We were without water this week. Hardly a surprise. Mirador San Jose owns a water tower, and a water truck, and a water source with industrial pump on Rio Bravo near Manantiales. Not one of these has been kept in good repair. The developer of our urbanization, Inmirsan, operates under the philosophy that a dollar saved in maintenance.
That’s it. There’s no second half to that sentence.
The rains arrive in biblical torrents around this time each year. They reduce the Rio Bravo road to a cratered, greasy, clay-to-your-waist shitshow. Our water truck, which appears to be Korean War surplus and leaves a trail of parts behind it like Hansel and Gretel leave breadcrumbs, hit a pothole, cracked an axle, and expired at last on the E15 just outside Puerto Cayo.
Next afternoon, Inmirsan put its paltry maintenance savings toward an emergency water truck rental. This flashy blue-and-white number had us admiring its sleek lines and glossy exterior as it purred past. It managed two, maybe three trips before it stopped. Our water tower, you understand, is damaged in some fashion and can only be filled partway. Lest it collapse onto the homes that surround it.
Since Mirador San Jose is at capacity for the high season, and since the first thing Canadians do in a water shortage is wash their bedsheets, our reserve lasted a little more than three hours.
Next morning, the community vehicle was back in action. Except now the pump at our water source was busted. By that point, Chantal and I had neighbours with buckets visiting our pool so they could flush their toilets. We were down considerably by the time fresh water came trickling through our pipes that evening.
There’s Still the Matter of Electricity
As bad as it sounds, there’s still the matter of electricity. That went out later the same day. It’s off now, as I write. Again, no surprise. We’re on the rural coast. Salt accumulates, and when it rains you can hear transformers along the highway pop like bottle rockets. Most everyone here owns a generator. When we built our house, we paid a couple hundred extra for a generator switch and wiring for two power sources. We added a 500-litre cistern last month. Now we can live off the grid for several days, should the need arise. Between late February and mid-March, the need arises at least twice a week.
It’s fun to write of our adventures when we travel. Aspiring expats would do well to remember that daily life in Ecuador also has its ordeals. You could say this week’s quasi-crisis was a failing of Inmirsan to plan beyond its next pay cycle. To a certain degree, that’s true: the company seems to be run by toddlers. But it’s no better anywhere else.
In fact, it’s much worse. Puerto Cayo, our closest pueblito to the south, receives water for maybe two hours a day. Last month, Manta, Ecuador’s fourth-largest city, blew a pump at its sole water supply and had to bring agua potable in by boat. Those flashy blue-and-white trucks were on the road all day every day, for two weeks, until parts arrived from overseas and the pump went back online.
This is South America. We’ve made great strides toward modernity. But it’ll be some time before Ecuatorianos join us in hysterics the moment our Internet goes down. They’ve known their entire lives what we are only beginning to realize: that we’re on our own down here; that Ecuador, like other South American countries, suffers from the infrastructural equivalent of Tourette’s; that anyone who can’t abide our reality should perhaps not come, or pack up and leave. It’s one thing to bloviate about rugged individualism when you own a cattle ranch. It’s something else entirely to scent-test your armpits after three days without a bath.
Civil Society Emerges
Many in our community seem to be taking this lesson to heart. While our fantasy HOA busies itself with identity theft so it can issue invoices for services it isn’t authorized to provide (yes, that’s still a problem: I’ll write about it soon enough), other homeowners have taken to actual community organizing.
We had a mini marathon fundraiser in January. The proceeds will be put to improvements that Inmirsan won’t, or can’t, provide. Like rebuilding garbage stations so they no longer attract rats. Rats attract snakes. We may not agree on much, but nobody needs snaky garbage.
Every now and then there’s a minga. Minga is that purely Ecuatoriano concept of community service. Think of it as a flash mob that picks up beach litter. Your single-use plastics go into the ocean, you know. Somebody has to bag that shit.
Last week, our friends Marc and Sylvie arranged a bowling tournament. Believe it or not, we have lanes in Manta. Four of them, perhaps the only four in Ecuador. They’re nowhere close to PBA regulation. Who cares? The weather was vile that day. Our lights were flickering. We went to throw rocks.
It was quite a scene. Bilingual Canadians, unilingual francophones and anglophones, yammering at each other in English, French, Spanish while pins dropped, the music blared, and cold beer flowed. We played until our arms ached. Later, we got a table for 20 at a nearby chain restaurant and ate burgers while the big screen showed us a live football match. Manta’s Championship Team versus Whoever. If you asked me to identify them, I couldn’t. We cheered anyway, then drove home chatting with neighbours in our back seat who don’t own a car. It was magnificent.
Therein lies the beauty of our lives in this place. You don’t have to look very hard to find it. You just have to let a few things go. Like reliable electricity. Running water. Facebook. Rage.
None of it matters. None of it ever mattered. We just thought it did.
Sometimes I chat online with friends in Canada. They’re consumed by race-baiting, Justin-hating, whitewashing and Wexit. The funny thing is, it’s their media that changed and not their world. They can’t even see it. Clicks and eyeballs and ad share are the new currency. But the attention economy works only if you pay attention.
Throw it away. All of it. Give yourself to disorder. Places like Ecuador can remind you how. And if you can’t get here from there, don’t sweat it. Watch Big Lebowski and repeat after me:
Fuck it, Dude. Let’s go bowling.