Latin Culture: Ecuadorian Village Life
Every morning, the alarm rings at the same time. "Beep-beep-beep!" The house at the hacienda is silent except for the peeping of the birds. At six fifteen, there is already light glowing through the curtains. Outside, my neighbor Enrique and his wife Gina have already begun milking the cows.
It is easy to wake up in my village here in the Andes. The sun wakes up every day at the same time, summer and winter. There are exactly twelve hours of sunlight and twelve hours of nighttime. The sun comes up over the eastern hill at 6:30 a.m. and leaves over the western mountains at 6:30 in the evening. When the sun is always awake in the morning, it's hard to sleep in.
The entire village is already awake by the time I get out of bed. Everyone in the village has dairy cows. There are black and white cows, brown cows with black backs, and cows with long horns like Texas longhorns. The villagers don't believe a purebred cow can survive up here on the páramo, the mountain plains. Each family has from three to fifteen cows, which they milk by hand every morning. Mornings are the only time the milk pickup comes.
At six thirty, honking echoes through the village. "Honk, honk, honk!" You can hear the rumble of a pickup coming up the hacienda driveway. It is coming to pick up Enrique's milk. The little blue Toyota bounces up the driveway, jiggling the row of blue plastic barrels in the back and the young man with a white t-shirt over his face holding on for dear life.
The milkman's name is Don Ramiro. Don is a title of respect used with the first name of someone. For example, one might say, 'Don Manuel,' 'Don Daniel,' or 'Don Quixote.' If the person is a woman, the title is Doña.
Don Ramiro lives in town an hour away from the village. He collects the milk from the villagers every day to sell to a milk processing plant.
Don Ramiro is very important to the community, because the money he brings is often the only steady income for the villagers. As he makes his rounds, honking his horn so that the villagers know to bring their milk buckets to the road, his clients ask him to loan them a few dollars, or to bring them a tub of lard or a cough medicine for their children. "Don Ramiro, no sea malito, don't be bad, bring me a jar of cooking oil tomorrow," they ask.
Nearly always, it is the women waiting with the milk by the road. The men go in the house to breakfast and prepare for their daily work. Their wives and children take care of the cows. After milking, the cows must be taken to pasture. Herds of cattle crowd the road in the mornings. Sometimes little boys drive them, riding on horses much bigger than they are, with only a feed sack for a saddle and a rope in the horse's mouth for a bridle. They switch the cows with a eucalyptus branch or a rope tied on the end of a short stick. Other families send their daughters, little six- or eight-year-olds who plod behind the cows in rubber boots and dirty sweaters. Often, a family dog will trot behind as well, barking and nipping at the heels of tardy heifers.
In the hacienda where I live, Don Ramiro collects the milk from Enrique and Gina. The boy in the back of the pickup hands Enrique a special bucket that has liter marks on the inside. Enrique pours the bucket full and lifts it up. The boy then pours the milk into one of the pickup's big blue barrels. The barrel has a clean cotton cloth cover to strain bits of twigs and grass from the raw milk.
After all the milk has been measured, Don Ramiro writes down the quantity in a special paper that has the names of all the villagers and how much milk they sold each day. Don Ramiro pays twenty-two cents per liter of milk. (In the tienda, a liter of pasteurized and homogenized milk costs sixty cents!) Then Don Ramiro drives away to the next house, honking all the while.
Immediately afterwards, there is a knock on my door. Gina or Enrique stand there with a jug of milk. They pour it into my pitcher, saying, "Toma la leche." Have you ever tasted fresh cow's milk? Once you’ve tasted it, it’s hard to go back to store-bought milk. Fresh milk is thick and sweet, and a yellow layer of cream rises to the top. (Store-bought milk is homogenized so that the cream doesn't separate from the milk.) I skim off the cream and give it to Coxi, the hacienda dog. Gina, on the other hand, uses the cream to make butter.
The reason that fresh cow's milk is so special is that it contains at least 4% milkfat. This gives it a creamy flavor and rich yellow color. The milk you buy from the grocery store usually contains 2% milkfat or less and is bluer in color. The milkfat is taken out during processing because most people don't like a lot of fat in their diet. What most people don’t realize is that milkfat contains all of the vitamins A and D, so lowfat milk must be fortified.
As soon as I have my morning liter of milk, I set it to boil. It's very important to boil unpasteurized milk. You can get sick if the bacteria in the milk aren’t killed. Fortunately, boiling kills most bacteria.
After boiling my milk, I dip out a cup for my breakfast and put the hot saucepan of milk to float in a bucket of cold water. The cold water chills the milk rapidly, an important step in preventing the growth of bacteria. You have to stir the water in the bucket every so often to mix the warm water next to the saucepan with the colder water beneath, but in the end it's just as good as refrigeration!
Then, I make my café con leche. In Ecuador, café con leche is a cup of hot milk with a teaspoonful of instant coffee powder. To make hot chocolate, chocolate caliente, you just have to put a teaspoonful of chocolate powder in your hot milk. A cafe tinto is instant coffee powder in boiling water.
Always, coffee comes in instant form. I haven’t seen an electric coffee maker yet! Even in a restaurant, you will rarely see a cup of brewed coffee. Instead, you'll receive two small dishes with your cup of hot water or hot milk. The first will contain instant coffee powder. The second will contain sugar. I suppose that with instant coffee it's much quicker to make a cup. All you have to do is boil water and stir in a teaspoon of Nescafé.
My favorite breakfast is café con leche y pan. I break a homemade roll into pieces and float it in my hot milky coffee. Then I eat it with a spoon. I learned to eat this breakfast in my host family's house. A fancier breakfast in a restaurant will include much more than coffee and bread. A typical breakfast there will include two eggs, a roll, perhaps a slice of fresh cheese, café con leche, and a glass of fresh papaya, passionfruit, or tree tomato juice.
By the time I finish preparing my coffee, my bathing water is usually ready. Every day, as soon as I get out of bed, I put two pots of water on the stove to boil. I use a big pot for bathing water and a little saucepan for heating water to wash the dishes.
There is no hot water tap in my house. In fact, there are very few houses here with a second tap in their sink at all! Ecuador is an equatorial country. It doesn't get very cold, because there is never a winter. Cold showers aren't so very cold if you live in a warm place. Most Ecuadorians are used to the unheated water that comes from their taps. Some wealthier families have an electric head attachment for their showers. You must turn it on before you use the shower, and it heats just the water falling from the shower head. Some Americans I know would call these 'Frankenstein showers,' because you can get quite a shock if you touch the switch with wet feet!
In my village, the water comes from the tap like ice. I would hate to take a cold shower here. But there isn't enough electricity for an electric shower, because the houses of the hacienda are very far from the main transformer. By the time the cables arrive where I live, there is very little energy left.
Can you imagine how much electricity the hot water heater in your house consumes? It's much easier to accustom yourself to washing your hands and dishes with cold water! Electricity is very expensive in Ecuador. Only the very rich have electric coffee pots or electric washing machines. All cooking is done with gas stoves. Gas is very cheap here, because Ecuador has great pipelines under the rain forest that provide petroleum and gas to all parts of the country. Ecuador also exports most of this energy all over the world. When my bathing water is ready, I pour it into a bucket and mix it with cold water. Then I carry this bucket and a small saucepan to the bathroom.
My bathroom has stained white walls and a chipped tile bathing stall. It doesn't have a light bulb, which makes it difficult to bathe when it's dark outside. There is no shower curtain, either, but since I can't take a shower, I don't mind. I put my bucket in the middle of the bathing stall and pour saucepanfuls of water over my head. It's just like camping, but every day!
By the time I've breakfasted and bathed and cleaned up the mess, it is time for work. Work at the hacienda starts at 7:30. By then, the shepherds have gathered and saddled their horses for going up to the páramo where the sheep are. The dogs have eaten their breakfasts and are playing in the courtyard, rolling and tussling and chewing each others' ears. The two contract workers from the village, Don Daniel and Don Rodrigo, have arrived and are sitting on a grassy bank waiting for Enrique.
Work never starts exactly on time. Often, since Enrique has a family, he is fifteen minutes late leaving his house. Enrique is the boss of the hacienda. His title is mayordomo, or working manager.
Most mornings, he and his wife Gina have to get the children off to school before starting their daily work. Enrique's son Rene is seven. His daughter Doris is five. They both go to school in the village. The village school consists of a single building in the center of the village, near the church. It has two classrooms, three teachers, and nearly one hundred students of grade school age. The schoolteachers come up from the larger town below the village. They must walk an hour up the mountain each morning to arrive at the school by 8:30. Sometimes, they ride double on horses that a kindly villager leaves below.
The three teachers must teach all the village children, from first grade to sixth grade. It is quite a job, especially with only two classrooms! Ecuadorian children only go to school until one o'clock in the afternoon. That way, they can wait to eat lunch until they return home. Do you think it would be easy to learn a lot in that environment?
If you were a country kid, you'd only learn half of what the town kids learn. No one thinks a country kid needs to learn a lot, because he or she will just be a farmer. Most resources go to the city schools, which serve the children of important people like bankers and business-owners and professionals. Only city kids get to go to university. It is almost impossible for rural students to get scholarships, even if they're really smart.
No matter what school you went to, you would have to wear a uniform. It is a law in Ecuador that anyone attending school must wear a uniform. A uniform includes a colored sweater over a white shirt, slacks for the boys and pleated skirts for the girls. Every day, you would have to wear your uniform. This even includes adults who are taking distance learning classes to finish their high school degree!
Grade school and high school are expensive. Parents pay for their child's uniform every year, as well as the uniform for physical education, transportation, shoes, backpack, school fees, and all school supplies from workbooks to art supplies. That is why most kids only go to school until sixth grade. Their parents can't afford to send them to high school. Some kids can't go to school at all. They can be seen in the streets or in the buses selling gum, mints, or newspapers to help their families.
Sometimes, it's just plain hard to get to school. There aren't many yellow school buses. Only the very rich private schools have their own school buses. Normally, the children ride the big pink public buses to school along with all the adults going to work. In some communities, the children must pile in the back of a pickup for hire, sometimes with thirty people in the back, and go whizzing down the road clutching their backpacks with their hair flying in the wind.
Most Ecuadorian children don't have many opportunities to read. Neither the rural schools nor the villages have their own libraries. Libraries can only be found in the biggest cities of the country, like Quito or Guayaquil. In most houses, just one book can be found—the Bible. Books are very expensive. Because of this, very few people can own a book for any other reason but study.
Most rural schools are too poor to have textbooks, either. Instead, every child must have two notebooks for every subject. The teacher writes the lesson on the board. The child copies the lesson into the appropriate notebook. Then, for homework, the child must recopy those notes into a clean notebook using different colored pens. This notebook becomes their textbook.
But the textbook these country kids do have is the book of nature! If you were an Ecuadorian kid in my village, you'd already know how to ride a horse. You'd be able to milk a cow and would have strong muscles to carry buckets of milk to the road or buckets of slop to the pig. You'd get to play outdoors most the day and help your parents harvest corn or build a pen for the rabbits. You'd know how to dance, too, by the time you could walk. And you'd love playing soccer, or fútbol. Dancing and playing soccer are the two favorite pastimes of my neighbors.
But the adults don't get to play too much. There is too much to do. The moms spend their day sweeping the house, boiling water for baths, moving the pig or the sheep to new pasture, cooking meals and cleaning up the kitchen, and washing piles and piles of clothes on a stone slab with a water dipper and a bar of soap. Do you know how to wash your clothes without a washing machine? It's simple. You just build up a dais of bricks or stones to waist-level. Then you place a long, rectangular-shaped flat stone on top. This will be your washing surface. In the part of the dais that's left, you make a hole in big enough to place a tank of water. ¡Listo!
Using a small bowl to scoop water from the tank, you pour it onto your clothes. You rub a bar of soap all over your wet shirt or jeans, then you pour a little water inside and scrub, scrub, scrub! It's rather like kneading bread. Then you pour a little more water inside and do it again. You have to have very strong arms. Then you turn the shirt or pants inside out and pour enough water inside to rinse it out well, squeeze out all the water, and hang it on a barbed wire fence. Barbed wire fences make good clotheslines. It's true that sometimes the barbs make holes in your clothing, but at least you don't need clothespins to keep your clothes from blowing away.
I wash all my clothes every Saturday morning. It normally takes me four hours. How long do you think it would take a wife and mom to wash all her clothes, her husband's, and her two children's? Do you think you would wear clean pants and shirts every day if you had to wash all your clothes by hand?
Luckily, I don't get very dirty. I've been working in the office every day for the last four months. The office of the hacienda is located in my house. It has a big desk, a bookcase, a cabinet of veterinary supplies, and an old electric typewriter that looks like it was made in the 1920s. The office has a phone and a radio, too. I'm very lucky. There are only nine phones in my whole village. Most villagers use the Andinatel office. This is a small room located by the school that has one phone in a booth. It is only open certain hours of the day, and anyone can go to the booth and use the phone and pay for their call with the attendant. As a result, people in my village don’t spend much time talking on the phone.
Ecuadorians prefer to visit one another. They'd rather sit in a living room and chat. If they need to get a message to someone far away, they'll call a neighbor or a relative who can get in touch with that person. One of my co-workers can remember the first time he made a phone call. He went to Quito, and they showed him how to use the phone, and he was afraid of it!
Very few rural Ecuadorians even know how to mail a letter. That's because hardly anyone has an address or box in the post office! When Enrique saw me putting stamps on a letter, he asked me what the stamps were for. I told him they were proof that I'd paid enough to send the letter. He laughed. He thought they were just to make the letter look pretty.
My job most days is preparing classes on animal production for the community or for the shepherds. Before, I used to go up on the hills with the workers every day to do whatever they did, from building fences to worming sheep. After half a year, I realized I wasn't really helping them as much as I could be. I decided that I could help more people if I spent more time teaching classes. That's what being a Peace Corps volunteer is about: sharing knowledge, not just passing the time and getting dirty and sunburned like everyone else.
Along with our Monday sheep classes and weekly administrative meetings, I give Sunday computer classes. The shepherds really like the computer classes. Those are much more exciting than learning about sheep! Before the classes, none of them had ever touched a computer before. At first, they were afraid of it. It took a lot of work to learn how to use the mouse, or ratón. They kept thinking they'd do something wrong. When they finally guessed how to save a file or open a folder, they were so happy! Don Miguel turned to me and said, "This is exciting, Señorita Amy!"
Life isn't always just researching and writing in the office. Since February, I've had a few unexpected guests. It all started when Enrique and I started selling colas.
The only place to buy a cola is the village tienda, a fifteen-minute walk from the hacienda. Five years ago, there were many more shepherds working in the hacienda, and Enrique used to sell them colas and sandwiches during the evening volleyball matches. Now, because there are only four shepherds living full-time in the hacienda, Enrique stopped his small business.
We decided we needed to start selling colas again. We sent down two crates of empty cola bottles with Don Ramiro, the milkman, to bring us back full ones from the town.
Ecuador recycles all its bottles. Some glass bottles are so scratched and the Coca-Cola or Guitig label so old-fashioned that an Ecuadorian can date the bottle to ten years old! To keep all bottles in circulation and prevent people from carrying them home or tossing them alongside the road, no one can carry a pop bottle from a store. If you buy a soda, you have to stand in the store to drink it and then return the bottle. You wouldn't be able to find a pop can, though plastic non-returnable bottles are becoming more popular.
Don Ramiro brought us back the two crates the next day, this time heavy with full bottles of coke. We sold the two-liter and one-and-a-half liter bottles for the same price: one dollar. We kept the crates in the office, and I was put in charge of selling them.
The shepherds and Enrique's family were our best customers. I drank more cola than I'd had all year. And one day, we had a customer from outside the hacienda.
It was noontime, and I was in the kitchen chopping vegetables on the counter in front of the window. I heard a muffled shout. I looked up, and outside in front of my window was a man on a horse. He wore a battered felt hat, a dark blue poncho, and leather chaps. His horse was a roan with fine lines saddled in the traditional Spanish way, with a high cantle, goat-hide flaps, a lariat tied to one side, breastband and tail strap, great silver stirrups curving into a closed tip.
He was a vaquero from the neighboring hacienda to the south, Itulcachi. Itulcachi was a very ancient hacienda with land that stretched from the top of the párama to the highway far below. They had one hundred dairy cattle which they milked twice a day, beef cattle crossed between Shorthorn and Brahma, great fields of potatoes and barley worked with a sparkling new John Deere, and a nursery and greenhouses in the valley. Itulcachi was a fine hacienda.
As I stood at my kitchen counter, the vaquero lifted his hat in greeting and shouted something I couldn't understand. I must have made a puzzled expression. He understood I couldn't hear, and in reply he raised an empty Coca-Cola bottle.
I immediately dashed over to the front door and threw it open. Stepping out, I called, "¡Buenos días!"
"Buenos días," he greeted me in return. He suddenly seemed a bit unsure. His horse pranced to the side. "We heard ... are you selling colas?"
"¡Sí!” I had no idea how he'd heard, but I dashed to the office and grabbed a full two-liter bottle. I handed it to him, taking his empty bottle and a dollar bill. "Muchas gracias," he said, tipping his hat, and reined his horse around. Off the roan sprang. And that was the last I saw of him, galloping to the south in a cloud of dust, clutching his booty beneath his arm.
Colas are sunny day drinks, but most of the time it’s quite chilly in my village. I'm always in the kitchen. It's the warmest room in the house. The morning sun hits it just right and warms it right up. If it's still cold, I just start cooking something or boiling a pot of water, and the steam heats up the room right away.
I always boil a BIG pot of water each day. That's because it's not wise to drink the water from the tap. In the United States, the water you drink from the tap is always treated with chemicals. It's safe to drink because you know all the protozoa and amoebas are dead. In my village the water comes from the páramo, eight kilometers higher up the mountain. It is pure water, which means that it comes to us no different from how it left nature. Sometimes, if you drink this water, you can get long worms living in your stomach! Some of my friends have taken pictures of 8-inch long worms they've found in their poop. I think it's always smarter to boil your drinking water. I don't want guests living in my stomach.
The community is in charge of its own water supply. This means that they have to take care of the eight kilometers of water pipe that carries the water to the reservoir above the church. The pipe breaks often, especially the smaller pipes that carry water to the houses spread out through the village. When the pipe breaks, someone from the village fixes it.
There is a villager elected to be in charge of the water. Right now, that person is our hacienda mechanic, Don Nelson. Don Nelson is in charge of collecting monthly water fees from all the villagers, which he deposits in a bank and uses to purchase parts and replacement pipe. He is in charge of the faucets that control how much water goes to each section of the village. He is also in charge of organizing work parties for big projects like changing a full kilometer of the old pipe to new.
This was a project my community was planning to do last March. A hundred families, everyone with water, had to participate. They were going to hike up the mountain, and every family would have one meter designated for them to change. Saturday, they would remove the dirt from above their spot and lay the new pipe alongside. Sunday, they would turn off the water to the whole village and replace the pipe.
The project never happened. The day before the project was going to start, Enrique and Don Nelson went up the mountain to check the source of the community's water. When they arrived, they found that the spring had very little water in it. The reason the village had had water shortages all year wasn't just because the pipes were always breaking. It was because there was hardly any water left.
Enrique and Don Nelson searched the area for other natural springs suitable for the community's needs. They found two. But the springs were located on private land. They had to go to the community's lawyer in Quito the following Monday to request permission to change the community water source.
Those are some of the kind of things the community has to think about. An Ecuadorian village is very well organized. They have a president, vice-president, and secretary. There are regular meetings required for everyone to discuss topics like getting a health center or fixing the main road. They then form committees to petition the local government for what they need, such as machinery to widen the road or materials to fix the floors in the school classrooms. Once the village has the materials, they organize work parties, called mingas, which everyone must attend. Every villager dedicates one whole Saturday to haul rock, dig latrines for the school, make ditches for the road, or pour concrete in the classrooms.
Ecuadorians are much more involved in civic life than Americans, especially in the villages. They have to be. If they want potable water, a traversable road, or healthy classrooms (rats were running beneath the floors of the old classrooms and making the children sick), they can't tell anyone else to do it. They have to do it themselves.
How many Americans do you think would be willing to give up their Saturdays repairing the public roads or water system? Do you think just any person could do that kind of work? How do you think your life would change if you couldn't drink water from the tap? Do you know where the water in your house comes from?
As long as I have water, I'm happy. I keep lots of buckets full for the days when there isn't water. So it really doesn't bother me much that I have to boil all my drinking water. It becomes habit after a time!
I have lots of jugs and a thermos I fill. I boil my water for five minutes, whereas in lower elevations you only have to boil your water one minute to kill all the critters. It's nice to always have hot water. It's so cold in my village that I can't drink a glass of cold water or cold lemonade without feeling chilled!
That's why I like to go running each afternoon. Otherwise I feel cold at night. The women here often wear sweatpants beneath their skirts to keep them warm.
The cold climate is why I make so many soups to eat. Soups steam up the kitchen and make you feel all warm inside. Every Ecuadorian starts their midday meal with a bowl of soup. Soup is a valuable food source, because you can feed lots of people with very few ingredients. Many rural Ecuadorians only eat two meals a day. They have a big breakfast and a big late lunch. Then, before bed, they may have a roll of bread or a bowl of soup, and a cup of sweet cedrón tea.
With only two big meals a day, they eat a lot at each meal. When I was living with one host family, they gave me three rolls, three hardboiled eggs, a pinch of salt, and a bowl of hot milk sweetened with sugar every morning. For lunch, they gave me even more.
A lunch always starts with a bowl of soup, normally broth with a few slivers of vegetables and one floating chunk of meat. Then, the main dish comes: a huge mountain of rice with several more chunks of meat and a salad of tomato and onions on the side. If you can eat your way through your rice mountain, you can treat yourself with a juice or a colada, a cooled oatmeal drink.
I saw lots of variation on the rice theme. Sometimes I ate rice topped with beets. Sometimes it had a few slices of fried banana on top with some french fries on the side. Sometimes they'd put a fried egg on top or cover the rice with noodles. Every meal, there it was: rice.
Fortunately, every table has a dish of ají, a special salsa that you can spoon into your soup or onto your bland rice to spice it up. I ate lots of ají!
Now that I live by myself, I don't eat rice. The only times I cook rice is to give it to the dog. Coxi is my favorite companion here in my village. He is Enrique's dog and just ten months old. He is a purebred boxer. Enrique’s boss gave him the puppy as payment, and though Enrique would have rather received money than the dog, he has since found out that a boxer puppy like Coxi would cost at least seventy dollars in Quito.
Coxi has been poisoned twice. It is very common for Ecuadorians to poison each other's dogs. If someone doesn't like you or doesn't like your dog, especially if your dog is too showy or of a fancy breed, they'll poison it. After the second time, Enrique suspected that someone was leaving the poison in bits of meat, for Coxi became a vegetarian for several months. The only reason Coxi is still alive is because Enrique knows how to treat poisoning and has expectorants in his medicine kit.
Coxi has big, floppy ears and runs with his paws outstretched. His coat is red with tiny black stripes. He likes to sleep in the patch of grass outside my back door. When I'm washing clothes, he always keeps me company. I feed him rice with lots of butter and salt because I want him to be fat. Coxi's ribs always show through his coat. He is a normal Ecua-dog, because very few people have enough food to give a lot to their dog. Sometimes I think the skinniest dogs in the world live here. They live on rice water and the bits of vegetable and meat that the family doesn't eat. That's because bags of dog food are very, very expensive. Only the rich people can afford to give their dogs special dogfood.
Coxi is luckier than most because he often gets a little milk in the mornings. He eats twice a day like they do. I give him his lunch in the middle of the day. Sometimes, Coxi gets whey if I've made yogurt or cheese that day. Other times he gets the oatmeal from breakfast I didn't finish.
In return, he protects the hacienda with great woofs when the vaqueros gallop through the hacienda or the villagers walk past on their way home carrying great loads of firewood or forages on their backs. The favorite entertainment of the dogs here are chasing passers-by. When the shepherds' dogs are home in the afternoon, a whole group chases anyone who walks by, barking and snarling and dashing at their feet.
Ecuadorians are used to dogs chasing them. Every house has at least one dog to protect it from thieves, and there are no laws about keeping your dog tied up. That means no one does. On even a short walk, you could be attacked by a half a dozen dogs. They run out to the road and snarl and snap. Sometimes they even nip your boots. Fortunately, they normally don't bite unless you try to enter their owners' property without permission. If you are really scared of the dogs, you can pick up a rock and make as if you're going to throw it at them. The one thing the dogs are scared of are rocks. Even if there are no rocks around, you can just pretend to reach down to grab one. The dogs will back off, because they're used to getting hit.
That's one reason I always go running on the south side of the hacienda towards Itulcachi. To the south there are only Itulcachi and the tree plantation below. Only one dog inhabits the whole road, and I avoid him by cutting through the countryside. Ecuador isn't a country for runners.
About three o'clock or four each day, I go running. The hacienda is on the side of a mountain, which means the road only goes in two directions: up or down. I often hike up part of the mountain, run down to the end of the road, then hike back up again. The road is made of rocks placed in a pattern like cobblestones. It's very rough, and often I find horseshoes that have broken off.
In the evenings, the shepherds come home. They fill up their buckets with water, cook their meals, and wash their clothes. The hacienda is full of activity. In late afternoons come the pickups that sell goods. The hacienda is always the last stop for these pickups, since we are the end of the village road.
These pickups are quite ordinary, except they carry everything from bananas to household goods and mattresses. Some only come on the weekends; others come on a specific day in midweek. They honk their horn as they come, alerting people that there is something to buy. I always buy a cabeza, or huge branch of miniature bananas for fifty cents. When the ice cream man used to come every Wednesday, everyone in the hacienda gathered for "genuine ice creams from Salcedo." Salcedo is a town near Ambato that reputedly has the best ice creams in all of Ecuador. The ice cream man sold special ones made of coconut, even better than the ones I'd eaten in Salcedo, for 14 cents.
Some evenings a volleyball game begins in the courtyard. Ecua-volley has its own special rules, and the net is much higher. They use a soccer ball instead of a volleyball. The shepherds play in their work clothes: jackets, scarves, caps, and rubber boots. The sun slowly goes down, turning the western mountains pink and purple. At a quarter to seven, the last light leaves the sky, and everyone returns to their houses to relax and sleep.
As night closes over my village, it becomes quiet except for the dogs barking at intruders. Most villagers go to bed by nine o'clock to get up early for the morning milking. One by one, the lights switch off. The stars become brighter here on the mountain where there's nothing to obscure their glow. From the small window in the bathroom I can see the constellations in the night sky.
As I finish cleaning up and filling the toilets and buckets for morning, I pass once more through the main room on my way to bed. Through the great windows, I can see below the lights below in the valley blaze like a fire or a thousand stars. Quito looks like a stamp made of a hundred glittering points. The cities and towns do not sleep as we do in our village. Their glow lights the night even in the blackest of midnights.
Here in the Andes Mountains, another day ends
Mauricio Evlampieff & Amy Waterhouse