This is something of a companion piece to my last post. It didn’t start as a series. But if you buy gifts, presumably, at some point, you have to give them away. That may involve a terrifying face-to-face encounter with other people. Before the Pandemic, we referred to it as socializing. Millennials call it abuse.
Everyone I know here says the same thing: that they are much more prone to partying in Ecuador than in Canada. Chantal and I discussed this phenomenon last summer, that we have children and grandchildren but few friends in Vankleek Hill. San Clemente, on the other hand, is our time to get strange with fellow weirdos. We meet them in bars and at restaurants. We gather at each other’s homes, drain a few bottles of cheap booze, play board games or cards, and always spin tunes from our youth.
If I were to play my music within earshot of my son, he’d roll his eyes and attempt to introduce me to Black Eyed Peas or Thrice. Both respectable bands, but I like my rock dark and edgy. Very early Kiss. The Cramps. Alice in Chains. I lose interest after Grunge.
The folks we hang with most often are Albertans, and country lovers. Which is perfectly fine by me. If we can overlook our incompatible politics, which we do, thankfully, as a rule, then we can tolerate each other’s tastes in music. Unless I put on Diana Krall. Dennis loathes Diana Krall. Something to do with a cowboy hat. I don’t ask.
Reverse cowgirl review
As we get closer to Christmas, our social opportunities become more esoteric.
Last week, for instance, COACMES (la Cooperativa de Ahorro y Crédito Micro Empresarial Sucre, our canton’s small business savings and loan) invited founding and current members, as well as the entire English-speaking expat community, to its ninth annual customer appreciation dinner at Hotel Chelita in nearby San Jacinto. Chantal and I, and our friends Roger and Ramona, and their upstairs neighbour Gerry, drove in together. COACMES ferried retirees on buses from as far away as Crucita. We had Rascal heavy duty mobility scooters parked halfway down the avenue. It was quite the affair.
Ordinarily, this isn’t something that would pique my interest. Chantal tells me I agreed to it two weeks earlier. Who listens? The point is, I don’t think of myself as an active member of the shuffleboard set. And yet, looking around, it struck me that most of this crowd was three cigarettes away from a colostomy bag. When did I get so… old?
Our pre-meal entertainment consisted of speeches and sales pitches, in very rapid Spanish and very uncertain English. Dinner was a soup-kitchen styled affair: rice, chicken, shrimp, tuna, Caesar salad, with a credible maracuyá pudding for dessert. After our meal, we were treated to the interpretive dance stylings of some of the tellers who work at COACMES. Employees – female employees – in tight skirts, shaking their asses to Shakira.
I think we can all agree that asking only women bank tellers to perform a Reverse Cowgirl Review, at an official company function, is a catastrophic idea in Canada and most blue states. Ecuadorians, however, have a deeply embedded beauty queen culture. Every pueblito hosts a competition, and girls here learn at a very early age to showcase their considerable charms. These young women were thrilled to serve. I was mortified. And slightly aroused. Then mortified again because who the fuck knows. We left early.
Whiskey and a cane house
That weekend, Chantal and I drove to Puerto Cayo, 16 minutes to the south of Rancho Loco, to spend the evening with our friends Luis and Yessenia. I promised them a visit last season, but we couldn’t make it work. First, Luis got sick. Then I got sick. Then Luis’ younger brother was involved in a near-fatal car crash, and that was the end of that. Erick and his wife joined us for dinner that evening. It was good to see them. I ran into Erick at the Mall del Pacifico in Manta, maybe two days before his accident. Given his injuries, which were dreadful, I didn’t think we’d meet again.
Chantal and I delivered our Christmas food box, which was warmly received. Tee shirts for the boys; Ferrero Rocher chocolates for Yessenia, who immediately hid them from her ravenous teenaged sons; Rocafuerte dulces as after-dinner treats; and a bottle of Dewar’s for Luis. I intended the whiskey as a Christmas gift. It didn’t make it past Saturday night.
Luis promised us a stay in one of the traditional cane farming houses on his walled lot. He bought the land around his house and is slowly developing it into a family compound. The Kennedys of Puerto Cayo. So far, he has the two cane shacks, a plunge pool, tilapia pond, fruit trees, shaded area where Yessenia grows lettuce and herbs, some chickens, one very irksome rooster, an affable mutt named Luna Peruna, and 36 felines in various stages of disassembly. Yessenia runs a shelter for street cats.
Luis’ mother was there, as was Yessenia’s tiny abuelita. A neighbour who needed work, Maria, prepared our meal on the BBQ: pollo y chancho, chicken and pork, with rice and a shrimp pasta salad that Chantal and I brought from our kitchen. Maria ate with us and cleaned up. We spoke Spanish and, where that failed, Google Translate. Everyone had a lovely time.
We’re different in Ecuador
I don’t know why it’s easier for us to make friends here than in Canada. Maybe it’s not so unusual. We spend our adult years becoming more solitary. Old comrades drift away to their own siloed lives, and for some reason we don’t replace them. It’s tragic.
We’re different people in Ecuador. Or maybe we’re truer to ourselves in this country; more the individuals we were in our teens, or more the people we never allowed ourselves to be.
I wouldn’t call it nostalgia. But there is a definite longing, I think, among those we know here, to recapture that lost essence. As we watch our bodies age, as we feel the inevitability of what’s coming, perhaps Ecuador is our rebellion.