The night before leaving Loja we hastily put together a plan to get to Zaruma,my wifes hometown.First we looked for a friendly peña or bar.We settled on one after stumbling into a shady looking disco with thumping rythms of reggaeton, where you couldn’t even consider a drink let alone a conversation! The next bar was more quiet and filled with locals as well as an underaged looking kid serving liquor.We started to deliberate over our next voyage and contacted my wifes other brother,who we would meet along the route at a specified location,We decided the better and said no, it would mean losing a day. So we found a willing driver who would pick us up the next day and my brother-inlaw promised us a easier route of only a couple of hours if we got out early skipping breakfast so we could try tigrillo(a mashed plantain,cooked with onions cheese and eggs)
The next morning we got up at the crack of dawn with roosters crowing around the city, who needed an alarm clock?
Our driver started us out of the town as we said adios to Loja and proceeded to head northwest into some more mountains! We passed Catamayo’s outskirts and went through to some really shitty roads till we started to climb and the road seemed to smooth out a bit. My eye’s closed and I drifted for what seemed an hour when my kidney’s were awoken by the car hitting some seriously bumpy tracks, this rode was not that paved!"Is this the pre-inca road?" I enquired fearing the worse as we passed into
more jungle like mountains full of green fauna and terrible prescipices below us. As we careened for what seemed like hours around some hairpin curves. With an occasional animals appearing from nowhere, like a donkey a mare and her newborn colt catching his balance as we doged around them barely missing them."Vroom",then out of nowhere came a
semi truck with a ton of goods strapped on it’s carriage, "how the hell did this idiot find this road?"
I thought as he just missed us, the worse was just down the road ahead of us a truck with a fat pig in tow was passing some foul smell through our window!
The truck started to go faster as we passed some odd huts, people living literally on the edge of the road and mountain.As another hill started to disappear another appeared just beyond, god what a trip and all on gravel! Then we came to a screeching halt as our driver peered out in front of us at a
road that no longer was there, it had been swept out by the sheering of the mountain collapsing below down into the river and valley below us.What we had in
front was a clay mucky water drenched road with no other identifiable signs except of tire tracks from the trucks that had enough push to get through this muck!
Without hesitation, both my brother-inlaw saw an opening in that mess and floored the engine….straight into a ditch, the wheels got caught in the clay and water and sprayed the car’s windsheild with this ochre mess! The driver cursed, I rolled my eye’s, my wife asked what happened, I told her the obvious….were in Ecuador and stuck in some deep shit!(furious and wishing I was in Switzerland on some train,that would be right on time!)We got out and the driver got my brother-inlaw in the drivers seat as he tried to push out the front end of the car while the wheels spun in place digging us deeper into this muddy abyss! With no sign of help or civilization we laughed a little while the driver started to whine about the route and pay! My brother-inlaw started down the road to find some help, I was really pissed now and just shook my head as my wife in her platform shoes told me to relax! We waited a while contemplating another push of the car,I didn’t give much thought to it, we were screwed! Just then I heard what sounded like a truck, thank god! Around the corner came a pick up with my brother-inlaw in the back with a rope in hand. We managed to get the car pulled out and unstuck, whence like a knight in shining armor came a tractor that would clear our path to let us pass and get on our way! The tractor cleaned up the road pushing the water and debris off the side of the hill, we got back sighing relief only losing about a half of an hour or more? We started down another turn what seemd a good two miles the road still feeling bumpy! Oh no, again another ditch! The driver told us to get out and he would floor it to get across with my wife in tow in the back seat, while we would carefully make our way across this next obstacle on foot. My brother-inlaw told me to get closer to the hill on drier ground. Without a care and having my army experience I surveyed it differently, and tramped precariously on an embankment on what looked like sand and gravel. Slurp went my left leg deep into what was like quicksand, the right leg quickly followed as I lurched forward with hands outstretched into the clay, plop! I heard myself laugh as my brother-inlaw shouted, too late I was deep in the shit, I worried only for my ipod in my pocket and perhaps some mud in the eye!
I got out and trudged over to the otherside and made it for the car that had made it with no effort! My wife was laughing, the driver was bewildered and I think felt sorry, I just cursed under my breath!
They suggested I wash off in the muddy water, the driver said not to worry about the upholstery, and layed newspaper down on the seats. I was resolved to scrape this thick clay off my legs and save a ball to take home to make a sculpture! We continued what seemed like even more treacherous roads avoiding rocks and water puddles that could be mistaken for small ponds.Finally after a good hour, my brother-inlaw said we were in the Provincia de El Oro, the canton of Zaruma.
We could see it high above the mountain where it lay as we passed mining camps.Up we climbed again making our way into the outskirts of the town. I had once visited about ten years ago, with a noticeable increase in structures,commerce and traffic we made it to our destination, Hotel Roland.This being the hotel owned by a cousin. I quickly got out of my mud laden clothes and cleaned up.Later we decided to go for some local fare up in the center of the town, we tried several places, no were serving ,Finally our luck we found one place to have some grub!
Some crisp tamales that are served with a locally grown coffee, they offered it with criollo cheese(a fresh cheese that has a very sour taste.)I was so famished I scarfed four they had a real tasty seasoning that permeated cumin and with the coffee I was ready for a siesta!
The next day was spent making lunch at the hotel and visiting a town close by Malvas, then we were introduced to a man making traditional bocadillos like his parents had for generations….to be continued