Cotopaxi Stories and Tips

Week 90 & 91 - Brain Dead (Ecuador)

Quito Fieldtrip - Parque La Carolina Photo, Quito, Ecuador

As my time in Ecuador quickly comes to a close it's still hard to believe I'm leaving, especially considering my appalling level of Spanish. With other volunteers who have been here for the majority of my stay also disappearing, my departure is quickly becoming a reality.

Some of the recent volunteer departures have been a little like losing a fans favourite from Big Brother, the only one that understood my sarcasm. Other departures have been more of a relief, like the switching off of life support for a brain dead relative. Living without them no doubt seems strange and it's hard not to reminisce over times spent together, but in the end there is more a feeling of relief rather than one full of grieving, remorse and tears. I suppose this is just the normal situation of living in a volunteer house.

In memory of this latter volunteer, a slightly narcotic, crazed hypochondriac I'd like to take a moment to reflect on their choice moments in Ecuador, similarly to the one minute silence held at sporting events in respect of past greats promoted to glory. See it if you like as a top five, not in any particular order.

1. Waking up fellow volunteers in the middle of the night shaking through fear after hearing the small bang of a firework over 20km away in the town of Latacunga and somehow mistaking this for the powerful rumbling of the erupting Cotopaxi Volcano located less than 5km away. Volunteers were woken through the night for other worries including racoons trying to brake through the front door (these creatures, like leprechauns have yet to be proven to exist in Ecuador), phantom door openings and mysterious shadows.

2. Worrying for weeks about the possibility of scientists crashing two atoms together, the consequence a black hole and the demise of planet Earth. Similar worries were also had about NASA cutting down on their 'search for meteorites' programme. In fact worrying was a major past time activity, especially in response to volcano eruptions. I think it's going to extremes when mistaking your own leg spasms for earthquakes of a forthcoming eruption.

3. Hearing of many a band camp romance (which more times than not led to the guy admitting he was in fact gay months later). Another innocent chap was also denied a date for not having any health insurance. I like the honesty but if a girl used that line on me, insulted would be the best word to use to describe my feelings.

4. Developing symptoms for more or less every imaginable disease, including typhoid, meningitis, salmonella, asbestos poisoning of the stomach, bronchitis, shingles, cataraxes, glaucoma, pneumonia, flea infestations and an uncountable amount of giardia outbreaks and food poisoning.

5. Listening to the never-ending greatness of America, compared to Ecuador in terms of food availability and restaurant menus. There is no doubting this superiority and the deliciousness of America fast food. I should know more than most people, putting on a good twenty pounds in the space of three months while living there and sending my man boobs to post-pregnancy sizes. Sometimes though you just have to come to terms with the fact that Ecuador is not America and when dealing with Third World incompetence, it makes more sense to remain positive than utter the words 'this would never happen in America.'

Anyway, moving on from emotional memories the previous weekend saw me living the dream of parenthood, taking two of my pupils to see the cultural delights on offer in the countries capital, Quito. Here the children participated in the highly enjoyable activities of horse-riding in Parque La Carolina, seeing various snakes, frogs, and turtles at Quito Vivarium (Avenida Amazonas, www.vivarium.org.ec, fherpeto@pi.pro.ec, 9.30am-5pm daily except Sun, $2.50) and taking in the rather hilarious Shrek 3rd film (Multicines, Avenida Amazonas, $3.50). This was followed by trips to Pizza Hut and Baskin Robbins to satisfy hunger demands. Sometimes you just have to go American for quality!

Of course walking around with two Ecuadorian children and being a Gringo led to many an awkward and confused stare from passersby. An American on a missionary trip with a church calling themselves the Southern Baptists even approached my fiancée and I to congratulate us on the adoption of such poverty stricken children.

It's amazing the vast different lifestyles that people here live. For the two school children this was their first time riding a horse and visiting the cinema. It was also their first time in a shopping mall and experiencing the joys and terrors of escalator riding, which proved to be the biggest draw of amusement. Even though never visiting a shopping mall before, girls seems to be the same the world over, the glittery gene already embedded in their system, stopping at every jewellery shop window and admiring the little gems on offer, much to my fiancée's joy. I should be making a trip to one of these glitter shops in the near future. I'm not sure how long I can keep her sweet with a $5 scrap of iron on her finger.

With the mouse infestation in the house reaching an all time high, along with other volunteers the problems was hit head on. Three of these quick footed beasts were chased, although one of the poor devils suffered a fatal heart attack in the process. Unbeknown to me, in this part of the world, such a slaughter is seen as terrible bad luck. In this part of the world it's the 'mouse fairy', not the tooth fairy that visits children in the night to exchange their teeth for hard earned cash. When one young girl excitedly told me that the previous night the 'mouse fairy' had given her $10 for one measly tooth (a good 1000% more than I ever received for such a white pearl), in a place where 70% of the population live below the $2 a day poverty line, it seems my act of selfish cold blooded murder has only added to the economic and financial crisis that this country suffers from on a daily basis. Shame on me!

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