Well, the biggest piece of news coming out of Ecuador this week has to be the deadly eruption of Tungurahua Volcano, only 50 miles south of where I am living. I don’t know how much coverage it has had on the international scene, but it has completely destroyed towns and villages and the town I normally visit to check my emails. Latacunga, 35 miles from the volcano, has declared a state of emergency, due to the poisonous ash that has been falling. Strangely, although I live only 15 miles from Latacunga, there has been little trouble here, with only a small layer of ash falling. Even so, I had a nice email from the British embassy informing me to wear a gas mask and goggles when walking out in the open! I mean, people already stare at me because I’m a gringo; I can only imagine what people will do if I was to wear a mask and goggles as well!
I have to say that this teaching malarkey is actually serious hard work and fraught with danger at every turn. Not necessarily danger for me, which is good, but if you turn your back on children for even a few seconds, anything can happen! This week while under my supervision, one child put a staple through his hand and another fell of a fence, gashing his arm on a rather rusty-looking nail. Hopefully they will learn from their lessons!
There have also been a number of misunderstandings as well, which I suppose you can mainly blame on my dry sense of humour. One morning while observing the children taking a shower, I was discussing the importance of hygiene with a female English-speaking teacher. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to break down a few barriers with a little bit of humour, so I decided to make a joke. I was already smiling at my own comment by the time I had finished saying it. Unfortunately, my fellow teacher wasn’t portraying any similar facial expressions and, with a blank, stern look, replied, “We don’t do that sort of thing at this school.” This was then followed by an awkward silence until the teacher went to check out a commotion in the female showers. No more sarcasm for a while I am thinking.
To make matters worse, following this, some of the children pointed towards me and started shouting, “Fight, fight, fight.” (Facing a gang of 8-year-olds is a scary business!) I was relieved to find that they weren’t meaning "fight" at all. Instead, they were pointing towards a picture of a fish behind my head on the wall and trying to impress me with their English-language skills. I think the less time I spend in the showers, the better!
The highlight of this week was going to be a trip to the town of Tanicuchi, for what I had been informed was going to be a bullfighting extravaganza. It wasn’t meant to be, though, as upon walking 3km to the main road to catch a bus, I discovered that Ecuador’s premiere cycling event was taking place, with enough Lycra on display to keep any grown woman happy. This obviously meant that there were no buses, which actually turned out to be a lucky escape, as the next day I found out that it wasn’t a bullfight at all. There are bulls involved, but they just let them loose in the main square, where they then cause havoc on the rapidly dispersing public.
One problem of living in this area of Ecuador can be the altitude sickness, something I have been very lucky with and not suffered a great deal from. I think I owe a great deal of this luck to taking some traditional medicine, which, the same as Peru, is the coca leaf, which you can either use to make a drink or chew. This is the same coca leaf that cocaine is derived from. Even though the leaf can be used in this negative way, it is full of impressive medicinal properties, and for much of the rural poor population this is the only medicine they are able to afford. Obviously America hasn’t taken this into account when they pressure Latin American countries into eradicating cultivation of this plant altogether.
Up until now, my girlfriend and I have been living with an Italian couple, who I have to say are two of the most welcoming and warm people I have come across. It’s strange the people you meet when you are travelling. The past week has seen chance meetings with a guy who lives in a nearby town to where I grew up, and also a Canadian girl who taught English a 30-minute train ride from where I was teaching English in Poland. It’s a small world sometimes! I have to say that in regard to the Italian couple, I regret my actions upon finding some of my oranges missing. Instead of politely asking them if they had eaten them, I decided to take the cowards way out and force them to listen to a medley of my worse music, including Baltimora’s hit Tarzan Boy and the not so famous Therapy song Diane (purely for the inappropriate lyrical content). It’s probably a good job I didn’t have any Wurzles. Quite pathetic of me really, but I’m not one for confrontations, especially over missing food!
Another regret was deciding to show some compassion to a stray dog, nothing but skin and bones, who I found scrounging through our rubbish. Looking so hopeless and pathetic, I decided to treat it to a bowl of cold rice. It must have been some kind of gourmet cold rice in the dog world, as a couple of days later, there were three dogs waiting for a free feast. As I am not really in the financial position to support myself and three dogs, I have decided to take the ‘show no mercy’ approach and let fate take its course.
Other than this, the Guayaquil Marathon that I should have been running in just over a month has I have decided is one marathon too far for me. Obviously the main reason for this is being unfit and overweight, but when you add the stress fractures in my shins and the altitude into the equation, then I think I would have had a death wish if I had gone ahead and tried to run it.
Next week I have to take my first trip to the capital Quito to register my visa. I thought it was annoyingly frustrating obtaining my visa in the first place, but now I have to make trips to at least three different government buildings in the next couple of weeks in order to be officially in the country. If I don’t manage this, then I could be enjoying a fine of up to $2,000. At least after all the hassle is finished I will then have my temporary Ecuadorian citizenship, which means I won’t have to pay any gringo prices anymore. This will hopefully save me a small fortune if I manage to get to the Galapagos Islands. We shall see!