katherine-a-sherbrookeYou’ve said Fill the Sky, while fiction, is based in part on an actual trip you took to Ecuador. Is it true a shaman spit cologne on you?

Yes, as crazy as it sounds, that part is true. It was the first shamanic ceremony I had ever experienced. None of the others were quite so…sticky.

 

Wait, you didn’t go running from all shamans after that?

Actually the harder part, is when a shaman tells you things about yourself you know are true at some level and yet still don’t understand, or are unwilling to admit.

 

Like what?

Well this particular shaman basically told me I was “tired,” which I took offense to since I had left the company I had founded a year before and had been napping religiously ever since. How could I be tired? What he meant though, I understood later, was that I had yet to find what gave me fuel in my life, and so I was destined to feel continually drained if I didn’t figure that out.

Part Two: Clusterfuck In Quito; JE In Ecuador

I am inspired by Ecuadorian inefficiency. The average Ecuadorian citizen spends roughly forty percent of his life standing in line. If I went into the postcard business, and I was going to design a postcard for Ecuador, it would be a bunch of poor schlubs standing in line at the Mega-Maxi. And maybe a couple rich people cutting in front of them. And grocery carts stacking up everywhere.

We went to a Christmas Eve banquet in Quito with Lauren’s folks. Pretty nice spread—one that got cold awfully quick when the priest dumped his motorbike getting to the hotel. The little dude arrived a half-hour late, sweating profusely, though otherwise intact, and wrestled his robe thingy over his head. He began placing all his sacrosanct goodies about—his bible, his candles, his music stand, his ghetto blaster. We were looking at forty-five minutes time he got to praying.

And praying.

And  praying.

My blood-sugar was getting low, so I had no problem being the gringo ice-breaker when they gave the green light on the vittles. Here’s the deal: they’ve got like twenty-five steam tables stretched out across the room as far as the eye can see, and one poor dude standing behind steam table number one. No  problem, you say. Must be a self-serve deal like that $7.99 Sizzler buffet—that guy’s only there as courtesy, in case someone drops a spatula or has a question about the sauce on the pork loin. Oh no. That guy is the server. Singular. He serves everybody everything, one steam table at a time. You want this? This? How about this? Papas? Pescado? Curly fries?  Meanwhile there’s at least seventy people in line— little old ladies, squirming kids, one guy who looked like Brando. Do the math. Some of these people were waiting for an hour and a half to eat, and that’s after an hour of praying. Ouch. And I’m telling you, there was no shortage of help. They had one guy just for mineral water. They had a whole staff of bussers standing around restlessly in white aprons, practically itching for plates to bus— plates that were coming off the line at a rate of one every five-and-a-half minutes. Papas? Pescado? Curly fries?



So there’s just one of many examples of your Ecuadorian efficiency, right there.

What else? The smog is unbearable, everywhere you look there’s a dog with a tumor, or a dirty-faced kid trying to sell you Chicklets. The drivers are insane. And the building construction is something along lines of paper mache. Perfect for earthquakes and volcanoes and the like. But give this spunky developing nation the right set of tools, and they will build you the biggest, longest, clusterfuck line you ever stood in.

Now the good stuff about Quito. Situated in a narrow valley at nearly ten thousand feet of elevation, the city is besieged by Andean peaks in every direction, including some active volcanoes (fuck if I’m going to try and spell the names of them, though, so you’ll just have to trust me on that one). The vistas in Quito are breathtaking. There are many lovely churches. Beer is cheap. Really cheap. I already told you the beer sucks, but its beer, right? And its cheap. So Quito’s got that going for it.


A few days before I left Quito I went to something called a “hash” where we “hashed.” Hashing is apparently some big global sub-culture that I’ve never heard of. You know you’re old when you start missing whole sub-cultures. Hashers have a motto: they call themselves “drinkers with a running problem.” They do hashes every place imaginable– Fiji, Taipei, Trenton, fucking Godzilla Island. There were people who had done hundreds of these things all over the world. A hash, as far a I can comprehend, is when one guy—in this case an old hippy reprobate with purple socks named “Mother Hasher” runs off into the woods with a tennis ball and a bag of flour, and everybody else runs after him. Without exception, all the hashers wind up getting lost out in the woods, until they happen upon a beer drinking station, where they get tanked and run around some more looking for the dude in the purple socks.


Eventually, everybody finds their way back to the parking lot where the real drinking begins. This portion of the hash quickly devolves into something akin to a fraternity hazing, in which participants (including my father-in-law, along with all virgins, and one child, are forced to drink beer out of their tennis shoes, and in the case of one unfortunate fellow, persuaded by threat of further hazing, to extemporaneously compose a song about how he likes horse cocks. And the guy wrote one. I’ll bet I could have written a better one, though. At least mine would’ve been sincere.

Read Part One: I’m No Travel Writer, but the Galapagos Were Cool

Part One: The archipelago.

I’ve decided I wanna come back as a Galapagos sea lion. Seriously. They’re livin’ the dream. Bountiful food, no predators, plenty of companionship. They loll around in the sand most of the day lounging all over each other, waddle around looking for shade, or a good meaty ass to rest their head on, do a little fishing now and again, take an occasional dip just for the hell of it—seriously, they’ve got it dialed in. They are truly joyful creatures to watch. The bulls are a little surly at times, and downright scary when you get too close to them in the water,  but the mothers and the babies are nothing less than playful when you swim with them—and they’re amazing swimmers, too, totally graceful and athletic. The penguins are amazing swimmers, too,  kinda sprite-like in their quickness, now-you-see-them-now-you don’t. Manta Rays freak my ass out. It’s like somebody ran over a shark with a steamroller then mated it with a flying saucer.

Talk about stealthy. Tiger sharks are lazy fuckers from what I observed. They just kinda hang out under rocks floating there in the shadows like turds. Not exactly man-eaters —though, to be sure, you won’t find me swimming around down there in the shadows. I’m no fishologist, but damn there’s some garish colored fish down there. Bright orange and hot purple and bright blue. Some skinny fuckers, too. They’ll be swimming right at you like a sheet of paper, then bingo-bango , they turn a corner and your looking at an Italian flag with lips. There were these other schools of fish I’d swim through that were almost transparent. You could swim right through the middle of them and they’d swish aside like silk curtains. Fuck if I know what they were called. You’ll just have to believe me. I thought I saw Nessie, too. But it was just a penguin head.

It was pretty cool to see a pink flamingo without a mobile home behind it.

I saw A LOT of giant sea-turtles humping. A LOT. Not all that sexy, really. The dude just sort of hitches a ride on the female as far as I can tell. And they hump for a long time. Longer than I’ve ever humped. Which isn’t saying much. Saw giant land tortoises humping, too. What can I say, there was romance in the air. Not that I got humped. Okay, maybe once. The cabins on our boat weren’t exactly conducive to humping. Or sleeping, for that matter. The food wasn’t exactly conducive to shitting, either. But I loved the cook, Victor, anyway. He was a sweetheart. He had a genius for dry meat. He cooked me a t-bone that would have made a pretty decent catchers mitt. And for the record, hot dogs are the breakfast sausage of choice on the equator. Victor slathered them in an orange sauce reminiscent of Spaghettios. Nobody ate them. But old Victor never got the hint. Can’t fault him for that.



Yadida the bartender was my buddy. Go figure. She had a way of tying a napkin around a beer that was inspiring. By the way, if you’re a beer aficionado, go ahead and skip Ecuador on your brew tour. The local swills are nothing to write home about, but they’re pretty tasty on the deck of a boat after you’ve been snorkeling and hiking all day. And did I mention Yadida’s superlative napkin work? Every beer looked like it was wearing a prom dress. The second mate Pedro was in love with my wife. Poor guy. Speaking of my wife, she was a pleasure the whole trip. Even if she didn’t hump me all the time. I’ll bet you old Pedro got something for the spank bank. Don’t worry, my wife never reads my blogs.

I love my in-laws to death. We spent eighteen inseparable days with Lauren’s folks and it was a joy every minute of the way, seriously. They’re the best. Not too many people I could get along with for that length of time under those conditions.

Other cool animals I saw in the wild: frigate birds, pelicans, albatross, blue-footed boobies, masked boobies, marine iguanas by the hundreds, lava lizards, fur seals, sting rays, eagle rays, and my favorite animal of all, fat ladies from Texas. Can you believe they have fat ladies from Texas with hair like Bill Parcels in the Galapagos? When you think about it, that’s way weirder than lava lizards.

 


One of my favorite moments in the Galapagos involved a fat lady from Texas. She had hair like Bill Parcels. Positioning herself behind a baby sea lion for a photo op on Isla Santa Fe (okay, I admit it, I don’t remember which damn island it was—its all a blur of colorful fish and napkined beers), this fat lady from Texas was standing on the beach with a big shit-eating grin, looking like Bill Parcels after a third down conversion, totally unaware that the mother had waddled up behind her. She took a step backward and tripped over the mother sea lion and fell flat on her big Texas ass. I know it’s wrong, but I almost pissed myself. You should have seen it! The sea lions were laughing.



My own crowning moment as a gringo involved six margaritas and a hollowed out tortoise shell in a bar on Isla Santa Cruz (and I know what island it was, cause it was the first night). This particular scenario pretty much sums up all of my ambivalence about human impact on the Galapagos. Let’s face it, that’s fucked up. But wouldn’t you wanna get inside a hollowed out giant tortoise shell after six two-dollar margaritas and walk around a bar like that if you had the chance?