Leaping over Flaming Effigies

For some reason, fireleaping is something that people do all over the world. As I taped a cut slice of aloe leaf over a drunken friend’s leg that had burnt sneaker embedded in it, I thought abut the reasons why. Mainly fireleapers are men, so that would argue for a demonstration of physical courage and agility designed to increase manly standing within the tribe. Then I wondered why women didn’t leap over fires more often. Is it because physical courage and agility are more valued in hunters, who were mainly male in ancient cultures, whereas women were gatherers, which requires a different sort of discernment and caution? The leapers I have seen were mainly teenage boys, older guys trying to prove they hadn’t aged, and drunks, all trying to prove their strength and agility to watching women.  Although to be fair, I did see two girls leap over a fire the other night, laughing, and I do believe they may have been trying to impress the watching young men.

How the town of Vilcabamba has so many fiestas I do not know. This small Ecuadorian town shoots off more fireworks than a good sized city in China. And since the number of saints who demand fireworks  seems to exceed the number of days in the year,  there are explosions all the time. I was thinking, since the transformer across from one of the places we like to eat breakfast keeps up a merry sizzle during the rains, that it was transformers going off, but no, it’s enthusiasm.  And that’s just fireworks. All of a sudden things are closed, men are setting up a huge portable stage in from of the church, unloading giant stacks of amplifiers, young men are checking sound at absolute full volume, musicians are unfolding from vans. And then all night the square is packed with whole families dancing and passing around bottles, children whizzing around, and old ladies selling hot fruit punch. “Con trago?” they whisper- and then they add a healthy shot of punta, the local cane liquor.

The best fiestas include wearable fireworks.


Who’ll Stop the Rain


In Ecuador seasons are either wet or dry. While occasionally the rainy season here in the sierras can feel hotter because of the humidity, it really isn’t. It is cool and pleasant at night, just right for a light blanket, and sometimes the pattering on the roof is just what I need to fall asleep. The mist rising out of the newly greened mountains in the morning is lovely, and the rivers rush down…..the streets.

Sometimes it rains so hard the locals say it is a lavado. A wash. No time to soak in.  A heavy rain in Vilcabamba rolls golf ball sized rocks down the street. Families without the traditional horse-mounting high sidewalks brush gravel off their porches. Storm drains?  Ha! Somebody had that clever idea who either wasn’t from here or just wanted the work. All storm drains are full to the top with gray sand. From our apartment I can see the street turn into a fast moving river. Of course is it gone in less than an hour, leaving the street sandy but clean.

Out at the property it is a different matter. Our bridge is big and has aletas, wings, so the river won’t get behind it, but the rains bring huge amounts of water down from the Podocarpus National Park. The river becomes wild and muddy, and not until it drops below a certain big square boulder can we bring across it the trucks and heavy machinery that exceed the bridge’s weight limit. You see my problem. Had it not been for Burrocracia, we would have gotten all the construction and terraforming done before the rains.  Now we wait with bated breath for a day and a night without rain. If that happens, we pressure the operators and pray that they won’t blow us off for a bigger client. Not everybody has our particular set of issues, so I am hoping for tomorrow or the next day, -like I always do.

All I really need is for the river to allow me two trucks and a bulldozer. Maybe three trucks. I need gravel (grava) and coarse sand (arena gruesa) for the foundation of the toolhouse, and fine sand (arena fina) to mix mortar. My bricks will be fired in ten days, says my ladrillero, so no rush on the fine sand, says the maestro. I say yes to rush, as the river may abate on a day that the road is blocked by a landslide, or the bulldozer operator has a toothache, or there is a week-long fiesta. The bulldozer has to carry all of our leftover supplies from building the pumphouse up to the bodega site, and tidy up all the mess at the site.  After that all the bulldozer has to do is flatten a few areas, push a few piles of rocks, and dig out some terraces.

All it has to do, say I, with desperate optimism. Actually I am pretty nervous about the terraforming, see post. But days go by, demoras after demoras. Sometimes it is the rain, and sometimes it is a polite lie. Today the sky is as blue as the flag of Bavaria, and the soft fresh breeze barely stirs the branches of the nispero tree in front of my window. I may ask my neighbors if they would like to go get some deadwood for their pizza oven. We are in Ecuador. Poco a poco.