A Travellerspoint blog

Sunday in Baños

May 2o, 2oo7

sunny 20 °C

Told you I´d post some old blogs... here is one from Baños.

Sunday, May 2oth, 2oo7

This afternoon I bought a single white taper from a candle-seller on the street and went into the large, beautiful stone Catholic Church located right on the main square here in Baños.

Mass was being conducted, but people entered and left freely. Babies cried lustily and children scurried around, yet there was still a collective air of reverance and faith that distinguishes a church. I chose a seat close to the front, beside two young adolescent boys, there by themselves.

Standing up in front, a 3o-something Ecuadorian man was speaking. His voice was even and reasurring, reaching even the parishoners in the back via the modern sound system. His hands were outstretched as he spoke of salvation. Even with the microphone, his voice was by no means loud, and the cries a dozen babies and children, the hushed whispers of the adults, and the noise from the street detracted from the sanctity of his message. Behing him, a giant ornamental monument rose. Reaching almost to the ceiling of the enormous church, it resembled a red and gold castle, complete with towers and pinacles. It dwarfed those gathered below. Statues of saints and a large Virgin in the center, completed the scene. Surrounding the altar were red and white candles, and bunches of flowers. A few nuns and priests lingered in the wings, observing the proceedings.

Most of the service was foreign to me, both because it was obviously conducted in Spanish, and because I was raised Protestant. Some things I recognized, the Lord´s Prayer, communion, tithing. I watched carefully, and everyone gave a tithe, even the obviously destitute, tradtionally dressed woman and the two boys beside me. I wondered how much they gave.

Suddenly everyone was turning around to neighbours and friends, and I deduced the priest had asked everyone to greet and meet those around them. Handshakes and sometimes kisses were distributed all around, including me. I was relieved to see I was not singled out, and did not receive a lot of attention during this. An elderly, obviously native woman, her face etched with the wrinkles of a thousand suns, tears wetting her cheeks, reached out over and over again, grasping the hands of strangers as if to squeeze out some human affection. Her tiny stature clad in her traditional blue dress and beads, she continued long after most everyone else had sat back down.

The priest commenced the communion ceremony, himself partaking at the altar. Afterwards, most of the congregation -save myself- lined up the centre aisle to recieve the sancrament. The queue moved briskly. At the very end, and elderly woman with a wreath of white hair, leaning heavily on her cane and the young woman assisting her, made a laboured but determined pilgrimage to the altar. Each few steps came with the price of several minutes. Finally the only one coming forward, and still 2o feet to go, a nun in a black habit swayed forward with the communion.

Kneeling and praying in Spanish, and the service was over.

Worshipers rushed forward. Many carried candles, some photographs of the Virgin, and one man carried a rather large sculpture of the crucifiction of Christ, blood graphically displayed running over his tortured, agonizing body.

A priest in a white robe held a paddle like object filled with holy water. With a flick of his wrist, he sprayed the crowd, blessing the objects held upwards. I stood in the rear, patiently holding my candle and waiting my turn. Several spray ensured both me and my candle were throroughly blessed. Holy water beading on the white wax, I followed the rest of the candle-toting crowd through a side door. We emerged into a hallway the overlooked a square garden in the center of the church. Looking upwards, you could see the second floor where I assumed the priests and nuns resided. The stonework glowed dimly in the sunshine, the garden tangled yet orderly. It was the perfect picture of tranquillity.

But forget religious revererance, it was a shoving match. Unheeding of their neighbours, the parishoners pushed forward towards the long, semi-enclosed area, complete with fume hoods, that housed several hundred candles of all sizes. On one wall, a large relief mural of the virgin, with a giant, erupting volcano behind her, gave a symbolic depiction of what it must be like to be a Catholic in Baños, a town continually threatened but fiery volcanic death. It was evacuated a recently as January of this year, and on clear days, one can see the volcano still spouting large amounts of ash into the blue sky.

I once more waited in the back, content with observing the peole. A native woman, clad in well worn traditional clothing, with a leather face and flashing a grin with yellow, protruding teet that spoke of a lifetime with no dentistry, held the hand of her boy, sporting jeans and a t-shirt, and to top it off, running shoes that flashed little lights as he bounced in place. He looked like any Canadian child. Mother and son, each from a different era, and likely to have completely different lives.

Finally it was my turn. The blood of the fallen candles lay in pools amidst the living, hundreds of mostly white candles of all heights. Some standing, some leaning, some fallen, it looked like a veritable forest. Burning faithfully, they cast a golden glow on the faces of those assembled.

I carefully lit my long white taper, and placed in near the back, in a puddle of wax that would hopefully ensure it would avoid the fate of so many others. I said a prayer for my mother, made the sign of the cross, and retreated.

I found myself suddently back on the street. The harsh light shocked my eyes, and a brisk wind swirled street garbage, papers and leaves. A dozen or more vendors in stalls sold balloons of Songe Bob and Spiderman, trinkets and candy. The chatter of a hundred voices rang through the air. Two policemen, dressed in army-style, grey and black camoflage uniforms, stood unthreateningly on the corner, chatting to passersby. Sitting on a park bench, it took a full ten minutes for my senses to adjust to the new reality.

Posted by SJS 12:44 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

The Downside of Travelling

overcast 28 °C

Sorry I haven´t written in so long! Who knew that bartending, surfing and socializing could take up so much of my time.

One of the hardest things about travelling is meeting really cool people then having them leave. As a result, all relationships move at lightning speed. You meet cool people, you don´t go out with them that weekend or next week, but an hour later. Suddenly you spend almost all of your time with the same few people. Then as suddenly as you met them, they are gone. I feel a little tired from these little, short, but intense relationships. Everytime someone else leaves (or I leave!) I swear I am going to lie low for a few days and not meet anyone. This happened last when my good friend Natalie, from Montreal, left. I went with her to Guayaquil, then took the bus home from Monañita, sad to lose a good friend and exhausted, looking forward to a good relaxing time on the bus home and some peace and quiet. But it was not to be. I met three gringos before I even got on the bus, Mark from Winnipeg, Ruth from the Utah, and Grett from England. I spent the last three days with them, saw them off on the bus today (they have two weeks to travel north to Costa Rica!) and I am left again today, a bit sad and just mentally exhausted.

So, no moremeeting people! Yeah, right. I´m a bartender for crying out loud.

The second downside of travelling is how sick I have been getting. At home, I pride myself on getting sick only once or twice a year. Here, I get sick once or twice a week, and the other days I feel less than par. I´ve had my job for two weeks but have taken three days off. From extreme constipation to diaherrea, crazy stomach aches to vomiting, I always feel under the weather. I have barely eaten for three days now; as a result I feel really weak, too weak even to grab a surfboard and battle the waves, even though I want to. I am a bit worried about my health- why am I getting so sick?

My boss at work, Melissa, is a dear and she has been really supportive in giving me time off and good advice. She says it is possible I have picked up some sort of parasite- damn amazon!- and she is going to come with me to the pharmacy. Apparently there´s this 10-pìll, three day treatment that kills all of your parasites. She says that it is recommended any westerner living in latin america do this every few months. Hopefully it will do the trick.

I have so much written that I just need to type up on the internet! But it is crazy expensive in this town... $2 an hour, and it takes me usually about two hours to write one of the decent blogs. When I get to a town with a cheap connection, I promise I´ll post some more.

Posted by SJS 12:24 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Lament to the Intestine

(written late a night in a fit of searing pain... enjoy!)

overcast 25 °C

you form the very core of me
miles and miles of coils
slinking your way through my abdomen
for weeks now you have waged war against me
though I do you no wrong

first you held captive
every bite i took
sequestered in the recesses of my loins
until your stockpile grew
to unprecedented size
you reminded me every day
of your evil plan
with aches, twinges and pain
slowly mounting your offensive
the traitor from within

losing patience with your game
it was time for the defence
a tiny white pill
would blast you into submission

for an entire night the battle raged
you gave up your stronghold
but my casualties were large
and the cost great
you became a violent beast
a poisionous snake soaked in battery acid
thrashing, slicing my innards
you do not relinquish your power easily

finally the troops were exhausted
and both sides surrendered to the seduction of sleep
dawn shed light on an armistice
we shared an unsettled peace
both wary of the movements of the other

days pass but the end had not yet come
when suddenly on a grey skied morn
you again took up arms against me
duodenum, colon, villi, all
you seared my innards
with the fires of a hundred suns
confined to cotton and porcelain
i am once again your slave

but the fight in me has gone
and i am weary
lay down your arms!
declare a ceasefire within me
you have beaten me, you have won
i cry out against the never ending torture
the strength is sapped from my limbs

give me the peace i desire
but barely remember
would that you go gentle into that good night
please give up this fight

Posted by SJS 17:57 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

Gainfully Employed in Ecuador

I think I´m a work-a-holic!

sunny 28 °C

Yesterday, I was sitting at breakfast with Cali, Laila and Pablo. The girls as you may remember, I met in the jungle at Arutam, and Pablo was a Chilean dude Laila first befriended. I idly mentioned that I thought it was neat that so many gringos were working in town, at hostals, restaurants, and surf shops. It must be amazing, I mused, to spend even a few weeks here, just surfing and working. This town is addictive, very tranquillo -relaxed- during the week, and a happening party scene on the weekend. And of course, there´s always the surf. Some days are better than others, but every day there are decently surfable waves, in a warm, embracing ocean.

Laila piped up: "You know, there´s a lot of signs up around town for people looking for waitresses, you should go check it out." I was more than intrigued. Imagine being able to stay here for a few weeks, surfing and chilling out- which I wanted to do anyways- but breaking even financially or even coming out ahead in the end. Besides working in a restaurant again. Fantastic. But without an ample knowledge of spanish, I didn´t know how I could possibly get a job anyways.

Breakfast ended and we walked Pablo and Laila to the bus and said our sad goodbyes. I will really miss Laila- she was the other girl staying in Molita´s house with me in Arutam. She´s English and has this surprising sense of humour that comes out of nowhere. We´ve spent time in the jungle, in Puyo and Baños, and now in Montañita together, and we´ve become quite close. I will definitely miss her!

Back in town, I decided, on a whim, to pop into the Casa Blanca, the bar/restaurant below the hostal of the same name that had several signs advertising hiring. Incidentally, it was the hostal Cali and I first stayed at.

I thought of the absurdity of it all. The last time I applied for a job, at The Grand, I must have spent an hour on my makeup, another on my hair, and wore a fantastic outfit of pressed black slacks with leather stilleto boots and a well-fitted collared shirt. In short, nothing less than perfectly clean, groomed, and professionally outfitted. To complete the picture, I carried a bold red folder containing a perfected resume and cover letter.

I walked into the Casa Blanca wearing my black short "York U" shorts, a Hollister tank, bikini underneath. I had gone for a run that morning, as I have been doing every day now. Pushing myself, I ran the entire way down the beach and the entire way back, broken only by a single stretch before I returned. Covered in sweat and about to relish that cold shower, I discovered we had no water at all. I used the damp terry cloth and some bottled water to give myself a sort of rub-down. Of course, walking back into town for breakfast along the beach, I completed the look by re-splattering mud all the way up my legs. In short, I arrived to apply for a job a bit sweaty, unshowered, in my shorts that half the time I use to sleep in, my bikini, no makeup, flip-flops and mud splatters, without a resume or other documentation. I love what you can get away with in this country!

After some miscommunication and some gesturing coupled with my Spanglish, I was directed to a cute and friendly looking brunette who introduced herself as Melissa. Yay English! This just got a whole lot easier. I waited at the bar as she kept having to leave, scurrying hither and thither, attending to the employees.

Finally we sat down for a proper (improper?) interview. Not many questions, really. I was expecting the usual "Where have you worked before", but no. I answered, "I am from Canada, I have a lot of experience, I plan to say a couple of weeks, and honestly, my Spanish isn´t very good". She seemed wary of my dubious Spanish, and I don´t blame her. All of the kitchen staff and half of the servers were obviously spanish.

She looked at me, hestiantly, as if she were about to ask a favour. "How soon could you start?"

"Well, today, I guess. I´m just hanging out."

"Okay, we´ll we´re going to be really busy tonight. So come back at 4:00, okay? And earlier if you want a staff dinner, we eat around 3:30. We´ll try it out for a night and see how it works."

I walked out of the bar. It was exactly 1:00 pm. I had a job in Ecuador. Oh and did I mention the pay? For a waitress, it´s $140 dollars a month. Break it down, for a typical 10 hour night shift, it´s 4.50 or 45 cents an hour. Ridiculous, right? To put in perspective though, the average school teacher in Ecuador, considered a well-educated person, earns about $200 a month. Also, not terrible considering the cost of living.


Two and a half hours after I applied for the job, I started my first shift. Things were a bit hectic as it was shift changeover time. Not knowing much spanish made communicating with the kitchen staff especially hard. I was to be helping out behind the bar.

Stepping behind the wood-topped ceramic bar, I met the day bar girl. She is a young middle aged woman, and I would presume also a mother. She has that look. Behind her on the floor slept her oh so cute, very shiny black, baby puppy. He seemed oblivious to the comings and goings, and slept unconcerned. I wondered how she didn´t trip over him all day, and then marveled that here in Ecuador, your dog can hang out behind the bar with you.

A quick scan of the bar, however, revealed it wasn´t entirely backwards. All of the important liquers and liquors were there, including the creme de cacao, johnny walker, absolut vodka, etc.

A guy walked in whom I reconized him from a club I briefly stepped into on Thursday night, because him and his friends seemed to be part of this strange and elite "hot people club". Tall, and very tall considering the height of the locals, he had bleach blond hair that spoke of hours in the sun, and a body that told tales of years on a surfboard. One of the girls with them, a small, very tanned blonde with interesting features and no make-up, was undoubtedly one of the hottest girls I´ve ever seen. She too had the surfer body, not a tiny bit of fat and the leanest midsection you´ve ever seen. I say lean because she was not skinny, per se, but muscular. She was the waitress, and he, the bar manager.


To be continued: my first night bartending in Ecuador!

Posted by SJS 14:17 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

Global Warming is Caused by my Thighs

Sunburn #2

To be continued!

Posted by SJS 10:32 Comments (2)

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