So you may be thinking…an odd start to a trip in South America…did Kerryn get the wrong plane and end up in Egypt…Isn’t South America very Catholic….and what does this camel have to do with anything? Well, in the first few days in Ecuador I have discovered this old proverb and realised its relevance everywhere. If you hear me out I’m pretty sure it’s relevant for us all.
While staying a few days in Cuenca, Ecuador, our main (only) “must do” was an old Incan site called Ingapirca, the only remaining Incan site in Ecuador, high up in the Andean mountains. The helpful tourist centre had given us pretty clear instructions, so rather than take an expensive day tour we opted for the local bus option. It sounded straight forward enough: 2 hours, one bus, site tickets on arrival. Feeling quietly confident we headed down to the bus station early, silently and unknowingly trusting in Allah as we went.
Bam! Welcome to Ecuador! You gotta love a third world bus station yeah? From the second you step inside your senses are on demand. Stalls with names of towns you could only pronounce badly; street hawkers selling all forms of tasty delights; kids weaving; tourists floundering; buses bellowing at you to leave ten minutes ago. It’s proverbial mayhem and it’s great.
I am traveling with my lovely mum at this stage, and as we stand taking it all in and trying not to look too bewildered, a man approaches me and asks where we are going. I manage to say we are going to Ingapirca in my terrible Spanish and he ushers us towards another man, yells “Ingapirca” at him and nods his head emphatically at us, indicating we go with his mate/colleague/fellow con man. See, it’s at this stage the trust comes in. Mum hesitates, a fair response given these are unknown men in a country where every travel guide warns you of scams around every corner, and fair game we are right now! But at that second I choose to go with trust. In Allah, in Buddha, in God, in Ecuadorians. Trust in the fact that we are now being guided into a agency’s hole in the wall, where the man gives instruction to the long haired woman behind the counter that we want to go to Ingapirca. No scam, just friendly helpful (business) people. In a matter of minutes we have our $2.50 bus tickets, a warning from the women to watch our bags on the bus and are being again ushered onto bus number 7, bound for Ingapirca (via everywhere). Sweet.
We sit, clutching our bags obviously casually, amused and entertained by the range of (always short) Ecuadorians clambering onto the bus, shoved and barked at by a red-faced round man who will accompany the bus all the way to Ingapirca, shouting destinations and ticket prices as locals climb on board in the middle of nowhere and jump off in the middle of nowhere else.
Our second Allah-trust choice came a few seconds later. Our red faced man had some competition, by a wiry pale faced young man who jumped aboard and began what can only be described as a rant at the front of the bus. His words way too fast for us to even try to understand, mum is sure she heard the word ‘immune’ before he started to hand out small caramel lollies to all. First instinct was of course that he was selling them. But as we watched him move down the bus he gave them out to all without collecting any dollars in return. Disbelieving but stocked, I happily took three of the offered caramels. Ahhh so trusting.
But no Allah here! His second trip down the aisle was to collect our pennies. Red faced man and pale wiry man started to go head to head. Red Face pushed through the standing people to get to Pale Wiry, in attempts to get him off his bus. Pale Wiry stood his ground, his rapid fire of words like caramel bullets, dodging the other passengers and aimed directly at Red Face now. There is however nowhere to hide on a bus, and Red Face had the home ground advantage (it was his bus after all). Pale Face cut his loses, grabbing any 25 cents he could get from us as he was dragged off the bus. Always in favour of an underdog I tossed him 30 cents as he hightailed out.
I was still laughing ten minutes later, at Pale Wiry’s business gusto and my forever naïve belief that we were getting free caramel. Mum was the one who put the morning’s events into perspective. “Trust in Allah but tie up your camels” she said. “I’m sorry, what?” Mum repeated it “something my friend told me once, trust in Allah but tie up your camels”. Its best to have faith and trust in our gods, the universe or the good of people, but don’t be so foolish to lose all your camels along the way.
So I was glad we had trusted in our first two men at the bus station, as we plodded along in our entertainment bus to Ingapirca. Perhaps next time though I will take more time to tie up my camels, or I’ll end up with more unwanted caramels.
Whatever else you do this week, remember to take a moment to trust in Allah, but watch out for Pale Wiry men selling caramels.
Oh, and we made it to Ingapirca…