Something From Nothing Squirty Maradonna

Something From Nothing

Squirty Maradonna

A Lapse in Judgement

Theft, pig carcasses and hanging off the devil's nose. Que burro.

Quito, Ecuador
26th November, 2001

Of course, it had to happen. Last episode, I praised the creative chaos that thrives in Ecuador. On Saturday, I caught the chaos in my teeth. Stupid. After seven months of guarding my gear like a jealous lover, I had not lost a single thing. And then, for about five seconds, I let my guard drop, and that was all it took. I had been travelling in local buses all week, to Riobamba, and Cuenca, and back, so I was tired. Complacent too, after so long on the road without incident.

I was in the Terminal Terrestre, the bus station, hunting for the bus to Otavalo amid all the famous confusion, moving quickly because the station if known to be a den of thieves, and worse. Found the bus! Got my ticket. Board the bus. Empty. Just me. Flop, tired but triumphant, in a window seat near the door, and put my small daypack not under my feet, as I always do, but on the seat beside me. Drift off for a few seconds, staring out the window. Glimpse of movement in the aisle of the bus, noted subconciously, but I continue to stare, absently. Sudden grip of fear. My bag has gone. Gone. A cold weight runs through my stomach. In that instant I knew the bag was gone for good. Noone would help, the police would not care.

It was gone. The cold part of my brain already started an inventory. Bag. With it, my beautiful Leatherman knife, my medkit, survival kit, sunglasses. My packed lunch, dammit.

My camera. Inside the camera, the 64Mb memory stick. All my pictures of Ecuador, 100 images distilled from three weeks. Everything else can be replaced, but those, never.

Denuncia en Espanol

The cold part of my brain told me what to do in clinical detail . Sweep the station. Pointless, but necessary. A thief will often dump the bag nearby, making off with the most valuable items. There might be something to be recovered. No. Next, the local police hut. The officer in paramilitary uniform looked annoyed to be distracted from his newspaper. He told my to file a report in a station across town, then, rid of me, returned to his comic strip.

Five hours waiting to make my report, in a line of Ecuadorians, all waiting for the single two fingered typist to take their denuncia. Finally, explaining, in Spanish, what happened, and seeing it reinterpreted according to what she thought I meant. But I wrote the list of most valuable things down for her. For the insurance. I had no faith the police report would actually be of any interest to the police.

A shame. Otavalo would have been my last trip here. Sunday was national census day, when noone could leave their residence all day, and Monday I leave. What was it, a five second lapse? That`s all it takes.

The rest of the week:

The Devil`s Nose, Riobamba

Every visitor to the central sierra of Ecuador has one objective. To get up at 5.30am, run to the last functioning train staion in the country, race straight past the perfectly comfortable carriages and, instead, climb up to the boxcar roofs where they can sit on the cold, hard metal and wait for the train to leave, at 7am, and go absolutely nowhere.

This is the Nariz del Diabolo, the Devil`s Nose train ride, and I loved it. The train runs for four hours along an old, decaying narrow guage track through the highland countryside, past fields desperately carved in 45 degree hillslopes, past knots of Quechua indians who rise from their back breaking labour at the soil to wave and laugh, eternally amused at this throng of gringos who fight to ride on the exposed roof of a train that goes nowhere. Every so often dogs would race over the banks against the train, or indian children, already wearing their traditional shawls and sombreros would come up the the train at a halt and giggle shyly up at us.

Our spirits were high, as initial squabbles over space subsided and we talked and laughed in our luxurious, fully air-conditioned perch. I made friends with some Germans, naturlich, Marten, Lena and Claudia. They had already travelled through Bolivia and Peru, and were 19 years old. When I was 19, going inter-railing in France was the biggest adventure I could conceive.

Although we were all packed sitting together on the roof of a rickety train given to violent shudders and unexpected stops, the local Ecuadorians did not forego the opportunity to make a few bucks. Every ten minutes a man, woman or child would slip lightly onto the roof with a basket of fried plantain, chocolates or cheese pañadas and slowly pick his way along the roof, stepping between our legs or stop standing on the moving train like a stuntman to sell his wares to a tourist feeling the four hour pinch.

At last the highlight: the final hour long descent to the Devil´s Nose itself. This is a long mountain spur with sheer cliffs on either side. The train descends this through cuttings in the living rock of the cliffs themselves, with thrilling views to our doom far below. The train stopped from time to time, either to reverse into a switch back, or because the driver and engineer had started a lively debate beside the track as to whether the next section could in fact bear the weight of the train at all. I loved it all.


After seven hours on the metal roof of the train, a mere four hour bus journey to Cuenca. Fourteen hours since breakfast, and my body and mind began to part ways. The only thing to do was run out of the bus station, beat the other tourists to the taxi rank, and go straight to my randomly chosen hostale, the Maconda.

A palace.

Cuenca is a world heritage site, an perfect example of colonial Spanish architecture, graceful, balconied houses, proportioned streets and cathedrals. My hostale lived up to the city`s reputation: my room was vast, opening onto an elegant inner courtyard and garden. I wanted to stay there forever.

I had to get back to Quito. Ten hours in a a bus, winding back through stomach twisting mountain roads over 1000 ft drops past more groups of quiet Quechua, still speaking softly the ancient language of the Incas, past roadside stalls hung with freshly slaughtered pig carcasses, all the way back to Quito so I could be ready to go to Otovalo for the Saturday market... you know the rest.

Off We Go

Time to leave Ecuador, and a shame to leave it with such a bitter taste. The pictures! I would give them all the rest, camera, knife and everything, if only I could have my memory chip with all my pictures of Ecuador, all my friends here! But it can`t be. Tonight I fly to Buenos Aires via Santiago de Chile, and after a three day furlough, to Auckland, New Zealand. Can`t wait.





Street crafts


Devil's Nose Train


Chola Cuencana


Ecuador Route


Hat & Spoon



The Facts

Where I stayed
Cuenca: Hostal Macondo. Large rooms in an attractive colonial house with garden.

How I got around:
Local busses caught at the terminal Terrestre or on the road side. Look after your bags.