We arrived on the coast at night, after two bus rides, two plane rides, and two train rides.
Our plane from Houston touched down in Quito in the dark stillness of early morning; after customs and baggage claim, the rolling crests of misty grey highlands revealed themselves through the airport’s plate glass windows, and blushed as our cab swerved in and out of their contours toward the city.
We stopped at the impressive Basilico del Voto Nacional in the old city district for a morning meditation and a blessing from the Virgin, an auspicious beginning to our journey.
The blessings may take a while to fruit, though; at the sleek new bus terminal, we found out our exclusivo bus to Bahia was not running, and a seven hour express trip wound up taking two bus rides and nearly 10 hours.
Clay greeted us at Planet Drum’s dusty door, and he ushered us in to meet Margarita, his Ecuadorian wife; her children from her first marriage, Franco (18) and Paolo (15); Margarita and Clay’s children, Sol (7) and Luna (2); and the French bulldog puppy (two months).
They are all amused and patient with my halting Spanish.
Franco has green hair, and he cooked for dinner the massive prawns we bought at the market, as well as the next two dinners; he high-fives me as we pass each other in the house. Paolo’s hair is simply black.
Naming children after celestial archetypes may have backfired; Sol is as calm as Luna is operatically destructive. The first evening we went to the beach at sunset, she gleefully flung herself into a puddle over and over, possibly the most joyful being in the universe at that moment, content with simply being alive.
The first morning in Bahia was as sleepy as all its other moments – except, perhaps, for the rousing reggaeton blasting out of the discoteque on Monday night. This little hamlet lies on the Pacific coast of Ecuador, a peninsula between the wide aquamarine Rio Chone and the ocean. All roads lead to the water, two blocks in either direction from Planet Drum.
I jog in the sand, from the boulder pilings in the southwest, around the peninsula’s tip where the river meets the ocean, and along the calmer estuary banks toward the east where a large white cross stands in vigil over the town.
The place is full of dust from sewer work, and Planet Drum’s quarters are across from a motorcycle shop and above a metalworks shop, so the days are filled with the sounds of reggaeton and heavy machinery. But rest of the tiny village is quiet, lined with two-story buildings lined up in solid blocks, colored a palette of peeling and sea-faded pastels.
Squat palms and neem trees sparsely vegetate the streets, punctuated by bougainvillea and frangipani. Highrise condominiums line the waterfront streets, in better shape than when Aaron was here last time, after the last El Nino, when mudslides wiped out everything, including the economy. Sandpipers, pelicans and egrets wade the estuary, and vultures soar overhead. The brief sunset casts the billowing clouds in purple and pink, and then it’s time for dinner.