As the bus chugs up the side of Volcán Imbabura I catch myself associating the rhythmic whining sounds of overworked gears with the Little Engine That Could’s positive motto, “I think I can, I think I can”; only I’m really hoping we make it up in one try. The bus bounces over the jutting rocks and potholes that create the upward climbing streets. The rattling of old metal on stones, babies cries and rapid-fire Kiwchua create the new soundtrack to my days and a mixture of onions, earth and hardship fill my nostrils reminding me of the different life I am about to enter.
Living in la cuidad and working in el campo has illustrated how quickly the way of life changes in just a twenty minute bus ride. The smooth paved stones become rocks that fit together like puzzle pieces from one hundred different puzzles, the constant flow of people become rows of corn waving their stalks in the wind; the many cars shed their colors and need for gas and become only black and white cows chewing on grass.
But the biggest change of all is that I never really know where I am going. In the small city I now call home the well named streets, and high tipped church steeples keep me on track. Sometimes I get on a bus only to end up no closer to where I have to be, and without money for a second bus. I am given a date, a time and a name of a location but nothing else to help me in my journey. The cellphone numbers that might have worked no longer are of any use as my phone lights up the words “ningun servicio” (No Service).
As I find myself alone and lost in the shadow of the 15,000 foot hight volcano I do the only thing I can: walk in the direction I think I should be going. Growing up spending the weekends in New York City I have gained a pretty good sense of direction, but when street signs are changed our for cow pastures and fields of corn my instincts waver a little.
I already feel out of place as I watch the people look up from their fields to stare. Here is what they see a tall gringa in a bright green vest carrying an overly stuffed messenger bag looking around at each building with a lost and confused glance. It get even better when my overprivileged ankles give twist and turn on the rocks below me making me the crazy falling gringa.
Even in these situations I never feel afraid. I know I will come across someone on the road that will go out of their way to help me, even if they aren’t so sure either. I am always given a camioneta (pick-up truck) ride for free, or am walked like a child to a spot where I can’t get lost by someone’s grandmother.
Each day in the end I arrive at the Casa Comunal (community house) where I am supposed to be. Sometimes it is just up the road and other times it is another thirty minute bumpy ride higher into the sky. As I get closer to rooms in the clouds and can’t help but to feel lucky. Lucky to have the opportunity to see the city from above, to sit next to a 70 year old women on the bus and listen to her life story, or walk down the streets of Ibarra and be called over to talk with indigenous and mestizos alike who have listen to my charlas and call me their amigita.
In the end, it is actually being lost that makes everything easier. It never matters how late I am because the Ecuadorian hour allows me to be on time. Or how I arrive to them the exact opposite of what they expect me to me; sweating and spotted with mud, eyes that show a little uncertainty and grinning because I could not be happier. I begin my charla (talk) with the crazy situations I went through to be there and we laugh together at the little gringa that could.