Sometimes I like to walk to town.  It’s a 45-minute stroll, all down hill, and I get to wave to the shop owners, pass by the neighbor walking her cow to pasture, and smell the fumes from the diesel buses and bakeries along the route.  I also get some exercise.  What’s not to love about all of that?

Because I live on this rather steep hill out of town, it is very common to see people also walking the hill for exercise.  Sometimes I initiate a friendly conversation while we’re walking along.  One day, on my way into town to meet another Peace Corps Volunteer, I came upon this gentleman who was willing to chat.  He told me he loved to walk, spend time with his animals (he lives alone), and work in his garden.  I asked him all about the plants and trees in his garden as we walked along together.  Because of my interest, he invited me to come see his garden.  I exclaimed that I would love to some day, but at this moment, I was late to meet a friend at a cafe.  About this time, I noticed a bus coming up behind us, and I told him that I needed to take the bus to town so that I would not be late.  Upon hearing this, he immediately flagged down the bus, insisted that he pay my bus fare and boarded the very crowded bus with me.

I’m thinking… “That’s nice, but why is he coming with me?”

About 4-5 stops later, he starts to move toward the front of the bus and hails me to follow. I explain again, that his kindness is appreciated, but I really need to go and meet a friend.  Perhaps I will see him again on his walk another day.  So he gets off the bus, and he tells the bus driver and the other people waiting in the aisle near the door, that the Gringa has to get off the bus too.  So, now, everybody is waiting for me and telling me to get off the bus.

“I guess, I’m getting off the bus.”

So, I get off the bus.  I try to explain again (perhaps my Spanish is not correct), that I really don’t have time to see his garden.  But he motions that we are already at his house.  I look up in awe.  Now, I’ve walked this route many times and I’ve always admired this very large and beautiful old home.

I say, “This is your house?  Ok, I have time to see your garden.” 

So, he leads me into his gate, and explains that actually, this is not his house, but his house is the one behind it.

“What did I get myself into?”

Then I hear him lock the gate behind us.  Ofcourse, by now, all the red flags are going off in my head: I’m with a strange man, he lives alone, nobody knows where I am, I could definitely die.  But then I rationalized that in Ecuador, violence is not the norm.  People are so kind.  I have to trust and take risks if I’m ever going to meet people and make friends.

So, I walked into the garden.  It was stunning.  Layers and layers of vegetation, hand-carved furniture in a little patio set underneath some twinkling lights.  Avocado and lemon trees gracing the path.  I couldn’t help myself, it was a wonderland.  This man is an artist of color, texture and sweet little trinkets set among the vegetation.

After showing me around, he said I needed to meet his animals.  He first let a little dog out of the house and I made nice with him.  Then he started to uncover a large cage I hadn’t even seen.  Rabbits.  Around the corner, another cage revealed some parakeets.  Then, hidden in the greenery was a final cage with a large parrot.  He wanted to introduce me to the parrot, so he opened his cage.  The parrot stepped out onto a tiny dowel and cooed at his owner.  Thinking the parrot was friendly, I put out my finger for it to jump to.  Instead, with a loud screech, this parrot launched himself full force into my hand, piercing it with its vicious beak and claws.  I started screaming (in English) and forcefully shaking my hand to get the parrot off me.  The man started screaming and tried to grab the parrot.  The parrot was squawking at full volume.  It was a mad house.  Finally, he ripped the parrot from my hand and threw it to the ground.  Immediately, the parrot attacked my exposed toes and clawed at my ankles.  So now I’m screaming and shaking my leg!  The man is screaming and apologizing!  The parrot is squawking!  Again, the man gets the parrot off of my leg and puts it back on its dowel, only to watch the parrot fly at my other hand and the chaos and noise erupted again.  Finally, the man was able to get ahold of the parrot one last time and put it back into its cage.  He turned around to look at me.  I was quite a sight; blood was pouring from both of my hands and my leg.  The man was horrified, and he kept saying again and again that the parrot had never reacted that way to another person before.  He apologized and invited me into his house so that he could get something to put on my wounds.

I’m thinking… “Was this part of his plan? He has an attacking parrot to conceal his true intentions?  I’ll probably be buried in the garden!  No, calm down, you’re in Ecuador.”

The man comes back with a bottle of purple solution and starts dabbing it on my wounds.

“Oh, shit.  In Peace Corps training, we learned about a substance that robbers will put on you to make you hallucinate for 24 hours and give up your bank account numbers to them.  I know it’s in powder form, but is it in a purple liquid?  Could this be his ploy?  No, wait, I’m in Ecuador.  Oh, yes, I’m in Ecuador!  Kidnappings do happen here.”

He’s dabbing.

“I wonder how long it takes before I’ll start feeling dizzy.  I’ve got to get out of here!”

“Sir, thank you for all of your kindness, but I’ve really got to go to the cafe now to meet my friend.”

“Ok, I’ll drive you!”

“Oh great, now I’m really going to be kidnapped!”

And before I know it, he’s ushering me in his truck and asking me for directions to get to the cafe.  My limbs are throbbing and covered in purple dye.  All I can do is laugh as I tell him which way to go.

When we pull up to the cafe, I turn to him and say, “Sir, I don’t even know your name.”

“My name is Carlos.  Maybe you can come back to my garden for a cup of tea.”

“Yes, Carlos, maybe I can.  Next time, don’t let your parrot out of the cage.”

The rest of the story:
The purple solution stopped the bleeding and healed my wounds quickly.  I exchanged phone numbers with Carlos, and we text regularly.  When I went back to visit him, he had a small cake and juice waiting to serve me in his garden.  I think he’s a sweet older man who would like a little company.  And I’m new in this town, and need all the friends and Spanish practice I can get.

This is the best of what a Peace Corps experience can be.