It’s 5 a.m. and the cacophony has started. I hear the thump of music in the neighbor’s house, dogs barking, a mother hen ushering her chickens around like a drill sergeant, my younger brothers laughing as they get ready for school, and the insistent honk of the first bus leaving for Archidona.
My first response is, as always, to turn over, jam the pillow over my ears, and attempt to limp through another hour and a half of sleep before my designated wake-up time of 6:30. After five minutes with less success than usual, I get up, throw on some clothes and my rubber boots to combat the morning mist, and set out for a walk.
I don’t make it far before I hear “Chacho! Venga!” coming through the river of mist in front of my neighbor Vicente’s house. Vicente, sixty-three, hard as a rock from years of physical labor, with an easy smile and even easier laugh, rarely seen without his yellow rubber boots, has become one of my best friends in Santa Rita. I respond to his call by joining him on his front porch.
He bids me good morning and pours me a cup of guayusa. Thank goodness. My eyes are sewn shut like a newborn puppy’s and I am asking myself why I hadn’t persevered harder in the pillow-against-the-ear strategy. Guayusa is a holly plant consumed almost exclusively in Ecuador (my apprenticeship is with Runa, a company trying to bring guayusa to the States). It is similar to yerba mate. More caffeine than yerba mate but less than coffee, guayusa’s advantage is that it has many of the same relaxing alkaloids as dark chocolate. It’s a miracle drink, and the Quichua call it the “Night Watchman” because it’s often drunk in ceremonies in the wee hours of the morning that have been passed from generation to generation, decade upon decade, and century upon century.
The following conversation was translated from Spanish, but at this point my vocabulary isn’t exactly complex so this transcript is relatively accurate.
Vicente and I drank, felt the warmth spread through our chests, and watched the morning begin. The first tendrils of the sun had begun to sneak over the horizon. Vicente doesn’t feel the need to fill silence with sound, so when I visit him our conversations are often broken up by long minutes of silence.
Silence as we drink. Another glass of guayusa is poured and passed.
“Are you going to Archidona today?” he begins.
“Yes, I need to work at the Runa office. My supervisor is returning from Quito and we are going to discuss some projects.” I respond.
“Good, good,” he nods with approval.
“And you?” I quip. “Any plans for today?”
“Not many. I don’t have to work today, but I’ll probably go to Archidona to buy some things to re-stock the store.” he says. Vicente owns a small store in Santa Rita (one of two), and he sells small items like batteries and nails to the villagers.
Silence fills the space again. A quick look at my watch tells me that 15 minutes has passed. I decide to go back to the house to crash until 6:30.
“Well, thank you for the guayusa. I think I need to sleep a bit more, however.” I say, standing up and brushing the dirt off my trousers. “Be well.”
As I start to walk away, he calls after me and I swivel to listen.
“Chacho! We’re glad that you’re here. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
I nod, smile, and continue on my way, with a newfound confidence and the Night Watchman running through my veins.