We chose to have the Tsachila dinner over the hamburgers that we bought earlier and planned to cook that night. We thought it polite to eat their dinner since we refused to pay for their cabanas, that they insisted on us sleeping in, and we were camping at their cultural center for free. We had our only chance to glimpse at the world of the Tsachila through a very rare culinary experience. The Tsachila, also known as the Colorados, color their hair orange and draw lines on their faces. They are one of Ecuador's well known indigenous tribes.
They served us the banana mash garnished with a very yellow fried egg. I inhaled the spongy mush. I was hungry.
"I want a fucking hamburger." Matthias said.
"You know, as you grow older and you've done all this village shit in Africa. You've done it and you don't wanna do it again. You're over it." Tom pushed his food away and sipped his cold hoppy meal in a glass.
"Why don't you quit bitching and just eat your fucking food. Shit changes. We'll eat the burgers tomorrow." I said.
"I just wanted a hamburger, man." Matthias said.
"You can have a hamburger later." Alex said from across the table.
"You're not gonna actually feed these assholes are you?" I asked Alex.
"No! I'm gonna give them the keys to the boot and they're gonna cook their own god damn food."
After dinner, we all had a group hug and everyone calmed down. Matthias apologized. We drank rum around the fire with the Tsachila family. Jose, the chief, sipped gratefully as his grandchildren ate roasted marshmallows for the first time. The mother came to get the little girls and they stuffed five marshmallows in their mouth before she could see what they were doing.
A millipede worm crawled on the ground and Alex picked it up. Jose said they were bad and that they crawl in your ear and eat your brain.
"Controla de cabeza," Nick said as he lifted his arms like a zombie, "El roboto." Jose laughed. "Did you hear that joke in Spanish, Zach? It was hilarious. Jose has pissed a little. Good thing he wears a skirt."
It really wasn't funny. Jose was only laughing at Nick because of how bad he struggled with Spanish. I really felt more pity then rip roaring hilarity.
I really thought we would see some sort of tribal ceremony. We would dance around the fire and some beautiful young tribes-girl would make eyes with me from across the fire. I would look back and we would meet later and make love by the river. She would fall asleep in my arms and I would never leave, until I found out she was pregnant. Then with my spear in hand, I would escape under the cover of night.
Instead, we drank rum all night around a fire just like every other night, loud and obnoxious, talking of nonsense, as the people from the family observed. Then I fell asleep in my hammock after I put a puppy in my hat and let him sleep in my hat in my lap.
The next day...
We left the Tsachila. We headed for Quito. We had driven for a few hours when Alex looked at me, "We're running hot."
"Fuck!" Alex pulled over. We opened the hood and steam rose up from the boiling radiator. We sat for ten minutes and tried again.
No luck. We pulled off again. We found out there was a mechanic in the next town so we sat for an hour, letting her cool down. We ate ice cream. Then we thought maybe we should feed the radiator ice cream to make her happy and cool her down. We decided that probably wouldn't work.
After our hour break, we tried for the town with the mechanic. We were heating up fast. After five kilometers, we pulled over again.
"Alright guys, I'll grab your packs if you want to catch a bus to Quito. We're gonna be here for awhile." I said as I climbed to the roof to unlatch everyone's bags.
We didn't really have a chance to say good-bye. It killed me not to have a proper chance to say good-bye to Tom. A bus came and we all jumped on. Tom, Nick, and Alicia were bound for Quito, Alaena and I to the first town we saw with a mechanic, and Alex and Matthias to stare at the ceiling while they waited for Alaena and I to return with a mechanic.
"How long til we see Alex again?" I joked with Alaena.
It wasn't long. We located a mechanic and within two hours we were driving the bus to the mechanics shop to the town that was ten kilometers up a harrowing mountain road.
After much debate on whether the car was actually broken,and in the mechanics boundless aptitude, he surmised it was the empaque or the head gasket, which we had blown the first time. He wouldn't be sure until the next day when he could take the engine apart; we were sure we weren't going anywhere, but we still had the hamburgers.
We fried the burgers underneath the plastic awning that was the mechanic shop. We all had two, gave one to monkey, and gave one each to the mechanic and his wife. It was a taste of home, as they say, a saving grace, in a night littered with misfortune and stress. We weren't sure what was gonna happen, but at least we had a greasy all-beef patty, cheese, sauteed onions, in between a thick sesame seed bun.