It was a long ride out. About two years, in all… but the final push was a grind, lurch, scramble out of Cuenca, through sunsnakes that rose over the baked-down rubble and concrete to Guayaquil’s inconvenient bus terminal, before plonking down in the right seat on the wrong bus.
There was a slight commotion that I was too sick and hot and had too much lactic acid in me to handle. Ecuadorians were trying to shove me about. There was a lovely copper Madonna with an infant no bigger than a kitten, wanting to be in 27F where I was sitting, like a muffin in a tin. But I wasn’t going to put up with it. I didn’t want to move. I actually thought I couldn’t… I was just that buggered.
“You don’t want to sit here,” I told her. “I’ve got typhoid. Typhus. Deadly illnesses?? Kapish? Just sit anywhere else.. anywhere… please…” I said in English, because I had not the required mineral compounds left in me to muster any Spanish at all. The bus was infested with empty seats: everywhere. And since my allotted spot was being spilled over by a pig-fed man who reeked of beer, I considered myself the victim of a domino-effect. It was their country; they could deal with it.
I was just going to sit here frumpily, and try not to die.
In the end it was all my fault.
I was on the bus to Godknowswhereville. And so the whole goddam thing started all over again.
I left the Andes, at last, and for good, with two bags bulging at the valves, one yoga mat, six hats and a hammock. I had open wounds below my navel where Javier, the puppeteer shaman had stabbed me with his red-hot obsidian wand and told me to ‘get some Temperance!’, a notveryinspring entrepreneurial experience with Argentinians, and bad blood.
The weeks leading up to this simple , triumphant act of common sense had been a ridiculous crescendo of freak badness, knife-business and the complete and total corrosion of my faith in expats, amphetamines, Chilean wine and Transcendental Meditation.
In terms of dimensional realities, I was in a realm near Purgatory. Which is, in fact, in all possibility, the perfect archetype for Cuenca.
(Wiki) Purgatory:, according to Catholic Church Doctine, is an intermediary state after physical death in which those destined for heaven “undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of The Blessed Kingdom“.
The experts say that Purgatory, in Christianity, is a transcendental realm, while others (such as the Jews) see it as a place with Terrestrial Geography, but academics dismiss that idea, rationally, as poetic.
.. but is it?
After three months in Cuenca, and plenty of time under her billowy skirts, beside her moody, delinquent, fang-toothed river (the Tomebamba, or bloodriver), and in so many of her 52 identified churches (and thousands of other unrecognized sacred sites and killing fields), I had come to know a side of Cuenca that no Catholic would dare fathom, most expatriating Americans bumble through without the vaguest notion of, and for which the only sensible genres of expression are paint, pork fat, poetry and pot.
I made four friends there: an elegant painter with a silver pony tail, nicotine-stained fingers and lovely suits, washed to a frail shine, and scented with the husks of miraculous thinking. He was most emphatic about my situation: get away from that man: forever! Never let go of that dog, “Promise me, NOW!”; meditate – and visit more often.
The waiter at my hostel spoke a Ringo Starr-style of English and watched over several weird lurches in my biography from December to May, including the ‘fondling incident’ last Christmas which has been cursing and bubbling and spitting evil phlegm at me all day… (wanting to be told? Wanting to be avenged? Wanting to be understood?).
It happened at dusk, in the popular public garden of our hip hostel, a favourite haunt for back packers and Cuencanoes, especially at sundown. I was with a young man, a 4-year-old girl, and her drug-and-booze-and-betrayal-ravaged sugar mummy: expats from Vilcabamba (where else?)’. The couple were navigating a precarious bridge out of their former lives as decent people into what he called ‘authenticity’ and she called ‘Elfdom’, and which was wearing me pretty thin. She was under a strict regime, prescribed by her young beau, as part of her Quest for Real Womanhood after being abandoned and humiliated by her ex, who had won a prize for his Machiavellian economics offered by Sir Richard Branson – an entrepreneurs’ retreat on a private island – during which he had developed such a passion for the culinary delights provided that he had spent a great deal of his time, as it transpired, fucking the raw food chef.
He had returned to the Valley of Strange Fruit (that’s for you, Galvino – give me a link to the book!) to tell his wife and baby daughter that he had been ‘en-lightened’ and would thusly shrug off the shackles of matrimony forthwith to partake in orgies of Latino thigh, acid, booze and other splendors associated with being 28, rich, free to do what he liked in Ecuador, and absolved by alimony.
Hi 40-year-old burden to joy was thusly, publically ‘set free’ and had spent the ensuing year being mostly drunk.
These days, she lived by her 32-year-old lover’s regime for untold bliss in Ecuador, which hinged around an obligatory morning beverage of marijuana-steeped tea, day-long intake of the local elixir, Cana, sex in public places and screaming matches, which were all rituals designed to help her self-express.
On his part, the young beau lived on her voluptuous adultery cheques, took off whenever he felt like it, screwed as many nubile tourists as he could get away with, and philosophized ad-nauseam about his adventures unyoking his spirit from the cruel social norms of a deranged Western society to connect with what he called the deeper, realer, more primal life-forces of South America.
The pair are classic examples of some of the expats living in Ecuador: dismantling their lifestyles and cultures from other places, making it rich on cheap land, pushing moral, social, legal boundaries that would only ever be crossed by criminals where they came from.
On this evening, as they swooned about in a fermented sugar delirium, the little girl was dancing about in the dusty garden at the hostel when an unholy thought flit-flat-fluttered across her infant mind, seized her little body and caused her to march up to the beau with a very clear request. “Take off your pants,” she said.
Eyebrows were cocked. Marlboro were sucked at. And the beau, recognizing a moment to free himself from even more fetters of a deranged first world society, dropped his orange cotton trousers and let his blonde dick, snug as a sleepy seahorse, sniff the Ecuadorian breeze.
The little girl dropped to her knees on the dirt, thoroughly delighted, and proceeded to stroke and pet, to whisper and gently blow upon the little penis, fondling it with tenderness, whispering to it and beaming like an angel in a pose of adoration as her mother smiled on benevolently.
Myself, I was catapulted into a state academically known as moral panic. I dashed off to fetch my sarong and draped the young Swede about the waist, (blushing curator, abashing Michelangelo?) which the little girl, in a gesture so swift and decisive it reminded me of something an adult would do, promptly ripped off the shroud and resumed her worship. The sun sank over us in a syrupy lava, the little penis, through some feat of abstract mathematics, remained at ease, and the sugar mummy cracked the brains off another bottle of cana.
A chill breeze announced another Andean night, trousers were raised, the music turned up, and, touched by the special light of even more authenticity, the beau set off to do some abstract dancing around the arthritic fire behind us.
There were spectacular moments most days, throughout which the waiter Beatled- about, polishing glasses, providing a steady supply of nice cold Club beer, matches and an even gaze as he asked me, at precarious moments, “are you going to be ok?” To which I smiled weakly and rushed off saying, “I only ever cry in my room.”
The scene devastated and tormented me. Wasn’t that just totally inappropriate? Would that happen in a public garden in Sydney, San Fransisco or Madrid and be considered ‘normal’? Should somebody do something? And what?
My other friends included a Peruvian artist, Magico, whose tiny spare room I intended to rent for a month for $120 as I pieced my reality back together after this and other shocks. But I couldn’t in the end, because I was confronted beside the bloodriver, Tomebamba, by a junky with a very big knife. I was so utterly amazed by this experience that I became completely fluent in Spanish and was able to tell him, “Are you freakin’ jokin’, mate? I am Australian!”
He waved the knife about menacingly, shoving me toward the bushes, and I was saved by a Seventh Day Adventist Minister who happened to be passing by, causing said ruffian to flee (with my cash, but not my honour) and advising me to thank God for my life and to get a habit or a husband, pronto!
I got quite sick after that. Magico repaired me with guacamole and chocolate cake. He said I needed to be careful of Gringos – they didn’t understand anything about South America – and even though he had sprinkled my new bed with rose petals, I couldn’t move in: I wanted to be somewhere closer to alcohol.
He took me, for an intervention, to his Ecuadorian shaman friend, the man with the obsidian tattoo wand. He stripped me naked in his medicine room, lashed me, cracked me, hit me with stones, rubbed me with crystals, read my tarot and whipped me with feathers. His diagnostic instrument was a cigar. He smoked like a train, blowing the resinous fumes across my body, peering at the tobacco leaves for metaphors in the ash, and then holding it to me to show me the two demented faces that had clearly appeared in its smouldering shaft. “See thees?” he wheezed. “And thees?”
“You be have de very bad spirits. They be watching you – all de time. They be living here!” he poked me below the bellybutton. “They be bringing you de devil! You need only de light, si? You be living from Now! Today! Oy! Only de light and nothing, nothing, nada de nunca of de darknesses.”
I felt a lot better after that, but as days rolled on I wavered, and all of a sudden, at the Museum of PumaPongo, I realized I was still feeling sortof darkish, so I went to the hospital. Thereupon I made another friend; Dr Favio, of Internal Medicine, who had a copy of Autobiography of a Yogi on his desk and said, after I had broken my own rules and cried on the laminate, “es possible you be having de typhus. How you say? De Tyhpoidius? Tyhpoid? Yes! You have been eating de very bad shit.”
Tyhpiod is a nasty business that one embarks on after, one way or another, eating human shit. Carried by a fly, mixed into a smoothie by dirty fingers, served up on a plate somewhere, washed in soupy waters in an establishment bereft of toilet paper in the staff squat – it’s a sticky thought.
Interestingly, around 430–424 BC, a devastating plague, which some believe to have been typhoid fever, killed one third of the population of Athens, including their leader Pericles. The balance of power shifted from Athens to Sparta, ending the Golden Age of Pericles that had marked Athenian dominance in the Greek ancient world.. and the end of the Goddess Age represented by Greece, and a shot in the arm for warrior cults.
During the American Civil War, 81,360 Union soldiers died of typhoid or dysentery.In the late 19th century, typhoid in Chicago killed an average of 65 per 100,000 people a year. The worst year was 1891, when the typhoid death rate was 174 per 100,000 people.
In nations untouched by patriarchal forces of engineering, education, basic hygiene and medical laboratories the basic sequence of typhoid is: eat shit, feel crappy, rupture an intestine and die.
Luckily in Ecuador, despite the gringo’s malice toward the evils of Western medicine and pharmaceuticals, said patriarchal forces are well intact, and ten days of antibiotics, five pain killers and a $6 bus ticket OUT OF HERE were sufficient to not only save my life, but provide spectacular conjugations in ‘reality’ that would cause me to get love-struck, stumble into paradise and put Evilcabamba behind me.. almost.
Yesterday though, even as I quietly restore my allegiance to the Light in an unknown pueblo, kooky forces from the Valley of Bad Hoodoo made shadows in the radiance. A nasty couple there, be-spoilers of my reputation, and heinous drug addicts, pushers and dealers, accidentally crossed my radar on facebook.
Shar Hook Jones and her husband, Will, were (of course) using God as their Righthand man as they spouted off to potential renters and victims of their healing centre cuml cum pit of corruption about how they wished prosperity and joy to all.
I couldn’t help myself. I was singed by certain ironies to do with how these people connive to survive out here by peddling to dreamers, escapees and believers an online conspiracy about their competence in plant medicines, love, family values and the radiance imbued by the beautiful wild (going cheap) when what they really do is smoke hell pot from fart to falldown, on a diet of coca-cola, social media, synthetic small goods and mayhem – all of which made possible by dubious activities in the US prior, and a budding new enterprise facilitated by their juvenile sons since arriving in Ecuador.
I am particularly miffed by this carry-on among gringos, so I petulantly messaged them about a certain large sum of missing moula, and whether God would also have a part in honouring debts and suchlike as a way to said joy for all?
To which they wrote, “Hey! You! Eat shit and die!”
Which s how they do things in Vilcabamba.