubble in paradise.

At least he picked a good spot to get sick in. Continue reading “One Man International Rescue Mission: After Action Report, Part 3”

One Man International Rescue Mission: After-Action Report, Part 2

(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. Continue reading “One Man International Rescue Mission: After-Action Report, Part 2”

One Man International Rescue Mission: After-Action Report, Part 1

I got the call last Monday. I missed it, actually, because I was taking a nap. I’d just finished Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, and as is not unusual after reading a work of that power, compellingness, and degree of writerly badassitude, I needed to shut down my conscious brain and let my psyche digest what I’d spent the last day and a half gorging on (to the detriment, obviously, of my list of action items). Not unusual, like I said, but there was a weird edge to the feeling: anxious, almost nauseous even. I don’t remember what I dreamed about, but I remember waking up unsettled and still groggy. I wonder if I didn’t have some premonition of what was coming (it wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened to me).

I woke up, went to the bathroom, washed my hands. My brain still refused to gear up. Usually when I cat-nap, it takes me a couple of minutes to remember who/what/where I am, and at this point I was past the usual threshold, but not necessarily worryingly so. I saw the phone blinking, touched the screen, saw my dad had called and left a voicemail. I remember thinking, “I wasn’t expecting a call from Dad,” and again there was that tiny backbrain premonition.

I unlocked the phone, hit the voicemail icon, put the phone to my ear.

“Dallas, it’s your dad. Call me immediately-” I didn’t bother listening to the rest of the message. Continue reading “One Man International Rescue Mission: After-Action Report, Part 1”

The Conspiracy, For and Against

Here I am, half a world away from the place I´ve called home for the last dozen-plus years, living the dream, wandering a new continent, and the longer I am here, the more I realize that what I need to do is write.

There´s a part of me that wants to be disappointed.  I can write anywhere, this part of me says.  Why can´t I put it aside, make the most of this opportunity to see new places and explore new things?  The pressure is immense.  After all, when, realistically, will I be here again?  I should make the most of it while I can.  All this business of facing my personal darkness and finding something like redemption or purpose in my work can be done later, when I get home and have nothing better to do.

When I look back, this part of me says, I will regret squandering this opportunity to explore.  The worst, most insidious thing is this: the voice is right.  It has a legitimate point.

After all, what is the purpose of travel, if not to see new places, meet new people, explore the vast and wondrous variety this world has to offer?  To shuck the comfort and security of the familiar and find yourself anew, shorn of the habits of mind and life that normally circumscribe your passage through this world, and, you know, have a little fun while you do it?

Thing is, all that shucking and shearing and finding myself anew has led me to a different conclusion than the part of me that says I need to make the most of my journey-as-journey says it should.  That what I thought this journey would do, take me outside myself, offer me respite from the darkness always hovering over me, is not what this journey has done.  What this journey has done is, rather, the complete opposite: it has brought all the things I thought it would liberate me from to the forefront, and demanded that I face them.

Son of a bitch. Continue reading “The Conspiracy, For and Against”

On the Importance of Books for the Traveler

There are those of us who are never, or rarely, without a book, no matter where we are or what we´re doing.  Sometimes we´ll carry it around even though we know we aren´t going to have a chance to read it, our own little personal totem, if you will, that marks and protects us and reveals us to kindred spirits.  And while we increasingly fill those interstitial moments these days with social media as delivered to us via our pocket-sized electronic umbilica, we can´t always get a signal, and even if we can, there´s something to be said for the pleasures of immersive single-tasking, and books come in really handy at times like that.

But there´s something about traveling that turns almost everyone into a reader.   Continue reading “On the Importance of Books for the Traveler”