305. That Time My Vacation Held Me Prisoner

I begin a long vacation tomorrow, and I’m thankful. For weeks, work has been an exhausting, stressful, thankless grind. Dash it all, I am so, so thankful for a long break.

While musing upon vacations I had as a kid in Ecuador, I recently recalled That Time My Vacation Held Me Prisoner: an adventure equally restful and stressful, when my family and I were prevented from going home by barricades of burning tires. Ah, Ecuador, why did I ever leave you?


Ecuador: land of dazzling natural beauty, diverse cultures, superb cuisine… and horrible, horrible cockroaches. I knew I had a reason for leaving.

In the jungles of Ecuador, east of the Andes, there is a little town called Shell Mera. (This tiny settlement made national news in the fifties due to the Auca incident, in which five missionaries were killed.) Near Shell Mera is a camp called Mangayacu. This motley collection of cabins, pastures, and the world’s best swimming pool was one of my family’s favorite vacation spots until we left Ecuador in 2008.

Mangayacu pool

Seriously, this pool is awesome: no chlorine, no life guards, and the exciting possibility of cutting open your feet on sharp rocks!

My family and I were once stranded in Mangayacu. This was a long time ago; I was somewhere between first and fourth grade, which would put this adventure in the late nineties. I’d nearly forgotten it; I’m very gifted at forgetting things.

My parents and brothers and I had finished our visit to Mangayacu and reluctantly packed up our things. After saying goodbye to our cabin, we took off in our dusty car and bumped along dirt roads in the direction of the town of Baños. (Yes, this happens to be Spanish for bathrooms. The word also means baths; the town is named after its hot springs.)

We were stopped by piles of burning tires. It was a paro (workers’ strike) shutting down the road. My dad got out of the car and pleaded our case to the strikers. They didn’t let us pass.

Back we went to the cabin we’d just left, delighted to enjoy a longer vacation, and apprehensive at how our vacation suddenly held us prisoner.

Mangayacu cabin view

I suppose there are worse prisons than the cabins at Mangayacu. At least the view is nice!

I don’t remember how many extra days we stayed at Mangayacu, but it was at least two or three. We scoured one or two tiny local shops for necessities like bread, and had a few meals at a local restaurant. I recall their stock running low because of the paro. As fun as it was at first to be stranded in a cozy jungle cabin, we felt more stressed with each new day. We wanted to go home!

At last, after my brother and I had missed at least a couple of school days, we made it safely back to our home in Santo Domingo de los Colorados. My older brother returned to Quito for school, and I resumed my studies at home.

Later visits to Mangayacu were undisturbed by paros and flaming tires. It was kind of fun to be held prisoner by our vacation, but I’m thankful it never happened again.

Every time I’m afraid I’ve run out of stories for these That Time I _____ posts, a memory of some odd adventure drifts back to me from the brightly-colored blur of the past twenty-something years. It’s surreal, and sweetly nostalgic. It makes me wonder what else I’ve forgotten.

Ah, well. It doesn’t matter. My latest vacation begins tomorrow, and I can’t wait. Here’s hoping this one doesn’t take me prisoner!

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