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Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Long Road to Alausi II - Ecuador 4

In part because the hostel was closed, and in part because there were only a few hours remaining before the adventure we sought was due to begin, we opted to explore a bit instead of sleeping, placing our bets on the local coffee-shops and bakeries opening around 6:00. From 1:50 (our time of arrival) to around 4:00, we wandered, aiming at first at a large, colorful statue of Jesus in the center of town (think “Buddy Jesus” but without the thumb's up and with a slightly less ostentatious grin), which is as good a time as any to mention the way “dogs” work in Ecuador.

I put the word “dog” in quotation marks because in Ecuador the line between dog and wolf is somewhat narrower than in America. In America, if you run into a stray dog, odds are he's more scared of you than you are of him. This is not always the case in Ecuador, where strays arguably serve a very important purpose, and that purpose is inflicting pain on unknown elements who stray too near. The streets of any town at night are roamed by three sorts of dogs. Domestic dogs out for a piss, Strays of domestic origin out because they have nowhere to go (these are often in search of garbage or the leavings of whomever happens to be around), and strays of unknown origin out because they're hungry.

Any encounter with a dog in the street at night (or during the day) in Ecuador is most easily explained with diplomatic terminology. The two parties meet, size each other up, and attempt to ascertain who would have the advantage in a fight. If the dog is alone, this is you. If the dog is not alone, this is him. Borders are drawn depending on who wants to go where, for how long, and why. If both parties merely want to pass, each chooses one side of the street (not the same side) and the meeting is brief and painless, if wary.

If the canine party intends to stay, or considers part (or all) of the street territory (this is often a problem with domestic dogs, near their homes), the human party ascertains the threat level. This involves a series of determinations, starting with the health of the dog. A healthy dog is either a domestic or a stray of unknown origin. Strays of domestic origin usually appear somewhat emaciated, and are most likely to turn tail and run if you opt to move forward. If the healthy dog is also clean, it is domestic, at which point you must ascertain if it is chained. If it is chained, walk on the opposite side of the street. If not, or if you cannot tell, assume the dog is feeling territorial, and find another route. One friend of Ma.'s made the mistake of not heeding her regarding a particular gang of dogs, and paid with a goodly portion of one of his legs. This is not a joke.

If the dog is healthy and dirty, you probably have a problem. Look around for other dogs. If you see any, and they're looking at you, you're either being hunted or you're close to their “territory.” In either case, do not make eye-contact, and attempt to back away. If they follow, antagonizing them would be redundant and so it is wise (according to Ju., a friendly fellow we met in the hostel) to throw rocks, preferably large and/or sharp ones.

The dogs of Alausi know where you are at any time, and you cannot wander the streets at night without them raising unholy hell in whatever neighborhood you are passing through. While we were on the road itself, a small pack of them staked us out, but the arrival of a bus threw off their rhythm (and ours... it was dark and foggy and there was a bend in the road) and they left off their curiosity. Near the Jesus statue we found the final leg blocked by a couple angry-looking small dogs, could not ascertain if they were chained, and found a new way around instead.

We arrived at Jesus to discover the view somewhat obstructed by fog, and photography of the view rendered impossible by the bright white lights which were used to light the statue up at night (though I admit, I was too tired at any rate to pull out my camera, at this point). An interesting consequence of these lights, however, was that at night, every insect in the city (otherwise dimly lit) gravitated upwards and to the center, and hung out (like a pack of mall-rats) around that central square on a hill. Jesus himself was swarming with horned beetles, moths, and other small insects I initially mistook for mosquitoes but later recognized as tiny-little-doohickies-that-don't-bite-so-who-cares.

Aside from the difficulty of not stepping on the horned beetles (I did step on one, which made a rather depressing krunch noise and made me feel rather miserable about myself as a person... they're quite pretty and they are BIG), the square was pleasant enough and contained a map of the town which informed us that there was to be a market held there. Around this time, I identified some of the odd noises as bat noises, and mindful that rabies was a bad thing to have, I suggested we make our way down. The bats were, of course, hunting the local all-you-can-eat buffet, and so left us entirely alone.

We wandered for a time, and eventually set up shop for a nap on a bench, and a bit later in one of the doorways of the train-station while we waited for the town to come alive:

People passed by and said “hi” and such when a certain hour rolled around, and such encounters became more frequent (and more hurried) as time wore on. We gleaned bits of information from passersby while we were awake, learning that the train station actually opened at 8:00, that the train we were here to ride left every hour or so (rendering useless the inane difficulties we had gone through to arrive the previous day to ensure we could get tickets) and no longer arrived from Riobamba because (accounts varied) there had been a mudslide, a rock-slide, or some other catastrophe which closed the rail between those two towns.

Tickets to ride the Devil's Nose cost us eight dollars each, which was a relief, since someone had earlier told us it would cost twenty-five. At this juncture we learned that due to some ten-year-olds managing to seriously injure themselves, the entire point of the trip (riding on top of the train) had been rendered illegal by mayoral edict. At that point, we thought the universe had won, and that the Devil's Nose trip was to be a near-total loss. We took our seats behind muddied, jammed windows and prepared to be underwhelmed.

That said, I have gleaned some degree of perverse pleasure from stringing this tale along over several days, so why don't we leave it there for now, and return to it tomorrow?

Signing out,

Maxwell Evans

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