Ecuador Postcard

Cuenca, urbane and genteel, stretching weary legs walking along day warmed cobbled streets. Buildings graced with street art, crafted ornamented eaves, young and old in the plazas, mohawks and leather jackets commingling with the slow shuffling confidence of great grandmothers threading home with paper sacks. A wedding party in front of a handsome old church, its presence owing both to stonework and venerating use, white clad little girls with doily fringed hats distractedly clutching bouquets, boys in miniature suits and waistcoats, neither treating their outfits much different from play clothes. I see sons walking close, arms intertwined with their mothers in stylish coats against an afternoon rain shower, a dog barking optimistically at a corner fried meat vendor, a group of city workers cross the street to quiz me on the fat bike, fascination and wonder — momentarily distracted to whistle at some women which elicits a friendly defiant laughing “you wish” — back to encouragement and wishing me a good journey. All against a backdrop of worn but cared for alleys, trees marking the river, wide stone stairways as public meeting space, flowered and fountained plazas. This is a close echo of Spain, evoking emotions and comforts of feeling embraced in Barcelona, my favorite European city, I effortfully put the sensation aside so as to be here rather than in a memory.

Moving south, eleven hours on the bike, second day of constant rain. All climbs in the Andes take two and a half hours, all descents are fifteen frigid minutes, and nothing flat in between. Moving slowly, exploring dirt variations. People look up from work or play, from porches or fields to track me, I initiate greetings to yield broad smiles, waves, once an old man spits, I chalk it to coincidence. I’m lost in a town, a bit turned around and I can’t orient my map. I see the cathedral on the page, so ask someone where the church is. His eyes get a little wider and he beams. I was just needing directions, but not of the sort I think he imagined. Hours later, descent into Loja, riding by Braille with numb fingers on a cratered one lane dirt mountain road along a river that was frothing chocolate milk in the ending light, the puddles pop and leap as I hit them square, blinded by bus headlights coming toward me, coasting drift correct repeat through the mud the way the big tires do. When I emerge onto asphalt it feels like a birth into angular and built fool’s objects.

I almost get hit by a car twice during my evening zombie walking sojourn. Somehow I return with an ice-cream bar, chocolate, beer and water. Not messing around on this bike tour with respect to bedtime preparations. I’m dropped again into that novel which I fantasize about throwing away to lighten my load except that it’s gaspingly brilliant. Serious miscalculation, though, bringing Nabokov’s Kinbote’s Shade’s poem commentary in that I keep having to refer back to the earlier lines and thus can’t throw those pages away.