Carlos Villarreal Kwasek
I have to admit I am a bit frightened to be on board the Pedacito de Cielo (A Piece of Heaven.) The pilot is flying like a maniac. I forgot how reckless driving is around here. I have lived abroad for so long that I feel I’m becoming a tourist in my own homeland. I ask the pilot, Don Lucho, if we are running late. “No–” he replies, “Why do you ask? –” After a short silence I turn my eyes to the little Jesus statue that stands on the board. He has a smile on his face and a plate at his feet: Dios guía mi camino (God guides my way.) I decide to lay back and look out the window. The landscape is breathtaking. Now that the roads are all gone, the only way to reach most of the countryside is by air. I cannot imagine how it must have been to travel on the ground when there was a road. The hills are steep and irregular. Landslides happen constantly. Today, vegetation has taken back most of these unused spaces, but you can still see some traces of asphalt that once stretched to almost every corner of the country.
We are flying to a farming community on the northern mountains of the Ecuadorian Andes. “We will land shortly–” announces Don Lucho. “We are going to do a quick stop at the repair shop. I have to check the machine. It’s making a weird sound–” I’m not surprised. This is an old aircraft and most of its parts have been scavenged from other ships that were even older.
We land in an open space. A choza stands in the middle. Dirt and oil surround it. Mecánica Amazonas printed on a rusted sign hangs in an angle. Engine parts lay randomly crumpled with fuselage. Webs of cables connect the shop with other ships parked around waiting for service, like us. We step out of the aircraft and I decide to wonder around. On the back of the repair shop I make a discovery: an old woman selling Fritada. I am excited. Fritada is a delicacy that has been part of the national identity for centuries. The dish consists of deep-fried pork and is served with tortillas (smashed fried potatoes), tostado (fried corn) and avocado. You are lucky if you can find real pork these days, so I order two big ones to go and I join Don Lucho. I hand the meal to the pilot. I already started eating mine. Tastes like heaven. “The anti-gravitational generator has a burned fuse–” he tells me, “no bigy, we’ll be on our way in five. –” Despite his rudimentary tools, the mechanic performs a quick and skilled job.
We set off with no delay and within an hour we arrive to El Tambo. A crowd of people is waiting for us. They are farmers wanting to sell their harvest in the market of Quito, the capital, but they have limited transportation mediums for this purpose. This is where Don Lucho steps in. He will take their products to the city where merchants will buy them.
An archaic loading platform of steel and wood stands high next to the open doors of the ship. It feels like it’s about to collapse. But the farmers don’t seem to mind the squeaking noises from the tower. They are mostly worried about loading the sacks of potatoes and cassava into the aircraft. I step on the platform to help. After a few minutes I’m exhausted and sweating all over myself. I wonder how my life would be if I were a farmer. Despite so many technological advances in our times, very little has changed in the countryside on Ecuador. Farming is as hard work as it ever was. I doubt that a city boy like me will ever make it here.
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On a short break I look at one of the many stickers on the fuselage. Next to the virgin Mary: a silhouette of what seems to be a naked playboy woman posing in a provocative way. Underneath a slogan: Suba, pero sola (Hop on, but alone) I know Don Lucho is married, so I can’t help but smile at this piece of folklore.
We are almost done with the loading and there is some time to chat. Don Lucho exchanges a couple of laughs with the locals in Quechua, one of the official languages in Ecuador. Mariana, one of the farmers, tells us that a young man was helping with the load last week when he slipped from the platform and landed on cow droppings. “He was looking at this girl he likes–” She laughs. They all laugh. I laugh too. Mariana continues: “he is a good kid but he gets distracted easily. –” She looks at the structure and the big sign hanging on the top: Reina del Camino (The Queen of the Road.) It’s the name of the transport company that Don Lucho works for. “They will not fix it, but we will–” she says. I like her; she seems like a solution-oriented person.
I would like to continue chatting, but it’s time to go.
We load the last sack of potatoes and the door closes.
The ship takes off with great effort. We are overloaded. I can hear the weight working on the chassis. Don Lucho seems used to this, but he looks at me and laughs. “Don’t be scared man, you look like a gringo. –” I smile back. I am determined not to become a tourist in my own homeland, at least not today.
ILUSTRACIONES: Carlos Villarreal Kwasek
Carlos Villarreal Kwasek
Quito, Ecuador. Es un diseñador visual que trabaja en la industria de los videojuegos. Tiene una doble licenciatura, en Diseño Gráfico y Multimedia, en la Universidad de San Francisco de Quito. Comienza su viaje profesional en Ecuador como artista de Motion Graphics para televisión y más tarde como diseñador gráfico para prensa y web. Obtuvo un Diploma en VFX y Animación de personajes en la Vancouver Film School en Canadá. Poco después migró a Londres donde trabajó como animador de personajes en publicidad y cine. Obtuvo una maestría en Ilustración en el Instituto de Diseño Interactivo a través de la Universidad de Hertfordshire.