Arriving in Quito, going to the airport hotel, then the next morning being driven in on a fresh new highway to an equally fresh bus terminal, I got the idea that Ecuador hadn't been improving or renewing, it was just building. Between my first visit in 1982 and this second one in 2016, that was the difference. Given that amount of time, any reasonably busy country would naturally make more stuff, and this would supersede or simply move alongside whatever stuff came before it, and be nicer than it. By "building" I mean like homebuilding: it had no vicissitudes. The process might pause or even go sideways sometimes, but hardly ever backwards and even if it did that, certainly not in a depressingly rhythmic fashion. I wondered if this was true not only of Ecuador but of many or even all countries - whether it was a good model of national evolution. I thought about it over the remainder of the trip but finally decided: nah, this won't hold up. Are there countries that don't build, just remodel? Are there countries occupied solely by renters, whose inclination is to do neither? Are there countries that would like to do one or the other but can't afford it, and just page longingly through nation-improvement magazines?

I really didn't think so.

Arriving in Lima, by bus from the north, I thought: this place is worse than São Paulo, and wow, I didn't even know that was possible. São Paulo, I liked to say, was huge and had every shade there is of the color gray. Lima seemed huger and looked the way dirt would look if you painted it. Not that I or anyone I know has ever tried that, but comparisons should stir the imagination and be surprising. They should also, however, be accurate, and though I liked my urban color sense, I had to admit this model too was unlikely to serve. For one thing, I arrived at it just minutes after it became clear the bus was within Lima's city limits; and for another, once I did see more of Lima, in strong daylight, while it was mostly pretty bad, it did have its moments. And maybe Peruvians see it the way Brazilians see São Paulo, as a land of opportunity, which is all that really matters.

I wasn't doing too well in the analogy/comparison/model/metaphor/simile department on this trip. But the time isn't wasted unless you hang on too long to your darling theories, or overwork the ones which have some but limited merit.

Returning to Quito from Lima, riding the bus from the terminal out to the aircraft, I stood very close to a woman who took a selfie and also texted. I read what she wrote; I didn't have to but hey, research. Did the same earlier this year in Panama! Something about "a great time after all" and "glad we're past that" and besitos. It wasn't pornographic or even lascivious; it was just banal, as it was in Panama, though in that case the lady used a more grown-up font than Comic Sans. It occurred to me that the unawareness of the texters wasn't at all calculated; they just didn't care. I thought it would be the same if instead of smartphones they carried small manual typewriters around. Ones with rolls of extremely narrow paper, obliging frequent carriage returns. Peck-peck-peck-CHING; peck-humpa-peck-CHING ("humpa" is the sound the spacebar makes); peck-peck.

Actually, that analogy looks pretty good. Could be a keeper!


Wandering Lima for a supper that wasn't chicken - I'd had chicken for lunch and though it wasn't too likely I'd have it for breakfast, I really wanted to break the chain before one even formed - I found myself, right downtown, in the midst of a lot of eyeglass stores. One after the other, for maybe three blocks square. Lima's optic souk, I thought; but of course I had to revise that metaphor fast. There was nothing Middle Eastern about this; no cawing merchants, no idiot importuning; just salesgirls on the sidewalk speaking in soft voices or inside the shops daydreaming. These enterprises weren't under tents; the wares weren't arrayed on a board supported by two cinderblocks; the shops were indoors and had clearly been around a while, and there had to have been enough trade for everyone to stay in business.

The objective of this trip had been to travel farther south into Peru than I had in 1982, and this I had done. But as I could barely remember what I'd done in 1982, it may as well have been my first visit. Which was in fact my first to all South America, and which instantly sold me on the continent. Yet I had not given much further thought to these two particular countries, and it seemed funny that I had ever thought of them at all. It was as if as a child in a spelling bee I'd been challenged with "Ecuador," and got it right partly because I was good with phonetics and partly because I was the sort of kid who would have seen the word before somewhere anyway; but after spelling it, completely forgotten about it. Yet decades later, here I was! Wow! Another faulty analogy, I admit, as I almost certainly never got a country name served up in a spelling bee. But I might've got "aviation" and look what happened....

Speaking of flying, I find that among the few memories I do have of the 1982 trip is the nighttime descent into Guayaquil. (I'd picked Guayaquil probably because the airfare happened to be cheaper than Quito.) It was a four-hour flight from Miami and we arrived in profound darkness. I looked out the window. There wasn't much to see. A road or two; maybe a car or two; hardly any people. There was no fog or mist but the air looked steamy and was. It was mostly black; such lights as there were isolated. A few lampposts; a few warehouse doorways; some trees, some grass. I don't believe I thought here was a poor country, I believe I thought there might be hardly any country at all. But I learned fast; and now, after all these years, I have an even better idea, indeed a truly sound metaphor: those lights were nightlights. Ecuador was not just a country but a sort of house, and these were left on just so such folks who were up wouldn't bump into anything. They weren't there to reveal anything or really help anybody find anything. But someone who lived there - in my case, the cabbie who whisked me on long empty narrow roads into town, that humid air blasting through the open windows - could move among them and guide me exactly where I wanted to go. Thank you!

© 2016 J.A.Hutter

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