Not to be confused with the infamous Japanese World War II battle cry, Tora! Tora! Tora!, which is an acronym for lightning strike, although both can be seen as occurring within the context of some kind of war. Suba is the formal command form of the Spanish verb subir, which basically means to climb, or as in the case of the Ecuadoran transportation system means, "Get your slow ass up in that bus or we'll leave you behind!" May lightning strike the driver's assistant who decided I was not climbing up fast enough and who used his considerable strength to hoist my rear end into the bus to Quito amid a cacophony of applause and relief and, dare I say, ridicule.
From the outset, I have not been a fan of the bus system, although it is quite efficient and with buses aplenty. These buses most resemble a cross between an American city bus, a Greyhound and what looks to be the tuck and roll back seat of a '57 Chevy. It's the efficiency that I think is my biggest gripe, moreso than the occasional inability of the sliding windows to slide on a hot day. But the infernal efficiency. Not a grand, exacting, near-to-perfect German kind of efficiency, but its more high-spirited and boisterous younger brother, bat-out-of-hell efficiency. It seems important for every driver and his assistant to keep to a schedule that no one really knows the meaning of nor understands the finer points of, except that when it is put to use, one best hang on with all his might or he may realize the fate of the 80 year-old indigenous woman who nearly met a wicked end on the side of the road the last time Mary and I ventured to the big city.
Suba! Suba! Suba!, the assistant yelled to her as she tried to mount the stairs carrying on her back a rather large bundle of something or other that seemed to be squealing, wrapped in one of her blankets. Now, I am not a stranger to the rules of carriage in this Ecuadoran bus system, and I do know, through personal experience, that it is considered reasonable to transport animals along with you and your belongings ( I learned this on one of my first bus rides when a man got on with two bags, handed me one and said, "Would you mind holding my cock?").
Anyway, this woman was halfway up the stairs when the driver decided she was on enough for government work and peeled out - as much as a bus is capable of peeling out - doors open and flapping, the SRO crowd clinging to the weakly soldered pullstraps, and the able assistant imploring the stragglers to, "Glue yourself to the person next to you, there's not enough room up front!" While this may sound humorous in the telling, when you're the actual person being glued to, it's less compelling an experience, and as it turns out is a frotteur's playground. And all this is happening as the aforementioned 80 year-old with the suspicious bundle is still teetering on that fine line of being on or off the rampaging bus.
I wondered at that moment if this was some kind of South American Darwinian experiment- the Galapagos do belong to Ecuador, after all - like teaching toddlers to mind the traffic by placing them precariously on the side of the road and in swiping distance of one of these buses on a schedule. And it was, apparently, as we all found out.
There is a second part to an Ecuadoran bus trip of any length, and that is that in order to ensure the orderliness of the schedule there is placed, about half way through it, a measure of the efficiency of the bus and it driver, and while the 80 year-old was still trying to get her bus legs under her, the vehicle suddenly stopped, if not on a dime then surely on a quarter, throwing the woman with the squealing package back off the bus, where she instantly dives into a tuck position and rolls down the incline into a ditch conveniently filled with last night's rain.
"I was right!" I shout, as a piglet wiggles out of this woman's pack and, even though you might not have believed it possible before, takes to swimming the ditch in a desperate attempt to escape the humans and rejoin his much saner porcine comrades. Meanwhile, the assistant has leapt off the bus, jumped the ditch, and is speeding toward a meter on the outside of a nearby house where, once he arrives, he slides a piece of paper under a stamp and punches the lever strategically placed above it. A time clock, I am quick to surmise. And as he returns, somewhat slower than his advance, he seems to be shaking his head. Bad news. They must be seconds slow or something because when he gets to the ditch, a new look of determination festoons his drooping features.
Forget the struggling octogenarian below him, forget the pig, no don't forget the pig. In a masterful pas de deux, the young assistant, I am sure in an attempt to rescue the drowning woman, inadvertently scoops up the pig instead, understandable since both the woman and the pig are squealing at this point, and shouts to the driver before he can get a good look at what he has in his arms. "Get going! We have time to make up!"
And we're off. The SRO crowd leans left as a unit before stabilizing as the driver shifts into second, and then a second lean as he shifts into third. I do get a final glimpse of the poor old lady who is now on her knees in the ditch, shaking her fist and most likely saying, "Pare! Pare! Pare!", which is the formal command for, "Stop, you imbecile."
Sadly, this seems an unlikely possibility. Ever.
I live at the foot of a 15,000 foot and then some extinct volcano called Imbabura, more colloquially named Papa Imbabura by the locals. Papa is supposedly married to Mama Cotacachi, which stands at 16,000 feet and then some miles across the primarily eucalyptus valley. Papa is said to be responsible for the weather in Peguche, the indigenous village in which I reside, while Mama seems simply to bear the brunt of some rather ribald humor regarding the occasional crust of snow that can be seen at her tippy-top. She seems not to influence the weather in the town of Cotacachi, rather she observes Papa's occasional boiling rage and is, according to legend, the recipient of some of his most ardent offerings.
Which is all to say that Papa must be really angry because the weather in Peguche of late has been less than ideal. Someone in Peguche, as another legend goes, and I am beginning to believe this particular legend, has angered the god and he has responded by pissing all over our fair village. Daily. Sometimes hourly. We have had thunderstorms, some of them of the violent variety, every day for the past week. And the rain. I grew up on the west side of Washington State so I am no stranger to the wet stuff, but this, well, the term deluge comes to mind. And whenever there comes a deluge, our house suffers the consequences. There is a lot of bubbling and fountaining of pipes; we are treated to the drip-drip-dripping from the ceilings, and sometimes, because of the wind, the rain slants sideways and comes in through the windows and, yes, through the gutter that lies exposed in my studio because my studio is an add-on to the original house and they couldn't figure out how to meld the two rooflines together, so they left it open where they meet and installed a gutter, which I can literally reach up and touch. So, at either end of the gutter is a rather large space, open to the elements and the wildlife (I have encountered a bird or two desperately trying to escape), which also allows the rain to insinuate into my studio like a ganglionic cancer. This is all to say that the god at whose rocky feet we worship, is not happy with someone in the village and I have taken it upon myself to find the culprit and mete out whatever is the appropriate punishment for this sort of crime.
"But what do you expect?" says the ever-positive Luis. "You live at the base of a huge mountain, and when it rains, water runs downhill."
So it's now he chooses to be scientific about it as I stand on top of a wooden cutting board, which stands on top of a wadded up plastic bag, which is fitted haphazardly over the drain in the kitchen floor to stem the tide of the reverse plumbing issue, while outside it is nearly impossible to see through the sheets of rain Papa is sending our way.
By the way, Luis was my first guess as the offending citizen and I was quite prepared to climb Imbabura and dump him without much ceremony into Papa's throat and end the madness, until he reminded me as he struggled in my fireman's carry on the way up the hill that he is actually a citizen of La Calera, closer to Mama, and thus not responsible.
"Drat," I say. A word that I would like to bring back to more prominent usage, because it's the kind of word that fits when you see water escaping from under the cutting board and plastic and running across the floor of your kitchen bringing with it that elusive fragrance of grey water, or is that sewage? "Drat." Remember that word the next time you find yourself under similar circumstances like, say, when the wrong people get elected to public office.
Luis, as he watches me prancing about in the rain, my thinning white hair plastered to my head, has very little to say. Just two things, actually. "Watch out for that bus." and "You know, you and Marita are the first and only gringos who have ever lived in this village. Maybe there is a connection there."
All right. Granted, our appearance in Peguche has not been without its trials. Some folks are not happy with outside interference, and I get that, while others seem pleased to have us traipsing around trying to understand how to fit into a culture far older and perhaps wiser than our own. So I feel I must consider what Luis has said. Maybe it is me (no one ever hinted that I might not be a narcissist), and I am the cause of such umbrage taken by the local volcanic god. If this is true, should I then sacrifice myself? While ignoring the Greek Chorus screaming out a resounding "yes!", I am determined to uncover a better plan. To appease this god, it will take more than mere human sacrifice, and just try to find a goat to put over hot coals and fan its burning fragrance up a mountainside that is determined to wash you out. No, it must be a technique only a Papa would understand. And I think I've finally found it.
Mama Cotacachi, who, as I re-read this post, has taken on a role not unlike a cypher, actually figures prominently in the solution to my problem. At least, that is how legend goes here in the indigenous wilds of northern Ecuador. I have noticed for quite some time that there has been a lack of the white stuff on top of Mama. Maybe it's been too mild ( we are on the equator, for Imbabura's sake), or it's simply the fact that Papa and Mama have had a little tiff and they are now on opposite sides of the valley, turned in the other direction, hands folded at their chests, each refusing to give ground to the other. This is a state of union that a great many Papas and Mamas have found themselves in. Someone needs to intervene.
"You must treat Imbabura with the respect he deserves," Luis says. "If he is the phallus of the valley, then your property as well as all the property in the village, stands on his scrotum and you must be very careful. You must not drive your picks and shovels too deep into his flesh. You must provide him with only the best natural fertilizers. You must caress the soil as if it were your own skin." Boy, these pagans turned Catholic sure know how to form a titillating analogy. But maybe there is some truth to what he says. Is the solution to my problem of Imbabura's madness simply some kind of agronomic reacharound? After all, gods are only human, as they say.
So, here I am, lying on my back on the scrotal skin of my local god, staring at the sky while the piss of the ancients falls all over me. I have taken Luis at his word, though, and have only been good and decent to Papa. I have provided his flesh with only the best chicken poop; I have planted only the most nurturing of flora and yes, I have petted his soil in only the most loving of fashions.
And so, as it turns out, Papa Imbabura is not unlike most men. In clearer language, men are pigs...Maybe I shouldn't say it that way, but if the oink fits. The solution is simple and has been in front of me all along. Sometimes it's geology, but sometimes it's simple biology. Imagine what must be building up inside a volcano that has been extinct for millennia. I hope that one day soon I will wake up and look outside my bedroom window to see Mama Cotacachi covered with a topping of white. Then, I believe, the rains will stop here in Peguche and we will return to eternal spring. So, I will take this moment to say to Mama Cotacachi, "Sorry, but the only problem facing us is that the prick on the other side of the valley just needs a little love."
I think it started with, "You lie!", those famous words from Congressman Addison Graves "Joe" Wilson, Sr. (R-SC), when he disagreed with something President Obama was saying in his State of the Union Address in 2009. Of course, he was a republican, and of course he was from the south, and of course he was yelling this to our first African American president. Say what you will about whether Mr. Wilson would have shouted this out, or even shouted at all if the president had been white, there are still some very hurt feelings that prevail in certain parts of the country, that have to do with a particular side losing in the most pernicious war of our history. Etiquette, gentlemen, etiquette, unless of course the application would apply to certain American subgroups previously denied access to the White House as a permanent resident. In Mr. Wilson's district, I guess, of which he is the role model, one applies the rules unequally when it comes to respect. Why Mr. Wilson chose such an august occasion to change the tenor of the traditional rules of congressional conduct such an event as a State of the Union speech can most likely be traced back to the decision by one, Jerry Springer, former mayor of Cincinnati, to mount a television show showing us just how dysfunctional regular Americans can be given the opportunity to act out in front of a camera.
Mr. Springer launched his show in 1991, and advertised it as an alternative to Phil Donohue and his ilk, but the ratings were not satisfactory and in 1994, he and his producer revamped the show to include "regular" families in scripted fights and public disclosures of heretofore private circumstances. Springer came by this naturally, we are to, assume, as he was once arrested for soliciting a prostitute while on the Cincinnati city council. He was found out through the fact that he had written the hooker a check and the check had bounced. This reaffirms my own personal notion that there are certain categories of people in the world that you do not piss off, and one of them would seem to be prostitutes. In any event, ratings exploded, which left the more sedate programming scrambling to catch up.