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Un Paseo
Rob F. Sanderson

          When I am not flying, which means half the time, I usually sleep until the taxi horns outside wake me up. Then I shave and dress and go out for a walk to the plaza to freshen me up. Of course if it is raining I turn over and go to sleep after putting on the electric heater, and later on instead of going to the plaza just go around the corner to the company office to see if I have any mail.

          At the plaza I always get my shoes shined as a good shine costs but 2 cents USA and in a country where 1942 second hand cars sell for $4000 USA or over four times their original cost after two years of service there are few luxury expenditures within the means of a modest man like myself and so as a morale builder I find there is nothing like a good shine. The boy gives your feet a good workout while you sit in a high seat and say no to a steady stream of lottery peddlers and beggars that select you with a practiced eye from a dozen seated Ecuadorians whom you think look just like you.

          I was sitting getting a shine and feeling like a big shot when the noon church bells began to ring. There are 52 churches in Quito and the bells are ever in the service of the Lord and His people. The bells reminded me it was time for noon cocktails n the bar of the Hotel Cosmopolitano, and the Cosmo is one place you can usually make a good contact or two as it is a hangout for the upper crust of Quito. I crossed the street and pushed thru the swinging doors.

          At an oval table against the far wall where they could see all who came or went was Marco, a young European bachelor whom had met at a party on the night before, and two attractive Senoritas, so over I went to say hello and soon had sat down. They were talking about a paseo, which was scheduled for the next day, Sunday. A paseo is a picnic.

          “Would you care to come with us?” asked the attractive blonde. Would I? I’d be charmed, delighted, it would be a signal honor. After we had clucked a lot of small talk we left, I to call fro Marco the next day as he had no phone and would have trouble getting a cab out, and we would join the others at ten o’clock at the blonde’s house, where some twenty of us would take a bus to the hacienda where the picnic would be.

          The next morning I was not feeling too chipper but managed to get up and out in a bright orange Opel convertible taxi by shortly after ten, and after telling the driver Marc’s address (I had never been there before) settled back and rolled a window down which was a mistake as a light sprinkle was falling and the window would not roll back up. I moved over to the other side of the car seat and in ten minute the driver pulled into the gate of a huge medieval looking castle of a building and assured me this was the place.

          I selected an entrance from the half dozen available and climbed the thirty odd steps to the door, which faced a huge terrace. The door was open so, no bell or servants being around, I stepped in. Inside it was dimly lighted and I could smell old masonry. The place was apparently being remodeled fro in the huge hall, which was two, or three stories tall were long bamboo ladders running up and down. A servant girl came thru and I asked for Marc’s family, as she waved me upstairs. The upstairs was vacant and after pounding on a number of doors I finally disturbed some sleeper who came belligerently to the door in a robe and after blinking his reddened eyes, vigorously informed me that no one of Marc’s name lifted in the building and ended the conversation by slamming the door leaving me alone with the empty echoing of the bang among the pillars of the bare stone corridor.

          Our next stop proved to be the proper villa, and, Marc being ready, we started out immediately, arriving at the blonde’s about a quarter to eleven. I feared we might be late but only three other people had arrived. Gradually the group arrived and filled in time by talking about, among other things, a tribe of Indians on the Ecuadorian coast who indulged in such practices as killing youngsters and drinking the blood. By a quarter of twelve a quorum had assembled and then we learned that no steps had been taken to arrange for the bus. Two of the gentry present went to the phone and by 12:25 a big green bus was outside. It had, I learned, been taken off the cities bus line. We all piled in and soon we were steeple chasing thru the streets of Quito.

          The driver was a little dark fellow in blue overalls. His biggest problem was driving fast enough around the corners so that Ecuadorians who mistook our bus for the regular city buses could not clamber on board and mob us, for the local buses were so crowded that the local populace, which waited in hordes at the corners, had perfected commando tactics in bus boarding. They resembled pirates coming over the side of a galleon. We were fortunate to reach the cities limits without hurling more than one or two mistaken passengers to the cobblestones as we barreled along at forty kilometers. Meanwhile one of the boys wandered among us and collected thirty sucres apiece for our share of the bus. There being no explanation there was no way of ascertaining the dividend, as it was the practice of some Eckies, when some Americans were on the party, to collect enough from the American to pay the entire cost of the party. But as I was the only American, and the others all paid the same, I did not feel overly extorted.

          At the city limits we were stopped by two soldiers with the high fronted European style army caps. Their verdict: we did not leave the city without a permit from some major, in writing. An offer of five sucres “gratification” did not, oddly enough, alter the verdict. Back we went to town to the major’s house. As many in our group came from the correct family environs, the major bowed and smiled, and beaming upon us all sent us on our way with his blessings and a permit.

          Outside the city the road dwindled to a narrow strip of cobblestones wide enough for one vehicle. We wiggled back and forth up out of the valley to the top of a ridge and down again, the blue overalled driver honking his horn vigorously and careening around the bends, dodging goats and donkeys with practiced deftness. Once or twice he missed serious collisions by inches, throwing all his passengers out on the floor and upsetting some of the food as he floored the brakes. After each escape he looked up at the cross and religious pictures he had tacked above the windshield and crossed himself. This procedure apparently obviated any further cautions.

          At one thirty, the bus pulled up in front of the hacienda. It was too big to go thru the big gate so we all walked up the stone drive and across acres of closely moved green grass, past the big house and a garden full of white Romany pillars and rose vines and a fountain. At the far side of the lake, closed in by tropic greenery, was a wide waterfall which came out of a high green hill to pill wide and white into the lake and make a gushy shushy sound which could be heard all over the hacienda grounds.

          From the lake we walked along wet paths that tunneled through the jungly garden, over a crude wooden bridge, which crossed a small torrent of a stream, and up a hill. Before we got to the second lake the party had drifted apart into smaller segments, mostly twosomes, which disappeared into the banana plants and eucalyptus trees like so many aborigines. At the lake, which was surrounded by overhanging trees except for a park-like lawn with flowers, it began to rain and from all over people spilled out of the forest tunnels to take shelter under a thatched summer house on the lake shore, where depletions on the food reserves began.

          Lunch consisted of sandwiches, meat tarts, enchilada-looking things, assorted fruits and cakes. A reserve supply of rum and coke arrived just as lunch was almost over and the still hungry were, lacking plates and spoons, trying to make the most of a pot of mixed rice and meat. The most successful solution was to take a large lily leaf to hold a sizable supply, and scoop it into the mouth with a smaller leaf.

          After lunch several of us took a walk among the paths. It was very quiet in the forest and among the straight rows of tall trees were seldom-frequented bridal paths. Along one we found a huge tortoise, fully three feet long and two feet high, with tracks as big as bear’s feet.

          A light drizzle was falling and the low clouds above the trees made me think of an English estate in Cumberland. We walked until we were thru the forest and clearing of corn and vegetables appearing, and roofs of peon’s houses protruded thru the trees across a little river. Then it began to rain a bit and we turned back.

          When we neared the summerhouse we heard a fine tenor voice and accordion music, about which the picnickers were gathered. The rain was now increasing in intensity and we sat around singing and draining the cokes until it ceased. Then we went back to the haciendas house.

          We approached this time thru a Versailles garden effect of stone seats, railings, stoned walks among rose bushes and flowers, and some big pine trees. There was a little fountain in the center. It all looked like a corps of gardeners had just left the garden, but not a person was in sight. A few bright yellow and black birds flitted thru the wet trees and bushes.

          The house was a huge U shaped affair with a drive coming up the U and back out. In the center was a big open hall, which left fresh air from the white-pillared front porch to the white-pillared rear porch. Not a old house, built near the end of the last century, it was full of very old paintings (some made in the 1600’s), Spanish Armour form conquistadors days, ancient lock firearms and swords, old mirrors which made you feel you were looking into rippled waters. In the study of our host was spread a hand of partially played solitaire.

          The U faced the south and in the west wing was a huge hall with two large fireplaces, huge French mirrors and fancy gilt French furniture. The room was large enough for a reception of several hundred people, and at the house end was a set of low steps and draperies and a smaller room with a divan where the hostess could receive.

© 2003 Chronicles of Bob