Chronicles of the Wayward Moot

WELCOME TO THE MOOT, oh world-wanderers and word-whisperers. After two years of Peace Corps. After 2,200 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. What. Comes. Next?


The News

Things of late have been great.  Weird, amorphous, undefined, and great nonetheless.   There are several reasons for this.  For one, I'm nearly finished reading Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test which is living up to its reputation as the best book in existence about the hippies and the beatnik scene of the 60s and is just filled cover to cover with the most delightful literary interpretations of what it's like to both be on LSD and constantly surrounded by people who are on LSD, and everyone is part of something bigger, man, it's a trip and we're gonna bring the trip to the whole freaking square world, man!.   It's a wonderful feeling to lie down in bed at night under the mosquito net (pretty much a necessity now that we're in winter and the bugs are making their rounds) knowing that before I drift off to sleep I'll get as close as I can to a trippy hallucinatory one-with-all-the-universe style drug frenzy with no danger whatsoever that would accompany the actual participation in such an experience.  That's the kind of magic locked in books that got that kid into so much trouble in The Neverending Story.  (Come to think of it, riding a grinning, wish-granting luck dragon around doesn't sound like too much trouble to me…)


I've also been re-reading a bunch of material by Daniel Quinn, the "cultural critic" who wrote Ishmael and The Story of B.  Being down here in the "developing world" has given me a much different perspective on culture and sustainability and reviewing Quinn's powerful ideas is forcing me to truly question my role here, my role as a human in the world, and perhaps most excitingly, my future.   I dunno what's in store for me.   Somehow the notion of a few years of working in some city and them maybe grad school and a "real" life is becoming less and less appealing.   (Of course any of you who know me will already know that such a future never much appealed to me in the first place.)  So what IS in store for the future?   I'll just let the future take care of that, as by most accounts I have about 15 months more of Zaruma left on the ticker to think about such things.   What I do feel confident about at this point is that the future is bright and exciting and limitless.  Just don't know the specifics of it yet.


Raining.  It's raining now, 2pm on a Thursday.  The whole sky is a waterfall and in a little while I'll go out in it.


I'm feeling chuffed about a few things of late.  First off, the municipality has got me doing a bit of busy work.   That in itself is not very worth getting excited about.  Neither is the actual work:  Printing one line of text onto postcards one at a time with a temperamental office-style desktop inkjet printer is tedious and time-consuming.   There are at last count, FOUR THOUSAND postcards to do like this.  Boo hiss.  BUT, consider this:   The postcards all feature photographs from the canton of Zaruma taken by ME.  Hence, the chuffitude I feel for every second I spend doing the busy work.   When I'm in the tourism office, the de facto home base for my Peace Corps work, I witness people from the community coming in and buying these postcards 8 or 16 at a time (There are 8 different designs).   These are people I see every day, local business owners, schoolteachers, the random folks who call out my name as they drive by, leaving me wondering who they are and where I met them.   They know I'm not just a part of the scenery here now, but that I'm making a contribution to the promotion of Zaruma on the whole.  When people from other places see these postcards and think to themselves "how nice, I'd like to go there" everybody from Zaruma benefits, not just those who own restaurants or hostals or work for the tourism office. It feels good to play a key part in that circle.


A friend and acquaintance of mine here owns an orquideario (orchid farm).  In the past I've posted pictures on the blog of some of his flowers and his supercool treehouse and maybe even a bit about how he was afraid that his place would have to close because of lack of sufficient visitors and funds to keep it running.   He was very distressed to think that he might have to move to Guayaquil and work as a merchant or shop owner to keep his family afloat.  Well, I am overjoyed to say that his fate seems to have taken a turn for the better.   I ran into him the other day and he was excited to relate that he'll be taking over the position of director for a nearby ecological reserve called Buenaventura, owned and cared for by Fundación Jocotoco, a private organization whose goal is to purchase and protect land specifically targeted because of its excellent value as endangered bird habitat.   Down here in southern Ecuador I'm right in the middle of endangered bird central and Buenaventura is a jewel among conservation reserves in the country.   So what?  Well we discussed work opportunities, paid a visit to the local tree nursery, and made plans to collaborate in the near future.  What this means is that a major local actor in the environmental conservation and education movement is a friend of mine, and there may be possibilities of me working with local school kids, helping them set up their own gardens, growing native plants, instilling in them the values and desires to care for their natural heritage here, and hopefully getting some of them involved in going on hikes to observe first hand the richness and biodiversity they live among.   Reforestation initiatives, trash cleanup, new waste management projects, this could go a long way…

So I'm chuffed about that.  Sure it's fun to take foreign visitors to see the sights when local guides aren't available, but this good news for a friend sounds like it might open more doors for me too, and heck, exploring the backcountry is still part of the deal.


Speaking of guides, I've been yakking with the tourism people here and learned that many of the guides they have on their list either don't live here anymore, work too much on their own things and aren't available to lead guests (even though the fee they can command is pretty good relatively speaking), or only know a portion of the attractions here and so are not very flexible with regards to what they can and cannot lead people to see.   Plus the course they had to take through the Ministry of Tourism to earn their title of guide sounds pretty sketchy.  Basically, right now if someone comes to Zaruma, hits up the tourism office and says they want to go climb Cerro Chivaturco tomorrow, out of a list of 12 guides, only two of them know the cerro, one of them works other jobs most of the time, and the one last person left is out of town … no trip happens, the guests leave early saying there's nothing to do, and they tell their friends and family the honest truth which is that Zaruma has very little for the independent traveler to do … it's simply not set up to provide tourism services on the level that it wants (and needs) to be at, especially if it wants to earn the UNESCO title of World Heritage Site.   SO, the municipio is putting together a new series of certification courses to create and train new guides and I'm in the perfect position to provide guidance for this process.   One suggestion:  Get every guide familiar with every attraction so the group overall will be much more flexible, capable, and ready to take on the task of an increasing tourist load that will hopefully be the result of other initiatives that are going on.   It's a long slow process, but I'm proud to be taking part on the ground floor phase and hopefully some of my input will get them moving in a positive direction.   If this all gets to be a drag, I can always fulfill other needs of the burgeoning tourist community by helping compile information and writing to the publishers of influential travel guides like Footprints, Lonely Planet, Insight, etc.   Maybe some of my photos will get published in those works as well…


The Sounds of Zaruma

Something I've been wanting to write about for a while now is the peculiar aural collage that makes up a special part of the personality of this (and every) place.   Let's begin in the early morning.  Sometimes as early as 2, but more often around 5:30 or so in the morning, all of the roosters in the area begin crowing at the same time.   Maybe, being so near the Equator, they get bored with the day length being roughly the same all year long and want to mix it up a bit.  Maybe they're just stupid.  In any case, one will croak itself awake in a hoarse scream, and pretty soon afterwards a few hundred (or so it seems) more of the feathered noise machines will chime in, raising the dead, Hell, and the desire to choke them all with two big fists around the neck.   Man that gets loud. 


Later, at 6am, another sound makes its entrance on the audio canvas.  This is a shrill, mechanical siren-like howl that emanates from the fire station in the main square and pierces into every tiny crack and crevice of the whole city for about 20 seconds.   EVERY crack and crevice, including the spot right behind your eyeballs alongside your temples where the really bad hangover headaches like to hide, play cards among themselves, and practice juggling chainsaws.   Yeah, that spot.  Luckily, having lived here for nine months I'm pretty much immune to the noise.  Survival mechanism I guess, built in.   But for guests staying here the first time, it can be more unexpected than a bat crawling along your arm angling for entry into your sleeping bag (that happened once!).   This alarm, I should note, also goes off at noon, 6pm, and for no easily explicable reason, at 10pm.  Every day.


Usually around 7 or 7:30 but sometimes later than that, a few more distinctly local sounds join the fun.   I already spoke a bit of the Ecuadorian street vendor phenomenon in an earlier post, but then I was talking mainly of products like electric keyboards, TV antennae, automobile weather stripping, and toilet paper.   There are also people who sell food on the street (and God/Flying Spaghetti Monster Bless them!) and these are my favorite anecdotal and idiosyncratic (or not, from your point of view … I mean maybe some people WANT to buy shrimp at 7am, maybe some people LIVE to buy shrimp at 7am…) sound-producers.   These people are the percussion, the woodwinds, the veritable STRINGS of Zaruma's wacky orchestra, and every day they parade by and perform on the street below El Castillo, bringing joy to my ears.   Who are they? 


Ooh, there's the mote guy.  He has a truly strange delivery.   Mote (moe-tay) is just a popular corn dish (called hominy among the non-abididginals) and you can get it pretty much anywhere in Ecuador, ho hum, but this guy, he makes LOVE to the word, and when he waddles down the steep streets of Zaruma belting out "mo-TEEEEIIIII" before the sun has had a chance to establish itself, it's a thing of beauty.   I don't ever buy any from him though.  In fact, I have no idea what he even looks like. 


Morocho guy is another favorite.  Morocho is a thick drink made with oats, raisins, cinnamon, and some other magical ingredients not approved by the FDA.   Morocho is pronounced just like it looks, and so his approach is a little different.  Instead of suavely seducing the groggy-eyed citizenry into buying his wares while barely lulled from sleep, morocho guy digs deep down in his diaphragm and finds the authority inherent in a word as macho and bad-ass as morocho.   I mean really, who wants pasty little bland old corn-based mote when you can have MoooooR-OOOOCHOOOOOO!!!!!! Inyourface! SLAM-IT! with EXTREEEEEEME! raisins in every taste, SUCKA!   Yeah, nobody, that's who.  At least that it how I perceive morocho guy's philosophy to appear if he ever learned English and typed it out on a blog.   Moving on.


Shrimp.  Perhaps made famous by Popeye referring to lesser sailors before biffing and buffing them, perhaps made more famous by a certain Tom Hanks movie featuring a crustacean-obsessed Vietnam war soldier.   Whatever.  In Zaruma you can get it by the stinking, whiskery, bug-eyed heaps at 7am.  Lucky you.   The Spanish word for shrimp is "camaron."  Shrimp as a collective/plural would be "camarones."  (cahm-ah-ROHN-ays) Here on the typed screen it lacks vitality, lacks animation, there is no soul to speak of harbored in that word here.  But there, THERE on the streets of this 500 year old gold mining town, camarones gots cajones, baby YEAH!   The delivery of the word by the guy who delivers the crustaceans is pure aesthetic perfection.  There is no way I could remotely reproduce it here, but let's just say that when, one morning, while eating a bowl of strawberry yogurt and granola, or rice crispies with milk and banana slices,  I somehow find myself then eating yogurt and granola and raw shrimp, or rice crispies and banana and raw shrimp, I will not be surprised.  Not in the least.   Uh uh.  It's that beautiful. 


Shrimp for breakfast.  Maybe one day.  Live it.   Love it.  Be it. 

Over and out.  = )


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