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The Kirwan Twins Adventures We've finally graduated, so we're setting off for three months to backpack around India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand before entering the "real world."

Marching to Montecristi

ECUADOR | Thursday, 21 February 2008 | Views [885]

I marched up and down the avenue, nervous alone and with a brilliant green sleeping pad tucked under the hood of a flashy daypack reflecting in the night.  It took me three turns around the block to realize that the suspicious group huddled at the corner of the intersection was part of our gang heading to MonteCristi; a handful of indigenous farmers who had traveled from Otavalo to join us on the bus rented by the Coordinadora Ecuatoriana de Agroecologica (CEA), and proved that my idea of "traveling light" needs some improvement.  I greeted my compañeros and found Kati Aguilar (founder of the first Canasta in Quito, "El Carmen") and Carmita, a sweet, smiling mother and member of the same Canasta.  We boarded the bus and were met by work colleagues, cheerful, like-minded folk and inviting guitar melodies pulsing from the backseat mingled with the scent of marijuana.  I drifted towards the back, naturally for the tunes.  Kati and Carmita followed, though for a lack of seats up front.  Hence began a short-lived, boisterous friendship with the three Afro-Ecuadorians from Esmeraldas.
We were on our way to MonteCristi, hometown of the National Assembly.  Our bus was one of many traveling from around the country, bringing environmental activists from a variety of social classes, work sectors, ethnicities, and organizations to converge on the National Assembly and present the "Asamblea Nacional Ambiental," a proposal for urgent environmental policy and change regarding mining, oil extraction, and the exploitation of Ecuador's natural resources such as the Amazon, agricultural land, the ocean (where fishing has contributed to a devastating decrease in coastal mangroves), and other biological jewels.  When we arrived at 7 in the morning, I doubt any of the 300 participants milling about the vacant school compound were nearly as exhausted as my bus-mates, deprived of sleep by the incessant plucking of guitars, lyrical chants and careless laughter.  My fatigue was compounded by plugged ears resulting from the long, and gradual descent towards the coast, which stubbornly remained so for the entire trip resulting in questionable conversations and pronunciation.

We were greeted with breakfast.  Pinche served in a gourd with platano, and coffee laden with cane sugar or infused by the very segment of cane stalk it was served in.  I was rather impressed by these native and biodegradable inventions, though my stomach was less content with fatty meat first thing in the morning.  Breakfast was followed by a brief march into town where we reunited in a large, vacant room with a sorry coat of paint that was quickly hidden by posters and banners bearing the sentiments of various groups involved.  People mingled and met, and we broke into discussion groups to discuss any final concerns about the proposal.  This was followed by emotional speeches and propaganda, and just as I was about to doze off my cell phone tugged me back to reality.  The musicians beckoned me back to camp and I gratefully welcomed the opportunity to escape for a quick siesta. 

I collected my lunch and found the Rastas and other companions in an empty classroom jamming with a mix of instruments including marimba, d'jembes, cajones, and maracas.  One hopped about the room with a rain stick, flopping his dreads and fragmenting the rays of foggy sunlight sneaking through the barred windows.  A porro the size of a Cuban added to the mist, softly gliding along the walls and framing the musicians.  My head lightly danced to the tribal rhythm and my toes played a heady beat on the cold, cement floor.  In favor of a sane stomach, I largely ignored my second helping of meat and platano supported by a mound of rice.  Finally overcome with exhaustion, I crept from the room for a siesta on the bus.  Devastated, the driver had locked the bus and was "missing," so Kati and Carmita generously accompanied me to the soccer court where they ate lunch and guarded my nap on the gum plastered bleachers.  I was grumpily mustered from my dreams to return back to town.  As we left the school grounds, which had been converted into a massive campsite, several women were busy preparing meter long fish, plump and glistening with fresh saltwater, a welcoming foresight for dinner.

Lunch was followed by a second reunion in the town center, where various asambleistas joined us to hear the valuable protests and preoccupations of Ecuador's citizens.  The session was opened by a surprise performance from the Esmeraldeños, apparently a practiced band equipped with tropical uniforms and all.  This warranted a slight pardon on my part for being sleep-deprived, as I gathered their insistent and enthusiastic song (albeit at 3am on a night bus) was motivated by this scheduled performance.  Contrarily, I quickly realized that these shows were spontaneous and tactfully presented at moments requiring animation from the audience.

Kati, Carmita and I returned to the campground for dinner, which was disappointingly, meat and rice and I wondered, "Where on earth did that damn fish go."  By a stroke of luck, Kati convinced our benefactor, Jose Rivadeniera (director of CEA, Ecuador's overhead environmental organization), that due to a lack of tent space and considering Carmita's comfort, we would be delighted to stay in a local hotel with all costs covered.  That is exactly what we did.  We bathed in gloriously cold water, watching the dust swirl down the drain with glee.  Each of us emerged from the bathroom revived from the muggy climate, and clad in pajamas we chatted like schoolgirls until our eyelids pleaded "no more" and so we tucked our eyes snuggly beneath our eyelids for a peaceful night of sleep.

In the morning we found a juice bar and welcomed the fresh nutrients with the fresh morning air.  We strolled about the town center as tourists, visiting MonteCristi's only church overlooking a plaza filled with demonstrators, and on to the local museum exhibiting Eloy Alfaro's life, an ex-president loved by his people and murdered by few (the Assembly is strategically located).  MonteCristi is indebted to its protesting visitors, who bring a degree of dynamic and interest for the local citizens.  Simply stated, this town would otherwise be very, very boring.  

After a lazy morning skipping the scheduled activities, we finally decided it would be responsible to join our people, and off we went to another large room where the previous days concerns were being expressed by the citizens once again, followed by the politicians passionate and sensitive speeches including one asambleista's assertion that "fish should not be dying in the rivers and oceans of our country and, I have a little son so god forbid I take him to the river and he sees dead fish floating belly up."  God forbid.  All quite sincere though likely empty promises, followed by private discussions in the Assembly house between the organizers of our group and the politicians.  While this was taking place the remaining protesters (which had dwindled considerably) marched up the hill to the constituent house with banners and cheers, saluting the members of another march who had just finished their protest and were now descending.  I wondered if these streams of people occurred daily and at what hours and in what direction.  We arrived outside the assembly house and the marimbeños began their show while Katie and I bought salted biscuits and sliced green mango, chewed thoughtfully and offered generously, and wondered when it would be appropriate to descend again.

The afternoon was quite lazy as the important people were busy "up top," so we commandeered a bus to go to Manta for a few hours, the nearest beach and also one of the country's largest ports.  Mind you, I was delighted either way as this was my first sighting of coastline in Ecuador.  We basked in the misty rain, gazing at imposing containers and cranes.  I touched my toes in the sand and then fretted over the sanitary condition of my feet, though I imagined others swimming nearby were in considerably worse condition.  We resorted to a bar on the local strip and sipped Pilsners as the marimbeños danced to a constant stream of salsa until the electricity cut out and, alas, it was really time to go.  We boarded the bus for MonteCristi where we boarded yet another back to Quito.

The ride home was mildly memorable. It involved a backseat party with half of our bus mates, two bottles of whisky, a guitar, more porros, and deep, deep slumber.  When my eyes creaked open at the first stroke of sunlight, I as delighted to see that the bus had let us off at the climbing wall blocks from my house.  So as everyone else lifted themselves from a severe chuchaki and pondered the question of hailing a taxi at the crack of dawn, I hauled my cargo onto my back and strutted down the street for my bed…

Tags: Work

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