The weekend that followed Sam's and my encounter with the water protest, my family and my god-brother piled into our tiny car and took off for the coast. The ride was a little under six hours, and through many different climates and micro-climates. We started out in the high mountain terrain, with long bleached grasses, hearty low-to-the-ground flowers, pine and eucalyptus trees, and strong mosses. As we went down to lower altitudes, we went through lush grassy lands, past teak wood and palm oil plantations, down bumpy roads lined with living-fences of lechera trees, arriving eventually in the low flat lands dotted with shrimp ponds.
We arrived in Atacames, a large town right on the beach, tucked into a cove with a point that stuck its bleached rocks out into the immense blue-green stretch of ocean. The coast of Ecuador is totally different from the mountains. The Spanish spoken is faster and tends to lose important consonants, there are no ponchos and fedoras (the typical dress in the mountains), and many more people our height and taller. The streets were full of vendors selling jewelry made of local woods and nuts, ceviche and chips, fresh fruit juices, and sunglasses. Reggeaton music rhythmically shook the strings of shells that hung from almost every open-faced restaurant walls. It was hot and the sun was bright despite the thin layer of clouds, and sand quickly permeated everything in the car.
Some friends had lent us an apartment right outside the town, where you could look out the wide windows over the fan palms and the bright pink hibiscus flowers and see the fishing boats bobbing out past the waves. The swimming felt great, though the waves weren't quite big enough for good body-surfing, and the wet sand felt nice between my toes. It was easy to fall asleep that first night, I think my body really enjoyed the extra oxygen having become accustomed to the thin air up in Quito.
The next day-Saturday-my little brother Caleb woke up and put on his bright yellow Ecuador soccer jersey. Ecuador was playing Uruguay to go to the World Cup. All day people got ready for this game. Men walked around wearing Ecuadorian flags like capes, tiny children ran around in full Ecuadorian uniforms. Women wore red, yellow, and blue themed outfits. People were gathered around TVs at every store, bar, restaurant, porch, and hotel long before the game began, watching the stadium in Quito fill (ironically, that stadium is practically right next door to our house) and listening to pro-Ecuador rally songs.
Tragically, right before the game began, my brother, dad, and Edison (my god brother) had decided to go swimming and Edison had been bit by a sea monster. Well, not really a sea monster, a certain poison-spined fish that tends to hang out around beaches eating trash. My mom and I had gone for a walk down the beach, and when we returned the poor guy was in some pain. My dad had talked to some of the locals who had oo-ed and informed him that this was a very painful thing, and we should go to the clinic in town pronto. Being interested in all things clinic-related, I accompanied Edison and my dad into town and on a short wild-goose chase to find the place that had been recommended.
The doctor and a nurse were the only people there, and they were watching the game. Even the streets were empty. Edison probably got the fastest help in the history of Ecuadorian healthcare. The doctor injected some local anesthetic and used his thumb and forefinger to press out the dark venom. He then gave Edison a shot of antibiotic and a prescription for some more, encouraged him to take a pain-killer, and not to eat shrimp, colored beverages, pork, and other seemingly random items. He told him to eat fresh veggies, fruit, and drink a whole lot of water. My dad's theory which seems the most plausible for this advice, was that this was the doctor's best method for getting people to eat healthy.
Fortunately, because of this stunningly fast service, Edison (who was very preoccupied at this point) only missed half of the game, and it was especially alright because the only goals scored happened in the second half. My mom and Caleb had found a great place to watch the game at a hotel while we were gone and we joined them and watched it while drinking sweet watermelon juice.
That night it was quiet in Atacames. Ecuador had lost, in the very last second of the game.
The next day, we took the two hour drive to Mompiche, another beach known for bigger waves. Momphiche was everything I loved about Atacames without all the commercialism. We spent the day enjoying the clear water, examining a moon-scape of coral, collecting interesting shells, and speculating about the large dark brown clay deposits seemingly randomly scattered around the beach. We think that the area was once a Mangrove Swamp, judging from the few remaining trees and shrimp pools. The clay was rich with other organic material, and felt nice to roll in my palm.
After a nice meal of fishy things, rice, and Fanta, and one more dip in the sea, we headed back on the long dirt road to Atacames. In the morning, the boys jumped in the water one last time, before we piled everything back into the car and began our journey back to Quito. We went a different way this time, and in between naps got glimpses of Colombia, rolling green hills and lush valleys, wide bare mountainsides, and paramo lands. We swerved around big potholes, debris from little landslides, and slow moving trucks, and arrived in Ibarra to drop off Edison to find it cool and drizzling. By the time we got to Quito it was pouring. In our absence, the rainy season had begun.