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Thursday, 12 April 2007

Flea Market Pup - Page 2

Written by Kip Sikora
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I had decided against going to Cuenca, but then Vince told me he had just arranged a ride with his neighbor, Oswaldo, in the back of a vegetable truck leaving Saraguro at 4 AM the next day. He was heading there in search of a turkey chick, and had plans to fatten that bird for a home-style feast come Thanksgiving in the jungle. Turkeys are somewhat rare in Ecuador, but Oswaldo was bound for one of the larger markets in Cuenca, and it had been reported anything could be found there, save the homemade shotguns sold much further north in Saquisili.

Following a dimly lit descent to Oswaldo's place through cornfields and steep footpaths, we found his house dark and lifeless. We momentarily worried we were late and had somehow missed him, but then Vince asked the time. About four minutes after four, I said. Never, not once, in the history of Ecuador, had anybody been late four minutes after they were supposed to have arrived. Nothing happens on time in Ecuador. Tardiness is so ingrained in the culture that la hora Ecuatoriana' refers to the lax approach taken toward time. The Economist even referenced the expression in an article on Ecuadorian banana exportation, claiming the nonchalant attitude costs the country millions of dollars in lost contracts annually. Though equally improbable, perhaps they decided to leave early? Time, or rather the Ecuadorian perception of it, is nebulous, and although frustrating at times, like when 4 AM actually meant 5, it was equally refreshing having come from the overly time conscious culture of North America.

While we waited, I sat down in the dirt and made a cone shaped pile of sticks and little rocks, which Rue collided with in a spastic charge, scattering them across the porch. Vince found a rock and lit his first cigarette of the day. Although much maligned in the court of public opinion, the scent of second hand smoke on a cold morning is an odd source of transcendence in that it invokes images and visions on the canvas of my imagination. Thin bands of shape shifting smoke rose from the glowing tip of the burning tobacco, and passing through my nostrils, worked their chemical magic on whatever part of the brain links scent to sight. Images of a battlefield in the gray light of a foggy autumn sunrise appeared in my mind's eye. Trees, their branches bare, framed the morning fog in jagged forms, creating a monochromatic scene of abstract impressionism.

Walking the fine line between addiction and pleasure Vince took a final drag, tossed the butt into the dirt and mashed it out with his boot heel. Soon thereafter, the porch light flickered on and Oswaldo appeared. He introduced us to his wife and her mother, both of whom may have wondered why two gringos were voluntarily going to ride in the back of the truck all the way to Cuenca, but if they did, their placid faces revealed nothing.

Oswaldo climbed into the cab, his wife next to him on the bench seat and her mother on the far side, next to the passenger window. They all got in through the driver side, and walking around the front end of the truck, I understood why. The passenger door, slightly crooked and discolored, was sealed to the body of the truck by a thick vein of oxidized metal running along its borders. It had been welded shut. From the rear-view mirror dangled a small, homemade cross. It was simple, two twigs wrapped in twine to hold its form, but it was a genuine statement of faith. I constantly find myself wrestling with a perceived lack of purity in organized religion, but sincere gestures like that cross make me feel I am missing something in my skepticism. On the other hand, the glittery stickers and gaudy trinkets stuck to the bumpers and dashboard did not resonate with sincerity but a cheap commercialization of faith. They felt phony, like the chlorinated lazy river at a water park.

Vince and I climbed into the bed of the truck, took our places amongst the aforementioned cargo and the engine sputtered to life. The ride to Cuenca was uneventful. It was too loud, too early and too damn cold to talk, so I put on headphones and somehow fell asleep. The last thing I remember before dozing off was laughing about the lengths we had gone to save five bucks. When I woke, we were at the gates of the market, Rue was curled up inside Vince's jacket and I was covered in cornhusks.market

We pulled into a side access lot, which was quickly filling with vehicular beasts of burden marked by the scars of lengthy service. Lumpish, hollow eyed ogres whose jagged rusty flesh, disfigured grills and snarling bumpers revealed the grueling reality of the road. Dangerously bald tires covered gnarled junkyard wheels, some attached with less than a full set of lug nuts. Bulldog-thick smoke stacks, dark with soot, rose skyward like caustic towers in a bleak industrial skyline. These anti-lungs coughed a final venomous cloud before coming to rest where they would remain until the close of the market that evening. Some would stay parked over night while others would begin the nocturnal crawl back to from where they came.

(Page 2 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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