This weekend, I was "interpreter" and Ania was “spatially and directionally adept person who can point us in the right direction.” However, we both played the role of “chronic, paranoid worriers (CPWs).” You will see as this story unfolds. Ania and I left Quito for Otavalo with our assigned roles, as a team ready to conquer the world. At the initial bus terminal, one man urgently said, “adelante, adelante, aqui, aqui” indicating that I should move ahead 4 spaces ahead, in front of a man, who seemed to support the act of cutting in front of him. I thought, how nice, that he would let me be in front…hmm maybe a little too nice. I could not organize my thoughts, as the man's urgent tone of voice distracted me. When we reached the ticket booth, the man whom I cut bought his ticket first, which was strange because I was ahead of him
. When Ania and I boarded the bus, we took the seats indicated on the ticket. And sure enough, when we looked to our left, our collaborating “friends” were sitting right next to us (the man who told me to cut in line and the man whom I cut in front of). Ania and I looked at each other. Hmmm…Perhaps this was a trap? The bus lurched forward, and as each minute passed, my thoughts raced… “Why did they let me cut in front of them (perhaps so they could sit next to us), What are their intentions? What if they are robbers? They’ve been glancing at us frequently. Oh man, why did I listen to them? Okay, God, I need your help here. Two men. Pretty strong-looking and sneaky too. Please protect us and give us wisdom.” Ania and I began devising plans about what to say to these men… Let’s say we are going to meet our husbands in Otavalo…let’s say we’re going to Quito and not tell them about going to Ibarra…Maybe we can tell the guards….They do have strong security and burn robbers alive in Otavalo.” We tried to forget about the two men and enjoy the view of the mountains and valleys outside of the window. The bus eventually reached Otavalo, and I held my breath as we stepped off the bus...surprisingly, both of the men got off and departed on their own ways. Phew! So there we were, in Otavalo, which is known to be a huge market town. Where do we go next? “Let’s follow the white couple,” Ania said. I thought that was a brilliant idea
. Pretty soon, we lost that couple, but we were in luck, as we found another white couple. (We knew that tourists always flock together). Later on, we had to name these couples. (Okay, “White Couple #1…White Couple #2…”). Hey, they were pretty helpful, as we arrived at the market place. The Otavalo market consumed us in its myriad of colors, fabrics, sights, sounds, and smells. Pretty overwhelming but exciting.
From Otavalo, we headed off to Ibarra (capital of the Imbabura province), which is nicknamed the “White City,” due to its colonial white-washed houses. We told the taxi driver, “Okay, we want to go to Hostal Ecuador.” The taxi driver gave us a puzzled look. After notifying him of the street intersections, he took us there, to the outskirts of the town. We entered Hostal Ecuador, but were surprised to find no one at the front desk. Should we ring a bell? I thought, but realized there was none. After about a minute and a half, a man abruptly appeared from another room. The man did not smile, had an expressionless face, and a cold presence about him. I indicated that we needed a place to stay for the night, and suggested that we first take a look at the rooms. He led us up to the highest floor, which we thought this was odd because after noting the number of keys, most of the rooms were unoccupied! The room he led us to appeared to be simple and relatively clean; however, I had an unsettling feeling about it
. I did not mention this to Ania. The man indicated that we should leave our belongings up in the room and head back down to register. So we left our things and headed downstairs. I left my name and passport number, ignoring the feelings I had (perhaps I was overreacting, I thought). After filling out the paperwork and as we began heading upstairs, the man warned us, “No se puede cancelar (you can’t cancel).” Once we reached our room, Ania blurted, “I can’t picture myself sleeping here at night.” "Oh my goodness, I feel the same way too!” I said. “Okay, I think our mutual feelings tell us something, and it’s better to be safe.” I said. “There’s something about him that I don’t trust; maybe it has to do with an episode of The Closer that I watched. The serial killer in the episode looks exactly like him…” “Yeah there’s something about him,” Ania said, “And that scar he has on his face…” Quickly, we looked through the guide for other places to stay. “Let’s pick one near the center of the town,” I said. “Hey, that can be our excuse; we wanted to be closer to the center of the town, if he wonders why we’re leaving.” We gathered our belongings and the key to the room. Again, we did not find anyone downstairs, but to our relief this time. We decided to make a run for it (okay, maybe a quick walk). Phew! We got away! We headed out to the street and towards the center of the town
. Before we could reach the corner, the man suddenly appeared from around a building. (Ądun dun dun!) Our eyes met. “Oh, we decided not to stay here tonight…” I said. “Why?” the man asked intently. “Because we wanted to stay somewhere closer to the center of the town,” I said, sticking with my plan. “Okay, esta bien” the man said with a cold, hard stare. “Gracias a usted,” I said, as I began walking away with Ania. “Let’s hurry,” she said, and we quickly flagged down the nearest taxi coming towards us.
We ended up staying at Residencial Madrid, which was within the center of the town. “This is so much better,” I said, when we settled into our room. I was thankful that we wouldn’t have to sleep with our eyes open that night. We wandered the Ibarra streets that night, taking in the peacefulness of the city, and delighting in the colonial architecture and majestic cathedrals that gave the city its character.
The next morning, we headed off to Cotacachi, which is a pueblo known for leather goods. From Cotocachi, our plan was to see the beautiful Laguna Quicocha, contained in the Volcano Cotocachi, an active volcano that has not erupted for 3,000 years (phew, thank goodness)
. A taxi driver offered to take us to the laguna for $5 one way. Okay, there was no one else around, so we decided to take him up on his offer. The man was friendly, and told us that we can ask him anything and for any favor. I have become a little wary of overly nice people, given my recent, previous experience. However, I decided to humor him along the way and asked questions about the town and the laguna. Later, he offered to wait for us as we toured the laguna in boats. We agreed we would be back in 45 minutes. We were back in an hour and a half. He was still there, waiting for us. Patient man, I thought. He face wasn’t as friendly this time, though. The taxi driver drove us up on a cobblestone path up the mountain. We reached a high point, and got off the taxi to walk around and enjoy the sights of the laguna. The laguna that day was cloudy, rainy, and sunny all at the same time. But the waters were blue and sparkling. Suddenly, the taxi driver took on the role of a tour guide, as he led us up the mountain, cheerfully informing us about the wild orchids, caterpillars, and poison berries that could be used as dye…Ania and I just listened. Soon we headed back to the pueblo Cotocachi. The taxi driver replied to my inquiry about the cost of our journey, “Whatever you think.” Huh? I thought we agreed on $5 one way. And then I understood. He wasn’t Mr. Nice Tourguide just because. So we kindly gave him a gratuity of $.50 and headed off to see the leather stores of Cotocachi
. I wish we could have given him more, but we were honestly low in funds.
Lessons I learned from this trip:
1. Go with your gut feeling.
2. Sometimes episodes on TNT (such as The Closer) can become reality and watching them could save your life.
3. There’s such a thing as too nice.
4. There may be advantages to being a “chronic, paranoid worrier.” You never know, being one may save your life.