We spent our second and third night in Casa Condor trying to adjust to the new living conditions and the altitude (made some cool discoveries: 1) you can put your hand in boiling water and it doesn’t burn 2) you can essentially whisper and people can hear you up to 30 feet away). Each day we made the 45 min trip to the closest public phone in Riobamba. On the second of these trips we made contact with Jorge Gil, our customs broker in Guayaquil. He informed us that we would in fact receive authorization to ship, but not until 12:00 noon on the day of departure. Because it was Friday afternoon, we had no way of determining whether or not our shipment would leave before or after noon. We decided that we needed to make the trek to Guayaquil, the location of the customs office, in case the shipment was going to depart before noon and we had to do damage control. We arrived in the evening on Sunday. After a search of about 10 local hotels, many of which could be rented by the hour and had broken mirrors behind the beds with TVs tuned to pornography channels, we found a decent hotel for a bout five bucks a night. In the morning, we discerned that the shipment would leave at 6:00 pm that day and we were in the clear to receive our authorization to ship.
Since we had some time to kill before the project started, we decided to head to a beach town about 6 hours away called Montenita. It was at this point that things took a turn for the worse. We were walking through one of the shady parts of town (funnily enough the street that our hotel was on), and Gavin fell a little behind. As he was walking, he was approached by an elderly gentleman who pointed out that his bag was covered in what looked like a brown sludge or caramel. The man kindly offered him some napkins to clean himself off. As Gav was doing this, the man said that he was going to go and get him something more to clean off with. The next thing he knew, the man was gone and so was his day pack containing his passport, digital camera and many more personal effects. This set-back required a few more days in Guayaquil. The experience of trying to replace his passport gave us valuable insights into why things move so slowly in Ecuador. The main police station in Guayaquil still uses predominantly non-electrical type writers. The men using them have gnarled hands from years of hammering the keys to get them to make a legible mark. The Canadian embassy is open from 9:30 to 12:45. In the notary office we were confronted by people vying for position to beg the lawyer to sign their document.
In the end it was all sorted out and we caught a bus back to Riobamba. Half-way there, the bus was confronted with a large line of vehicles at a stand still. We were told that there was construction going on and the road would be closed of at least and hour and a half (this meant at least two and a half). About 2 hours into our wait, Gavin and I decided to go and try and find one of the vendors we had seen selling fried potatoes and plantains. As we got about 100 yards away from the bus we heard the roar of engines starting up. "Oh fuck, their leaving!" We start to run u the steep hill to try to catch our bus. As we get closer, we see that the bus is long gone. A truck driver who realizes what has happened yells something to us and gestures for us to climb on the running board. We jump on and he hits the accelerator in an attempt to catch our run-away transportation. Dust blinds us and chokes us as the trucks passes vehicles in an attempt to catch the bus. Luckily for us Roberto, after an extensive argument, has convinced the driver to stop despite his claims that he is already to far behind schedule. We caught up with the bus about 500 yards down the road and continued our journey to Riobamba.
The day after we arrived, Carnival began in all of Ecuador. This is essentially a national water fight. Anyone is fair game and there is no mercy. Unfortunately it doesn't stop with water; every second person has a can of spray foam, eggs, or flower. If you find yourself anywhere in Ecuador during this event you have about a 100% chance of getting hit at least once. People throw water balloons from second story buildings. Others hide in stores with buckets of water waiting for you to pass by. Others still sit in the beds of trucks and roam the streets looking for victims. Once, I saw a bus driver stop at a light and run out of his bus with a bucket of water to hit an unsuspecting woman crossing the street. Carnival in San Pablo begins with a traditional dance competition between all of the local communities. Roberto was selected as one of the judges for this very important event. The prize: a fat, healthy sheep. The people would do anything to try to attain this prestigious award, including offer Roberto a live chicken as an incentive.
The alcohol ran freely. At one point I was approached by a woman with a large plastic container who was serving a liquid out of coconut shells. I take my turn. It burns my throat but is very sweet. "Que es esto?" I ask. "Chicha" She replies with a toothless grin. I am truly glad I asked after taking my turn. Chicha is a drink made by the elderly women in the community by chewing the Yuca root and spitting the sugary saliva into a bucket. The liquid is then left outside to ferment, producing alcohol.