4: Peter Was Sharing His Dinner with the Fishes
We, however, had the coolest crew. Our first night we docked in San Cristobal, and I went out dancing and drinking with them. They got a big kick out of watching the gringa attempt salsa (I knew I should have paid more attention when Monica tried to teach me salsa!). They thought I was pretty cool – or maybe silly – for trying. When the American-style club music came on, they then tried to copy me. Those Ecuadorian men have rhythm…
Anyway… we were lucky enough to get a crew where some members spoke a little English, and the ones who didn’t tried to help us with our Spanish (or in my case Spanglish) and smiled and laughed all the time. In fact, the crew laughed a lot. Considering how hard a life these people have, they were a happy lot. Either that or they found us very amusing. Hmmm… Here’s a little overview of the crew:
- The captain, who’s name I couldn’t pronounce, was 33 and into computers. He had a computer program that only came in English, so he was translating the instruction manual into Spanish word-by-word so he could use it. He was very sweet and I spent several hours sitting up in the – whatever they call the place where the drive the boat – talking with him.
- There was Walter, who was the steward. He spoke the most English, but the first 4 days pretended he didn’t speak much. He was very soft-spoken and sarcastic at the same time. He had a sly smile and very pretty blue eyes. Blue eyes are unusual here.
- Willians – 25 but looked 16, and got worked up when you told him so. He had studied two years of engineering and was the second mate. He was the color of dark chocolate and had a 1000-watt smile you could literally see in the dark. Willians and I spent the trip talking to each other via paper and dictionary. I got pretty quick at looking things up in the Spanish-English dictionary.
- Fernando was first mate. Didn’t speak a word of English but liked to dance. He was particular about his choices though. Spent an entire night lying on a bench looking asleep, then popped up to dance to one song. He was the quiet one of the group.
- The cook, Arturo, was very shy and would hide in the corner all the time. We named him Senior Cinco Minutos (Mr. 5 Minutes), because every time I asked him to dance that was his response. The crew got a laugh out of the pollo (chicken) dance I showed him as a result of his shyness about dancing.
- There was another Willians who I didn’t get to know, but he always said hello and asked how were things going.
- And Wilson (yes, I know some of these names don’t seem very Spanish). He helped out in the kitchen, and other things. He didn’t speak much English, but like the rest of the crew, he smiled a lot.
- There was the engineer, who I don’t think I ever saw because they apparently kept him chained to the engine.
- And there was Ruly, our guide. I was very impressed by him. He was educated at San Diego’s naturalist program, had a master’s and had worked all over the world. He was very informative and funny at the same time. He had a habit of punctuating all his explanations with sound effects. Eventually all of us were explaining things with sound effects. Ruly was probably in his late 30s but looked about 20. The day he put on the Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt he looked about 12.
I wish the passengers could have been as cool as the crew. Overall everyone was very nice, but I was hoping for a boat full of packers looking to spend the nights hanging out. I’d say 2/3s of the group was over 40 and acting like senior citizens, but the rest of us had a great time with the crew. The only people who were real pains were the Swiss couple (finally, the obnoxious passengers weren’t Americans). More about the passengers later.
The last two nights on the boat I decided we needed a party to liven things up. Sophie and I pulled out our CDs and were ready to go. Madonna was a hit with Ruly – he loves Madonna (thanks Lizette!), and Cream Anthems (thanks Kate!) which was all club music. The tunes had almost all the crew dancing. Of course when Sophie put on her salsa, merengue and cumbia (not sure on spelling) music, the entire crew was showing us the steps. But you have to picture us trying to learn this – while the boat was moving at top speed in the middle of the night. Up-down went the boat, while we tried to spin and step and keep from falling down. Several times someone almost went headlong down the stairs; good thing Arturo was hiding in the corner to save them. In this country I’m actually kinda tall, so I could brace myself on the ceiling – speaking of which, it’s nice to be in a place where I’m not the shortest and I can reach the top shelf!
Sophie, Fernando and Walter took turns on the guitar, and though I didn’t understand a word of what anyone was singing it all sounded really really good. Didn’t get much sleep and drank too many $2 beers (which is very expensive here), but it was well worth it. And the side effect is the more you drink, the less the boat rocking interferes with your dancing…
Well, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t written word one about the tortoises or the iguanas or boobies. It’s because for me the travel experience is not just the sites to see, it’s the people you meet along the way, and it’s rare to actually get to spend extended time with locals – especially when your language skills are limited to “where’s the bathroom?” and “good morning-afternoon”. It was an incredible experience to talk to people and learn a little about them and do the things they do.
For instance, Walter wants to travel to China; he finds the culture fascinating. Willians is probably a better club dancer than salsa dancer. The captain’s computer program was about night navigation and being able to see what the night skies looked like thousands of years ago. Most of these people hardly make any money at all, and will probably never get to China. How someone even affords a computer here is beyond me. The average wage is $130 a month, in a country that experienced such an economic collapse that they scrapped their money and use US dollars as their national currency (how that helps I don’t understand). Ecuadorian spirit is to be admired.
Follow-up: Since I wrote this story, I found out that on the night of the first roller coaster nightmare apparently the only person who didn’t get seasick was David, an ever-smiling Aussie who, as I was told, sat happily in the galley eating everyone’s dessert and looking for all the world like a little kid who got into the pie when no one was looking.
I also learned that that fancy schmancy catamaran sank a few months later! Bet that didn’t go well with a lobster dinner!
What I lost this week: Nothing! Yeah!