Published: August 7th 2007May 13th 2007
Neither rain, nor sleet, nor mid-construction road-block will keep us from reaching our destination. We may not have been carrying mail, but our cargo of vitamins, medications and dental equipment were just as important to the communities we intended to reach. After breakfast, I broke from the group to take a more private walk through the city before we departed. Thinking ahead (or just being a morning person) I’d packed early and was afforded some extra time and was well rewarded for my foresight. Being a Sunday and Dia de Madre (Mothers Day) ensured that every beauty parlor and flower vendor in town was up and active, although the rest of the shops were closed. The squares were crowded with people dressed in their finest heading to and from church services and mass. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the day. After the bus was loaded, we said goodbye to the city and headed out.
Several miles outside of the Quito we encounter our first delay. The “new road” out of town was so new it wasn’t actually completed, leaving us stuck on the mountainside with nothing but a one way dirt path (barely big enough for
a small automobile much less two full-to-capacity tour busses) to use as best we could. The road changed from a muddy make-shift path to a worn-down cobblestone street. The residents of the barrio looked at us and laughed. Crazy gringos—where did we think we were going?
Santo Domingo de los Colorados, that’s where; the fourth largest city in Ecuador and growing due to the large influx of Columbians fleeing the war in their country to the north. The migrant and refugee population has led the city to be nicknamed Santo Domingo de los Colombianos. Through conversations with our ever loved and helpful Peace Corp volunteers, I also come to learn that Santo Domingo is one of the last stops in the human trafficking network, as young girls are sold into the sex trade to pay off debts in poorer South American countries such as Bolivia, make their way up the coast and stop off in Santo Domingo before being transported north into Colombia and beyond. Public service announcement posters attempt to thwart the business, or at least I think they do as they contain the words protect, children and no to human trafficking.
The landscape changed several times
on the way to Santo Domingo. In the highlands, terraced agricultural fields dotted the mountainside filled with maize and squash. Cattle grazed alongside the roads, tied down to whichever permanent fixture was available. As we continued west towards the coast the land grew wetter and a mixture of waterfalls and rainforest began to blanket the formerly arid surroundings. The road whipped precariously closed to the edge of the Andean mountains and more than once we found ourselves holding our breaths -partly due to the beauty of the mountain range, and partly out of terror as we passed slower moving vehicles on blind curves. Ecuadorian transportation is efficient in many ways. There seems to be no limit to the number of individuals you can cram into car or truck (hurray for carpooling!) and the lack of stop-signs (or at least lack of adherence to them) keeps vehicles moving at a fairly steady pace eliminated the need for engines to stay idling. Additionally, whereas driving in the states requires attention to constantly shift between oncoming traffic, the brake, blinker, gear-shift—in Ecuador, the horn apparently seems to serve all these functions and more. Blind curve, no shoulder and a slow moving truck in
Buildings of public officials flank three sides of the square, and the “modern” building built in the 70’s is now an eyesore (not pictured).
front of you? No problem! Simply lay on the horn twice to announce your presence, and barrel on down the middle of the road. On coming traffic impeding your progress? Well my friend, that is their problem, not yours. You see, you laid on the horn which translates to (if my Spanish is accurate, which is assuredly isn’t) “Get out of my way” thereby waiving you of all liability in this extremely dangerous situation. There’s also absolutely no reason to shift gears when going down in elevation. Just remember that if you do get going too fast in the wrong gear, lay on the horn to pass the vehicle you are quickly approach. As a last ditch effort, there is always the brake, however it is only to be used in extreme emergencies. To be fair, our bus driver was extremely talented in the way he maneuvered throughout the city and mountain passes and safety averted us from disaster on more than on occasion. In the many kilometers we traveled, I only saw one accident and that was inside the city limits at a stoplight. The journey is not for the faint of heart, and if you do find yourself
easily anxious or motion sick, I highly recommend knocking yourself out with Dramamine or benadryl before getting started. Those who do decide to remain conscious, however, will be rewarded with some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable and I would not for the life of me reconsider my decision to keep my sleep deprived gaze focused outside the bus window, rather than on the inside of my eyelids.
After spending the greater part of the morning on the ‘Little Tour-Bus that Could’ we checked into our ‘Little Hostel that Couldn’t’. Owned by the mayor’s family, the lack of hot water, spare room keys and overall cleanliness made me wonder about the management of the city itself. It could, however, cater to our large medical troupe and had a pool and sauna (which I never actually got to use when it was on, but it was the warmest place to relax after a late night dip in the pool) so what can I say. We quickly went to work unpacking and sorting through the medical supplies. After dividing up into our respective fields of work (triage, pharmacy, medicine; I was considered part of triage) we broke up into our teams
Maize growing behind a home
for the week and once again reintroduced ourselves and begin formulating a plan of action for tomorrows clinic. I for one am more excited than nervous about starting tomorrow, but anticipation of what to expect is high in everyone—even though who have been here previously. I’m trying to learn enough Spanish phrases that relate to my station as I won’t have much use of a translator but I’m positive that no matter what I learn in the next few hours won’t be enough. I’m already mastered the basics--Buenos dias (Good morning), Sientate, por favor (Sit here, please), un poco anaemia (a little anemic)—but anything beyond that is going to have to be either in English, French or, my favorite, Franish/Spench the extremely un-useful conglomeration of Spanish and French that I seem to use when I try not to speak English, but means nothing to anyone except for me. Hopefully my Spanish will progress from literally next to nothing to at least a repertoire of useful phrases by the end of the week.
Not many pictures today. Spent most of the day on the bus (too bouncy to take photos) or the hotel (too mundane) but do plan on having
more tomorrow. We’ve had a late night and the morning will start early as we head off to our respective clinic sites. I am expecting to see lots of malnourishment problems, particularly kwashiorkor (protein-energy malnutrition) and anemia, so wish me luck that I’m wrong!
There are more photos below