Sunday, June 5, 2011

Escape from Cuenca

I'm sitting in my little cabin by Fallen Leaf Lake, and the sun is finally making an appearance. A mountain chickadee in a nearby Jeffrey Pine is requesting my attention--"Hey Ficke! Hey Ficke!" So completely removed from my Cuenca experience, and so enraptured, once again, with the Fallen Leaf experience, it's difficult to place myself mentally in Cuenca.

But I want to!

Those six weeks in Cuenca, Ecuador were notable for many reasons, but now I can't help but focus on a certain aspect: that intangible, hard to grasp sensation that filled me up each day. What do I call it... satisfaction? Yes, something along those lines. The lack of anxiety and doubt, the feeling of being creatively and actively engaged, the opportunities aplenty to challenge myself, scare myself...what's the deal with that? It's achingly obvious that I was doing something right.

And as I enter into this new, nebulous, beautiful era of life, I would be an idiot to ignore this glaringly helpful experience. And while I continue to pick it apart into usable chunks, here's a brief recap of my Ecuador exodus:

Here's the scene: It's late in the afternoon, and Cuenca is soaked through with rain and Carnaval-inspired delirium. Much of the city's denizens have fled to celebrate in surrounding pueblos, but there's still plenty of mayhem available on the cobblestone streets. Much of my day was spent stalking around with a gang of roving marauders, armed to the teeth with water balloons and spray-can foam. We accumulated quite a diverse bunch, with warriors hailing from Colombia, Ecuador, Germany, England, and the US, united by the strong desire and apparent license to cause mischief. Occasionally we were engaged by combatants with equal fervor, but also had no qualms in overpowering unarmed passersby. As our English friend Tom quipped, "I love the casual violence of it all." It was a day full of cheerfully bizarre cross-cultural confrontation, with an endless supply of sheepish grins from young ladies, cowering slightly, hoping to avoid a soaking. We got what was coming to us while passing by the firehouse, mercilessly ambushed by a hose-wielding bombero. Our tiny plastic weapons were rendered useless, and our only option was to flee into the streets, screaming and giggling like schoolboys. One particular avenue presented a unique challenge--an amiable warzone, with grinning snipers lying in wait for the heavily armed gang sauntering their way. We had no chance of victory, as their positions were elevated and heavily fortified, but it was a helluva lot of fun to run through berserker-style, defenseless but fearless. I never received a direct hit, but delivered a couple of satisfying blows, including a well-placed throw into the driver's seat of a passing assault vehicle, and a particularly savage across-the-street chest strike on a young aggressor.

But yeah, late afternoon, and my bags are packed, waiting in Luis' next door cyber cafe. Luis is full-on drunk at this point, and has already soaked me on multiple occasions, taking particular joy in pouring cups of water down my back while I check my email. He's moved on to more exciting, more mobile targets, but the owner of my hostel has quickly stepped in to fill his shoes. While returning my keys and shaking his hand goodbye, I couldn't help but notice the little extra glint in his eyes, and I knew I was in grave danger. Seconds later I was sprinting down the sidewalk, as he gave chase with a full bucket of water, yelling maniacally. My agility saved me once, but my only hope for avoiding an extremely moist overnight bus ride was to quickly hail a cab and escape while he tottered off to refill the bucket. And sure enough, as I jumped into the back seat and slammed the door behind me, he appeared on the sidewalk, grinning with slightly insane glee, his bucket sloshing menacingly. I waved enthusiastically as the taxi sped off, somewhat jealously glimpsing some other gringo becoming intimately familiar with the contents of his bucket.

Goodbye Cuenca!