Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Test Drive

By Alaena

After close to a month of waiting, Alex and I finally sat on a mended bus in the mechanic's shop ready to leave the next day. As we ate our thirty-cent empanadas and drank free lemonade, we watched the mechanic's seven year old daughter tug violently at the ears of a small manicured poodle and cackle maniacally.

On the way back from purchasing cookies and yoghurt for dessert, we were intercepted by Ivan Posso and his family. Ivan is the brave mechanic that took on the remodeling of our strained engine. "I'd like to invite you to dinner, do you like chifa?" he called from his car window. Finding it hard to say no to a free meal and being avid fans of chifa, we accepted.

The hearty meal was followed by a grand tour of Santa Domingo including the park, shopping centre and not much else. Ivan then insisted, despite our protests that we come to his house to have a hot shower. As we waited in the living room his wife motioned me through to the bathroom. Ivan then smiled at Alex with an encouraging "sigue no mas".

When we both emerged back into the living room and what had already become a rather bizarre evening, we sat down to join them in their nightly wathcing of a typical novela and ate the lolipops we were handed.

"Vamos?" Asked Ivan out of the blue. After asking us whether we drink and sing to which we replied a cautious yes and an adament no respectively, Ivan drove us to a Karaoke bar. We sat down opposite the two other customers and listened to Ivan passionately sing two South American ballads. A few beers and a cuba libre later, we were back on Bus laughing about our surreal experience.

The next day started with an exasperating morning ferrying back and forth between different bulidings and people and standing in line to sort out our paperwork for Bus. By 1pm we were finally able to tentatively start our 1000 km test drive. No more than 10 km down the road the engine started to heat up and leak radiator fluid. With sinking hearts we called Ivan and he sent someone on his way. Luckily for what was left of our sanity, it was a minor fault and Bus was ready once more within half an hour.

We aimed to do a 1000km loop down the coast and back up to Santa Domingo as fast as possible so as to be able to join our fellow gypsies in Mancora, Peru at the earliest opportunity.

Our first night was spent on a farm outside Quevedo, approximately 100 km South of Santa Domingo. The wonderfully hospitable hosts and safely locked gates made up for the seven vicious dogs and large cockroaches lurcking between Bus and the bathroom. We were shown their expansive fields of palm trees on one side, and bright sunflowers on the other.

Returning from dinner in Quevedo we were stopped by two policemen on a mission for bribes. It must be pointed out that this was our first negative encounter with the police thus far. At other checks they have been a little baffeled and very friendly. They had various complaints.

"This is a Californian liscense. It doesn't work in Ecuador."
"You need a permit"
"Why do you have so much stuff for only two people?"
Eventually, I managed to convince them that the black and white handwritten document that serves as an International Driver's Liscence is in fact valid in Ecuador. It is impossible to know what the real law actually is as every official we ask gives us a new version. All we can do is talk authoritatively as though we know what we are doing and hope that they assume we know more than them.

The next day we were sent on our way with sunflowers and advice to trust no one, to the coast. We spent one night on one of our previous camping spots on the beach near Puerto Cayo where we fevourishly cleaned the inside of Bus out to make sure the rodents that ate our food were no longer there. The next stop was Puerto Lopez, that fateful place where Bus first broke down. Here we finished the tiresome task of cleaning Bus and everything in it and sampled the best milkshakes in the whole of Ecuador.

We spent one more night at a gas station and after waiting 'un ratito' at the mechanics we were assured that the motor was running perfectly and were finally able to leave for Peru.

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