The wood AND the treesMature

Waking up in Ecuador of course, is an entirely different experience to my normal life back in the UK. Dora is nearly always sashaying her way around the kitchen, concocting mysterious but delicious fruit cocktails and whipping eggs up in to 20 different varieties of omelette. Back home my breakfast is an entirely different affair and usually involves picking the mouldy bits off the bread before I toast it at least once a week. I settle on my stool and watch Dora standing at the stove, pausing occasionally to scratch under one of her curlers and wave a spatula in time to the music coming from the cheerful little radio.

By now I have been at the house for just under a week and the Spanish lessons are going well. That is if you count learning how to say “I am sorry I don’t understand” and “could you say that again please” in Spanish. Paulo my tutor is patient and kind and apart from one sticky moment when he got quite carried away at the site of one of my photos he has been very professional. During one of my lessons we were practising talking about friends and family, so I produced a small collection of photos I had bought along with me. Paulo was quick to spot the photo of my gorgeous friend Tara, smiling warmly.

“And who is this” he asked, trying not to lick his lips.

“This is Tara” I said in my best Spanish accent, then showing off just a little, “she is a teacher”.

“She is single? Married?” asked Paulo.

“Oh she is single” I said and added stupidly (now I realise what Ecuadorian men are like) “and a teacher”.

“Ah. You give me her email address, we will contact each other, maybe she will marriage me no?”

“NON!” I mean “no” I said lowering my voice “No I don’t think so”.

“Why?” he asked

“I er” I struggled to explain “ she loves her career she is a busy woman” oh well done Daisy, just great. Brilliant excuse.

He knew I was fumbling with this and I could see he was tucking this info away for another day to catch me off guard with it.

“Daisy, now we conjugate verbs for the rest of the day” he pronounced. Thanks Tara.

 

I had by now been joined in Casa Naranja by two more volunteers. A middle aged completely neurotic legal secretary called Nora and a small 45 yr old female accountant called Linda, with the biggest and I mean really the biggest by far breasts I have ever seen. I snickered to myself when I first met her realising that the “nothing grows in the shade” saying must be true, as she also appeared to have the smallest feet I had ever seen.

The first time I met her she was also covered pretty much from head to toe in mustard. Having ventured out of the house within the first hour or so of arriving she had managed to get herself convincingly lost. Wandering about trying to get back to the house her Spanish limited to adding the letter “o” to the end of every word of English, she soon wandered in to a rather dubious neighbourhood.

“CANO YOU-O ASSISTO ME-O?” she shouted to a confused local she recounted to us and we all started to laugh. Linda clearly didn’t think it quite as funny as us carried on. In her pink shorts, purple tie dyed tshirt, bare white legs and rucksack she was a mugging waiting to happen, sure enough as she wandered past an open doorway mustard shot from no where and covered her face and top “Oh god!” she exclaimed and quick as a flash a local man shot from the next doorway proffering Linda a handful of tissue. “thank you oh thanks” said Linda and shrugged off her rucksack at the gesturing of her saviour so she could properly wipe herself down. Then suddenly like a ferret out of a trap he took off with her bag up the street, weaving through the cars and people “OI!!” shouted Linda and set off in hot pursuit, smothering several innocent bystanders in mustard. But he was way too fast for her she told us as she stripped to the waist and he was gone with her camera, her guide books and a very nice sweater from Marks & Sparks. By this time we were all wiping our eyes with laughter and honestly, the site of those puppies being released from that mustard and purple t-shirt was all I could take and I wandered off to fetch Dora to see if she could help wash Linda’s top.

The next few days were consumed with Spanish lessons and I was pleased to realise this beautiful melodic language was coming easily to me. Sitting in the tiny classroom each day, I could stare out of the window at the surrounding mountains and watch the small highly colourful humming birds hover on the wing to drink from the small orange flowers hanging from the tree in the whitewashed courtyard. the altitude sickness was still affecting me and I was terribly homesick but I knew that both would pass.

Encouraged by our tutors to get out and try our new language skills we decided to take a bus trip to “El Mitad del Mundo” a famous tourist attraction not too far away which literally translated as “The centre of the world”.

Local posters promised a fun filled day at the Equator - with tourists laughing, clutching icecreams, playing (oddly) with parrots, sitting on the grass relaxing with the sun streaming down on their smiling faces, this we realised was the place for us.

We armed ourselves with maps, phrase books, water bottles, hats and cash. We tucked everything in and under our clothes and tried to look inconspicuous as we confidently boarded our first tram. There were about thirty locals on this tram, and every single one turned around and openly stared at us. Its obvious now that we were in no way merging in to the crowd and I expect we looked like a bunch of freaks. South American people by and large are short, slightly built and dark. Nora was about five feet ten sporting a red baseball cap, a T-shirt with a toucan on and a large pair of chequered shorts which on account of her skinny legs made her look like a lamp stand.

Linda in complete contrast was about four foot nothing, with her huge bosom taking up most of the remaining space in the tram and possibly the reddest nose I had ever seen due to forgetting to wear sunscreen the first day. Her hair was already plastered to her face with the heat, as was mine and from time to time she would pull at her top and fan the neckline about, making the men’s eyes wider and wider each time. As the sort of middle height person I none the less didn’t get away with being stared at. My not inconsiderable frame attracted quite a lot of attention at all times and I was getting used to being called “pretty fat girl” as I walked down the street. The first time having chased a stranger in a fit of rage - the poor bloke thought he was paying me a sort of compliment, or so Paulo later explained through hysterical laughter to me, as I hotly recounted the story to him.

So anyway, one, two three buses later, plus inadvertently skipping fares twice (I really thought Nora would have a baby she was convinced we would get arrested) plus riding on the step of one bus so we didn’t have to pay, getting lost, running across very wide scary busy roads and negotiating a rather territorial dog we eventually made it to the centre of the earth. And for the princely sum of two dollars we finally went to see what all the fuss was about.

In the centre of the park stands a huge concrete monument in the middle of a dry sierra, which is surrounded by cloud topped mountains, the equator being marked out on the pavement with a painted line. Funny that. I don’t know what did I expect - a ring of fire maybe? Perhaps a buzzing force field? What colour would you say the equator was? Apparently its rather like the yellow lines at home, disappointing but really what did I expect. So we dutifully stood as everyone does it turns out, with one foot in one hemisphere and one in the other. We then strolled about wondering what on else to do having come all this way. Nora wandered off to flush toilets on both sides of the line, Linda bought some sun cream and I sat and ate an ice-cream, wondering what all the fuss was about and why we had even bothered to see this place.

Because you see, if you look it up on the internet in fact GPS systems have now spoiled everyone’s fun and pointed out in the way that older kids like to tell little ones there is no father Christmas, that the monument is in fact about eighty feet out to the left. But you try not to let that get to you when you have travelled for three hours with two neurotic middle aged women on some of the smelliest buses you have seen.
I dream about the following week as I lay on the grass licking ice cream off my fingers, which will be our first week in Galapagos. Apparently we are staying in a house ON the beach, no one wears shoes as its all sand everywhere, right behind my room apparently is a lake, the only place in the world where you can see flamingos and penguins together in the same place, and the beach apparently is right outside my door. Ooh heaven. The journey is a bit of a mission apparently, planes and buses and boats and trucks but I feel ready for the challenge. So as we can bear the heat no longer and the locals are still staring - having formed a small ring around us now, we decide to head home and the comfort of Dora’s bed time drink.

The End

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