Trip Start Sep 29, 2008
13Trip End Mar 27, 2009
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I bravely bought a bottle of handwashing detergent, repeating to myself that if I managed to wash my clothes in a river last time I was here, beating them about on a big flat stone with a wooden paddle, then surely a sink with nice hot taps would be no obstacle.
A couple of hours later I was trudging about in the ecuatorial morning sunshine, trying to remember where the nearest laundrette was. "Laundrette" is actually an over-generous word, in Ecuador there are no laundrettes, just as there are no greengrocers or electrical stores or cobblers. They simply open up the ground floor room of their little houses, put iron bars across the doorway, and then stick a load of enticing objects on shelves to entice passers-by to purchase. Shampoos, green mandarins, lollipops, shoelaces. Some are big enough to walk into (though amongst the cluttered goods, you'll never find what you want - you have to ask whichever family member has made themself available to you). Others are tinier, and the metal grates remain padlocked shut. Whatever you wan tcan be passed through the bars.
And so it was that I found myself under the familiar handpainted sign "Lavanderia", gazing through metal bars into an empty space with a ladder leading to an upper floor. "Please touch the black door" instructs a sign on the counter. I rattle the black bars, peering into the darkness.
A tiny old man wearing a hearing aid appeared.
"Umm... I'd like to wash some clothes?"
"La señora no esta aqui." he croaked.
"Well, could I leave the clothes for when she returns?" I asked.
The man paused to think.
He clearly wasn't going to open the gate. He held out his wrinkled hands and I squished my two bags of laundry through the bars.
"When will they be ready?" I enquired, slightly concerned that the clothes had gone forever.
I tried again. "Tomorrow?"
"They will be ready tomorrow?"
"Mañana, si, mañana."
We stared at each other for a few moments. I still wasn't comfortable enough to walk away and leave my favourite jeans on a counter behind bars.
"Shall I give you my name?"
The man's eyes flickered. He nodded gratefully.
"Biickiiii..." he repeated. I'd hoped he might make a note of it, but no pen or paper appeared.
"Well, hasta mañana..." I called, starting to walk back down the hill, gazing one last time over my shoulder at my bagfuls of clothes.
* * *
The next day I shuffled tentatively up the hill, blinking in the sunshine. I rattled the gates of the little laundrette, and a yound girl hopped down the ladder.
"I left some clothes here yesterday." I explained.
"Ah yes, Vicki, no?"
I'm sure my expression was one of shock.
She opened the gates and I stepped through the bars, into the square metre of floor space that was the shop floor. I handed over my two dollars fifty, and she handed me my clothes, washed, folded and sweet-smelling.