Posted by: ktzefr | January 5, 2010

Snow and ice and sunlight…

Winter.  Cold like a carved thing outside the window glass.

Silence of sunlight and ice dazzle. (from “Drone and Ostinato,”  Appalachia, by Charles Wright)

Today the sun is bright, the skies blue, the snow still in frozen heaps scattered across the yard.  It’s cold — 24 degrees — and the wind slices through flimsy coats like a knife through butter.  A good day to stay indoors and watch the blue jays watching me from the snowball tree.

Sunlight bouncing off snow and ice sends me traveling over time and space — to the hills of Appalachia and the mountains of Ecuador.  The Andes and the Appalachians link together in my mind.  Perhaps it’s the roosters and the  wood fires (more on that later) or…the school buses.

This is where old school buses come to die. When used buses are disposed of in the United States they’re sold around the world.  Mexico and Central and South America are prime customers.  So, if you come to Latin America, you may get a chance to ride, again, in that same yellow bus you took to school in Appalachia in the 60s or 70s or 80s — except it may be green or purple or blue…or painted with flowers!  Some drivers carry tools to make their own repairs; others carry a bucket to add water to a leaky radiator.  They all have leaky radiators, bad brakes, or spark plugs that have lost their spark.  Another connection — mountain people have always had a talent for improvising, for making do with what they have, whether it’s a few neighbors in Appalachia tinkering with an old car until they get it running or a driver in the Andes tinkering with an old bus to keep his cargo of norteamericanos on the move.

Riding a bus in Latin America can be an adventure.  Here’s one from my notebook  (I keep lots of notebooks — for ideas, journal entries, poetry, images, sayings, quotes, research, stories…):

April 2001, San Pablo del Lago, Ecuador…

We are riding in a rickety old school bus painted bright blue, creeping along a narrow, bumpy road full of potholes and huge rocks, heading toward the straight-up equatorial sun.  What if we broke down?  Ninety-nine miles from nowhere, 10,000 feet in the air, straddling the equator — the sun close and beating down during the day, the nights freezing.  Since starting up the mountain earlier this morning we’ve not passed a single car.  There have been a few llamas, a horse or two, cows, some women with their herds of sheep, but no motorized vehicles.  Even if cellphones worked here, and even if someone brought another bus, it would take hours.  Twenty miles an hour is speeding on this road and a sure way to break an axle.

A few days earlier and almost 3,000 miles behind us a friend had asked, “Why do you want to go there?   You’re taking a kid?!  Aren’t you afraid of being kidnapped…or something?

Our son was flying before he learned to walk.  Together we had slept in tin-roofed huts alongside rivers full of crocodiles, swam with barracudas, and searched for howler monkeys in the rain forest.  No…we weren’t afraid, just full of the edgy excitement that comes with experiencing new worlds.

…in the paramo there are fields of tall yellow and green grasses, strikingly bright meadows and hillsides, and women in blue and purple skirts, white blouses, and fedora hats sitting amongst their sheep.  A little boy no more than four, red-cheeked beneath his own pint-sized fedora, is overseer of a bunch of tiny black pigs.  When he sees our bus coming, he runs alongside, waving and smiling, keeping pace with this grunting, blue monstrosity on four wheels.  This is the only place I’ve ever been where a person in reasonably good shape could outrun a bus!

Higher still, we pass through forests of silver-leafed eucalyptus, always keeping our eyes forward to see what’s around the next curve.  At a plateau, we stop to look back at the valley from whence we’ve come.  Peaks of volcanoes push up through the clouds.  Imbabura rises far in the distance with its emerald slopes against the blue, blue sky.  And the valley below, cutting a deep gash between high mountain peaks,  is centered by a silver lake that stares up at us like a huge, mirrored eye.  The indigena people call this place the Valley of the Dawn…

…Finally, Luis (our driver) stops and points to a great white cone in the distance.  Cayambe volcano, covered with snow, glistens in the midday sun.  A spectacular site — well worth the bumps and ruts in the road and the snail’s pace of the old bus.

Ecuador is located at 78 degrees longitude and Zero latitude.  From Washington, DC  the city of Quito is almost a straight line south and 2,693 miles away.  Cayambe volcano is located in the Cordillera Oriental, north of Quito.  It has not erupted in historical times.  Cayambe’s south slope, at 15,387 feet, is the highest point in the world that is crossed by the Equator (and the only point on the Equator with snow cover)!

Check out google earth to take a peek…


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