245. That Time I Stayed in the World’s Worst Motel

My family and I share a number of memories over which we laugh from time to time. We’ve been through a lot, and many of our experiences are funny in retrospect. Of course, not all of them were funny at the time.

Perhaps the most notorious of these was That Time I Stayed in the World’s Worst Motel, a harrowing experience that bound my family together in suffering and endurance. After all, the deepest love and brightest humor are forged in the fiery crucible of such trials. Nothing brings a family together like a bad motel!

I wish I could say the Motel of Despair, whose official name was something unassuming like The Dollar Inn, was fronted by a sign that spelled out HELLO in red neon lights, and that the O had burned out, but that would not be strictly true to the facts.

It would, however, have been a fair description.

My memories of that fateful night are pretty hazy. I suspect this is because my subconscious is trying to protect my fragile psyche by repressing all recollections of that motel. I remember a dingy room with a damp, moldy carpet. There was a television, I recall, dating from approximately 1943, which gave us dozens of channels of static. I seem to recall finding a crumpled chip bag and half a bottle of soda beneath the bed.

Then there was the bathroom. It… it was… that bathroom…

The horror! The horror!

The water was rust-colored, I think, and the floor teemed with fascinating specimens of molds and fungi. There may have been insects or arachnids lurking in the shadows, but I honestly don’t remember.

I do remember that the “pool” promised by the motel’s brochure was a rectangular hole in the ground, not much larger than a couple of bathtubs side by side, built of concrete. The “continental breakfast” offered by the motel was one or two packets of instant oatmeal, supplied grudgingly in the office by the motel staff.

I have stayed in resorts, hotels, motels, cabins, inns and hostels in several countries across three continents. Many of these were not fancy or luxurious. Some lacked hot water; most lacked television; practically all lacked Internet. In one memorable set of cabins—which, may I add, my family and I visited regularly over many years—we found, on separate occasions, a snake slithering across the floor and an enormous frog lurking in the toilet.

However, no place I have ever stayed was worse than The Dollar Inn. It may not have been the world’s worst motel, but it was certainly the worst I have ever seen. I consider myself fortunate to have survived it, and blessed to have had the moral support of my parents and brothers. Whatever else our stay in that motel may have been, it was memorable. We have certainly never forgotten it.

238. That Time I Survived a Volcanic Eruption

I live in Indiana, where there are no volcanoes. We have woods and cornfields and adorable squirrels, but no volcanic eruptions. I appreciate Indiana’s peaceful predictability. The weather can be nasty and tornadoes blow through occasionally, but ash and brimstone are pretty rare.

A few days ago, I spent a moment of my tranquil Indiana life trying to think of past adventures to write about for this blog. I have previously shared anecdotes of memorable moments in my life: tales of awkward kisses and severed human arms and Giant Mutant Killer Jungle Ants. (All of these anecdotes, I assure my readers, are true.) Heck, my very first post for this blog was the story of That Time I Was Attacked by a Tomato.

I was beginning to worry I had run out of interesting anecdotes for this blog—and then I remembered all the times those freaking volcanoes went off when I was a kid.

Guagua Pichincha

Guagua Pichincha, 1999

The Andes Mountains run right down the middle of Ecuador, dividing my homeland neatly in two. The Andes are full of volcanoes. These have a disquieting tendency to go off like bombs, showering cities in ash.

Pictured above is the Pichincha Volcano, which erupted in 1999 and blanketed Quito, Ecuador’s capital, in ash. My older brother lived in Quito at the time, and he told me all about it when he came home to visit. I lived with my family in Santo Domingo de los Colorados, hours away from Quito, and thus missed all the excitement.

We would later climb one of Pichincha’s peaks, Rucu, on several occasions. Guagua, not Rucu, is the active peak of the volcano; consequently, we never witnessed any volcanic activity during our climbs.

Climbing Rucu, back when I was a pudgy teenager.

Climbing Rucu, back when I was a pudgy teenager.

In later years, when I lived in Quito, I survived two or three volcanic eruptions. We were too far from the volcano to see fire or sprays of lava, but we saw plenty of ash. Dash it all, did we see plenty of ash.

As a kid, I never got snow days. Snow hardly ever falls in Quito, and certainly never enough for school to be canceled. No, I got volcano days: weekdays when mounds of soft, powdery volcanic ash blocked the roads and shut down the schools. During the 1999 eruption, my brother and other Quito residents wore dust masks to keep the ash out of their lungs.

My memory is a sketchy thing at the best of times, and I don’t remember which volcanoes erupted when I lived in Quito. (Full disclosure: It took a bit of research to figure out whether the big eruption I remembered from 1999 came from Guagua Pichincha or Tungurahua.) The last eruption I recall happened when I was in seventh or eighth grade; my high school years were uninterrupted by clouds of volcanic ash.

Now that I live in Indiana, the most exciting disaster to strike is a tornado or a blizzard.

Not that I’m complaining, mind!

168. That Time I Was Robbed… Twice

I’m running out of That Time I _____ posts, which is why this blog hasn’t had one since August. I don’t allow myself to make up any of these stories, so they’re in limited supply.

Since I settled last year in small-town Indiana, it has gradually dawned upon me that I probably won’t get mugged if I go out at night. Years of living in Ecuador conditioned me to be cautious. After dark, the streets in cities like Quito are not exactly the safest place.

I once fell prey to a band of thieves on the streets at night, and it was rather a dull business.

Honestly, I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or thankful the incident wasn’t more exciting. There were no knives, guns, blackjacks, nunchakus or venomous snakes. As I strolled along a sidewalk in Quito, three or four hoodlums descended upon me, ripped a silver chain off my neck and snatched some items out of my backpack.

With tremendous sagacity and presence of mind, I skedaddled.

I hailed a taxi once the thieves were out of sight. Now there’s something I need to make clear. Taxi drivers, known as taxistas in Ecuador, sometimes swindle their passengers by charging too high a fee—especially if their passengers are gringos. (There is a widespread and decidedly false notion in parts of Ecuador that all gringos are wealthy.) The best way to avoid being swindled is to keep an eye on the taximetro, or taximeter, making sure the taxista turns it on and charges not a cent more than it indicates.

Well, I was too flustered after being robbed to check the taximetro. I hopped blithely into the taxi, gave the taxista directions and sat in stunned silence. When the taxi stopped just a few minutes later, the taxista demanded five dollars.

This was ridiculous. Taxis are pretty inexpensive in Ecuador—they’re used mostly by people too poor to buy cars—and we hadn’t spent even five minutes driving.

I objected. The taxista repeated his demand. I played my trump card and threatened to summon a policeman. The taxista made a reply I’ve forgotten, but the gist was something like “Bring it!”

Tired, angry and desperate to get home, I paid the taxista. I was twice a victim of robbery that night, but it didn’t matter. I was home.

Looking back, I have to admire that taxista. Any petty criminal can snatch a necklace or a bag. It takes an artist to persuade the victim to surrender his money.

These days, I don’t worry much about getting robbed on the streets. My town seems to be populated mostly by Amish, squirrels and senior citizens, so muggings are rare.

110. That Time I Melted a Screwdriver

I like fireworks, except when they’re unexpected and burst out of light switches. Then they’re scary.

You see, I once melted the tip of a screwdriver. With electricity. By accident. There were fireworks, and not the good kind.

I spent a few summers during my college years painting walls, doors and miscellaneous fixtures on campus. Before painting a wall, I had to remove the plastic covers from light switches and electrical outlets. These plastic covers sometimes adhered to the wall after the screws had been removed, so I tapped them gently with the tip of the screwdriver to knock them loose.

In a bathroom in the dining commons, there was a particular light switch. The Light Switch of Death. I gave the plastic cover a gentle tap with the tip of the screwdriver, and—fireworks.

A blinding flash! A shower of sparks!

I reeled backward, blinking and clutching my screwdriver. Once my eyes had refocused, I noted with detached interest that the tip of the screwdriver had melted. A few moments passed. Then, gathering my courage, I examined the Light Switch of Death. I expected to find a blackened crater or some other kind of damage.

The plastic cover had fallen off. That was all. Apart from the missing cover, the light switch seemed unaltered in any way. Later, when the screwdriver’s tip had cooled and I had regained my composure, I cautiously flipped the switch. The lights turned off. I turned on the lights. There were no problems.

The screwdriver’s tip, which had hardened into a misshapen mess, was eventually filed down in order to make the tool usable again. As far as I know, the Light Switch of Death never gave anyone further trouble. It’s there to this day, lurking in a bathroom in the dining commons, concealing its menace behind an immaculate plastic mask.

I’m still not sure what happened. I think the tip of the screwdriver must have slipped behind the plastic cover and touched an exposed wire or something. Fortunately, the handle of the screwdriver was made of plastic. Had I been touching the metal part of the tool, I’m not sure how much damage I may have sustained.

As much as I wanted to end this post with a clever electricity-related pun, I can’t think of any. (If one occurs to you, feel free to leave it in the comments.) I’ll conclude with a word of warning. Be cautious when removing the covers of light switches and electrical outlets. If you’re careless, fireworks may ensue.

89. That Time I Encountered a Giant Mutant Killer Jungle Ant

In the jungles of Ecuador there exist enormous ants called congas. Their scientific name is Paraponera clavata, but I prefer to call them Giant Mutant Killer Jungle Ants.

These insects put the ant in giant. Not only are they freakishly large—about an inch long—but also very dangerous.

Here’s an extract from Wikipedia:

Paraponera is a genus of ant consisting of a single species, commonly known as the lesser giant hunting antconga ant, or bullet ant (Paraponera clavata), named on account of its powerful and potent sting, which is said to be as painful as being shot with a bullet. It inhabits humid lowland rainforests from Nicaragua south to Paraguay. The bullet ant is called “Hormiga Veinticuatro” or “24 (hour) ant” by the locals, referring to the 24 hours of pain that follow being stung.

My old man tells me congas bite their victims to secure a firm hold before stinging, and their sting can put a strong man in bed with a fever for as much as a few days.

To wit: nasty little beasts, those congas.

There’s a river in Ecuador called Río Baba: a ribbon of crystal-clear water that winds its way through the jungle. Translated from Spanish, Río Baba means Drool River. Why anyone would give it such a nasty name, I can’t fathom. At the age of nine or ten, I was baptized in this river of tranquil beauty and dubious name.

Río Baba was also the setting of my epic escape from the Giant Mutant Killer Jungle Ant.

Santo Domingo de los Colorados, the town in which I spent much of my childhood, is just a few hours away from Río Baba. My family and I sometimes visited the river for picnics, camping trips and church events.

The river runs beneath a high, steep bank, at the top of which stands a tree with spreading branches. At that point the water is only three or four feet deep. I used to wade near the riverbank, pretending to be a jungle explorer or picking up rocks and throwing them.

On one memorable occasion, as I was playing in the clear water beneath the tree, I felt a prickling on my right shoulder. I turned my head and found myself nose-to-nose with a conga.

At the time, oblivious to the ant’s sinister intent, I brushed it off my shoulder, picked it up from the surface of the water with a leaf and carried it to my old man for his inspection.

I don’t remember whether he swatted the leaf out of my hand or merely commanded me to drop it. Either way, the leaf fell to the ground—the conga holding on for dear life—and I was spared a fate worse than death.

Well, worse than death is a bit melodramatic. Being stung would have been painful, but not as bad as, say, reading Twilight cover to cover.

My old man put the conga in an empty soda bottle and later reprimanded me sternly when I tried to get a close look at it. When we got home, he drowned the ant in alcohol and pinned it to a piece of foam.

The conga was eventually given away to some missionary colleagues, and I was left with only the memory of my dangerous encounter with the Giant Mutant Killer Jungle Ant.

I was spared the pain of a conga sting. However, I did read Twilight a couple of years ago, so I guess the two experiences sort of cancel each other out.

77. That Time I Tangled with Barbed Wire

Many missionary kids have learned the folly of strolling carelessly through the jungle, and some even have the scars to prove it.

The jungles in Ecuador are beautiful: dazzling waterfalls, crystal-clear streams, bright flowers and lush vegetation. However, visitors to the jungle must not become too distracted by its beauty. The jungle is a wild place, full of potential threats.

No, I’m not talking about piranhas, jaguars, poisoned darts or ancient temples full of death traps. The true dangers of the jungle are much more insidious and sinister: ticks, amoebas, parasitic worms and mosquitoes. I particularly detest mosquitoes, those messengers of Satan, which buzz and bite and sometimes carry deadly diseases.

The jungle is also full of sharp objects waiting to pierce unwary feet. Unwary visitors to the jungle are confronted by thorns, spines, sharp rocks, rusty nails and even barbed wire. Only a fool walks through the jungle without watching his step.

I was always careful to watch my step. The problem was that sharp objects in the jungle are sometimes found in places other than the ground underfoot.

When I was just a kid, I went camping in the jungle with my old man and big brother. The place to which we went was called Aguas Claras, or Clear Waters. On our way there we stopped at a cacao plantation to visit the parents of a pastor with whom my parents worked. (For those who don’t know, cacao beans are the main ingredient of chocolate.)

My old man, a true missionary, stayed for hours talking. Having long since become accustomed to my parents talking for hours with people I didn’t know, I went off exploring alone. Fortunately, it was an interesting place to explore. There were groves of cacao trees nearby and a river with stones for throwing. I also found a couple of paths through the jungle.

I don’t remember why I decided to run along one of those paths. My brother may have been chasing me, or I may have been letting off steam. Whatever the reason, it was a mistake. Stretched across the path at eye level was a long strand of rusty barbed wire.

Have you ever run into a clothesline? I don’t remember the exact details of my tangle with the barbed wire, but I imagine it must have been something like colliding with a taut clothesline while running at full speed.

We were many miles from any kind of medical facility, so the gash in my left cheek was never stitched up. Some weeks after the incident, my old man tried to console me about the scar by pointing out that I now had something in common with both Indiana Jones and the evil lion from The Lion King. I didn’t need to be consoled. As far as I was concerned, a scar—especially a facial scar—was pretty much the coolest thing that could ever happen to a missionary kid.

My left cheek is still scarred more than a decade later. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed that the scar isn’t very noticeable. I suppose I should simply be thankful I didn’t lose an eye.

The moral of the story? Be aware of your surroundings if you ever visit a jungle, and consider wearing goggles.

69. That Time I Held a Severed Human Arm

For those of my readers who are squeamish, queasy or any of those other funny adjectives, this may be a good post to skip. You have been warned.

Long, long ago, when I was just a senior in high school, I took AP Biology, a college-level science course. It was fantastic. The other students and I were privileged to visit a cloud forest, travel to the Galápagos Islands, dissect fetal pigs and witness the dismemberment of a deceased human being.

Well, I suppose the removal of a single arm can hardly be called dismemberment, but I digress.

One fair morning I and the other students in AP Biology took a field trip to a local university. We were scheduled to meet a professor who would give us a guided tour of the human body using the university’s resident cadaver as a visual aid. (A cadaver is a corpse used for official purposes, such as police investigation or medical research.) The professor’s lecture would be a vital part of our scientific education, or so we were told by our teacher.

The plan was for us to enjoy Part One of the professor’s lecture in the morning, head back to school for our afternoon classes and return to the university the next day for Part Two.

We arrived at the university and filed into the laboratory to find the professor waiting for us. I don’t remember his name, so I’ll call him Dr. Frankenstein. A cadaver was stretched out on a slab. Dr. F’s assistant, whom I’ll call Igor, was bustling around the lab.

Dr. F had an interesting way of lecturing. The cadaver had been emptied of its organs; as in those Mummy movies, the organs were kept in jars. As Dr. F lectured, he took out the organs from their jars and put them back into the cadaver to show us where they belonged.

The lecture ended. Dr. F departed to teach a class, leaving Igor to put away the cadaver. As we watched, Igor removed the various organs from the cadaver and put them back in their jars. Then he detached the cadaver’s arm.

I was, I freely admit, a little shaken by this. Arms are usually attached more permanently. It was unnerving to see a cadaver disarmed—forgive the pun—so casually.

I was one of only two male students in my class. The other male student, whom I’ll call Socrates, was standing beside me when Igor pointed at him and asked, “Would you please help me put away the cadaver?”

Igor and Socrates hoisted the cadaver onto a stretcher, carried it into a back room and lifted it into its niche, leaving me to wipe the anxious perspiration from my brow and contemplate how close I’d come to the awful experience of carrying around a corpse.

The other students and I went back to school with our teacher. Next morning we returned to the university for the second part of the lecture. When we arrived, Dr. F was running late and Igor was still in the process of setting up the cadaver and its organ jars.

“Could you please help me get out the cadaver?” asked Igor, pointing at Socrates. I breathed a sigh of relief, only for Igor to add, “Oh, and could you reach into the niche and get the arm?”

The second request was very clearly directed at me. I had no choice but to reach into the niche (wearing gloves and a lab coat, of course) and retrieve the missing arm.

Alas, there is no photographic evidence of this event. I wish a photo could’ve been taken of me with the arm—one of those “Hey, look at this big fish I caught!” pictures—but the incident went unrecorded.

Dr. F arrived, gave the second part of the lecture and left. So did the other students and I, before Igor could request assistance from any of us.

I have many great memories from that AP Biology class. I’ve already written a post about one. Others I may post someday on this blog: That Time I Met a Wild Penguin and That Time I Saw a Hummingbird Wearing Go-Go Boots, to name but two.

However, of all the memories from AP Biology, That Time I Held a Severed Human Arm is one of my favorites. It’s certainly my favorite story to tell—as my longsuffering friends and relatives can testify.

63. That Time I Worked in a Haunted House

I really wanted to title this post That Time I Was a Zombie or That Time I Was a Killer Clown, but those titles would have been misleading. I was neither zombie nor killer clown. I was merely a tour guide in a haunted house full of them.

Years ago, when I was a senior in high school, it fell to me and some of my classmates to put together a haunted house as a fundraiser for our class. The idea was simple: lead groups of jittery customers (we preferred to think of them as victims) through the basement of our school, scaring them as much as possible along the way. Each customer would pay for a ticket, and the proceeds would go our class fund.

It was an important fundraiser, so my classmates and I formed a Haunted House Committee weeks in advance and began planning. We met during our lunch break, discussing gory details over sandwiches and slices of pizza.

It was decided early on that our haunted house would feature killer clowns. Clowns, even of the non-killer variety, are freakishly scary. Zombies were the next suggestion, and they were quickly added to our list of Freakishly Scary Things Needed For Our Haunted House.

Several members of the Haunted House Committee were horror movie aficionados. They insisted on adding authentic little touches, such as puddles of blood and a heap of intestines. The blood was fake; the intestines were genuine, having previously belonged to a pig butchered at a local market.

While I appreciated the enthusiasm that went into planning these ghoulish details, I didn’t like them. They were rather too macabre for my Puritan sensibilities. Besides, I wound up slipping in one of the blood puddles during the fundraiser and acquiring several colorful bruises.

On the night of the fundraiser, our victims—our customers, I mean—lined up with their tickets ready. I had been chosen to play the role of a tour guide. In retrospect, I’m thankful not to have been a zombie or a killer clown, since those unfortunate ghouls had to wear thick makeup.

I had two responsibilities as a tour guide.

First, I had to lead our customers safely through the haunted house.

Second, I had to give the impression of a person who was verging on insanity after having been locked for hours in a haunted house full of killer clowns and zombies.

The second responsibility was a good deal more fun than the first.

The haunted house through which I led our customers was a masterpiece of creepy interior design. Apart from the aforementioned intestines and blood puddles, there were overturned desks and torn scraps of paper littering the floor. A hangman’s noose dangled from the ceiling. The mirrors were scrawled with grotesque lipstick drawings.

My favorite part of the haunted house was a corridor with a cloud of dense smoke from a fog machine. The tour guide’s flashlight became useless in the smoke; its beam stabbed through the obscurity without illuminating anything. A strobe light flashed at the end of the corridor, revealing scenes of carnage: desks, textbooks, papers and bodies strewn over the floor.

After leading a group of customers through the haunted house, I had to retrace my steps from the exit back to the entrance to meet the next group. This was, without question, my favorite part of working in a haunted house. The zombies and killer clowns, so terrifying in the presence of customers, smiled and laughed and gave each other high-fives when the customers were gone. There was an atmosphere of cheerfulness, companionship and solidarity among my classmates that contrasted quite sharply with their ghastly costumes and gloomy surroundings.

Despite a few mishaps—a customer running into a glass door and shattering it, for example—our haunted house was a success. The only downside was having to clean up afterward. We remained until the early hours of the morning, cleaning up bloodstains and picking up paper scraps, like murderers trying to get rid of the evidence.

After removing all traces of our haunted house and restoring the basement of our school to its original, less creepy condition, we went back to our homes and slept like the dead.

I felt about as lively as a zombie upon waking up the next day. My side ached from where I had bruised it after slipping in a blood puddle, and my throat was sore from all the screaming I had done in the character of an insane tour guide. It took time, tea and cough drops, but I eventually recovered.

Working in a haunted house was a memorable experience. I enjoyed it, and I hope never to do it again. I will leave it to the younger generation to carry on the tradition of putting together haunted houses.

Just a word of caution: Be wary of makeup and blood puddles.

52. That Time I Was Trapped in a Stage Kiss

As the old year draws to a close and the new year begins, it is a season for remembering. Silly sentimentalists (such as myself) reminisce about days long past. I was recently caught up in pleasant recollections when the memory of a certain incident shattered my calm. Even now, years later, the memory of that incident chills my heart.

It was the memory of That Time I Was Trapped in a Stage Kiss.

I dabbled in drama when I was in high school. My favorite role was that of the eponymous character in a one-act play by Anton Chekhov titled “The Brute.” I was privileged to play the role of an unkempt, uncouth and short-tempered Russian named Smirnov. It was great fun.

The play had two other characters, a sharp-tongued widow called Madam Popov and her servant Luka. “The Brute” consisted of a long argument between Smirnov and Madam Popov that ended with them falling in love and kissing. This kiss was supposed to be interrupted by Luka, who believed Smirnov was about to shoot Madam Popov and rushed in with a pitchfork to save the day.

I have many shortcomings. One of them is that I’m somewhat uncomfortable with physical displays of affection. I generally dislike hugs. Kisses—even stage kisses—are simply out of the question. However, altering Chekhov’s script was impossible. I had no choice but to pretend to kiss someone passionately on a stage in front of an audience.

According to the script, Smirnov and Madam Popov were supposed to remain locked in a loving embrace until Luka came onstage with the pitchfork. Well, to make a long story short, Luka lost the pitchfork during one of the performances and remained backstage looking for it, leaving Smirnov and Madam Popov to set a record for the longest stage kiss in the history of theater.

All right, it probably wasn’t the longest stage kiss ever. But it was pretty dashed long.

Apart from the awkwardness of kissing someone in front of an audience, the stage kiss was pretty hard on my back since I had to hold up Madam Popov. (If this doesn’t seem so bad, try supporting someone’s weight while pretending to kiss on a stage with an audience watching and see how you like it.)

At last Luka rushed onto stage sans pitchfork, allowing us to end the kiss and bring “The Brute” to its conclusion.

Fortunately, the actress playing the role of Madam Popov had a sense of humor. Even I laughed about the incident afterward, though I rather wished for a steadying shot or two of strong coffee.

The actor playing Luka was jokingly accused of hiding the pitchfork deliberately to prolong the kiss onstage. Much to my consternation, the same accusation was directed at me—as though I would deliberately inflict such an experience upon myself and another performer. I never did find out what happened to the pitchfork.

The incident could probably be made into a mystery story, perhaps titled The Interminable Kiss or Who Hid the Pitchfork? Someone else will have to write it, though. It goes against all my authorial instincts to write stories about kissing.

On that cheerful note, my typewriter monkeys and I wish you a joyful end to the old year and a hopeful start to the new!

33. That Time We Broke Down

This post really ought to be titled That Time We Broke Down at Night in the Rain on a Remote Stretch of the Ecuadorian Coast Notorious for Bandits, but that title was too long.

This is the story of something that happened a few years ago. Every missionary kid has a few stories he or she can’t resist sharing, and this is one of mine. It involved some truckers, a loaded gun, a kindhearted pastor and lots of mosquitoes.

When I graduated from high school in Quito some years ago, my family and I were mere weeks from moving away from Ecuador. I was going to Indiana to begin college; my family was going to Uruguay to work in the city of Montevideo. We decided to make the most of our final weeks in Ecuador by going on a couple of trips.

Our first trip was to the town of Shell Mera in the jungle. Some of my readers may recognize Shell Mera as the town used as a base by Jim Elliot, Nate Saint and the other famous missionaries killed by the Huaorani people in the fifties. We stayed in a cabin some miles out of town and made excursions to our favorite waterfalls, trails and restaurants.

Our second trip was to a camp outside the village of Same on the coast of Ecuador. My grandfather, who spent much of his life as a missionary on the Ecuadorian coast, came along with us to say goodbye to old acquaintances.

We were driving along the coast toward the city of Esmeraldas when our car stopped running. Night had fallen. Rain was falling. It was a decidedly gloomy evening.

My old man took off into the darkness to find someone from whom we could buy or borrow a gallon of gasoline. The rest of us waited in the blazing heat of the car, opening the windows occasionally to let in cool air and mosquitoes.

At length we heard a gunshot come from the direction in which my old man had gone. We immediately began fasting and praying.

My old man returned at last with a gas can, explaining he was able to obtain some gas from a nearby shrimp farmer. We asked about the gunshot. “Oh, he thought I was a bandit,” said my old man. “This area is apparently renowned for bandits.”

We were not comforted.

The gas was not enough to get the car going. We were perplexed, and then our guardian angels arrived in the unlikely form of two grinning truckers. They towed our car to the nearest village and parked us safely in the light of the only street lamp. (There may have been more than one street lamp in the village, but I remember only one.) The truckers took off and we settled down to wait.

At last my old man was able to contact a pastor from Esmeraldas, who arranged for our car to be transported to a mechanic in the city. My parents stayed with the pastor while my grandfather, younger brother and I found lodging in a rickety, old-fashioned hotel.

We spent much of the next day wandering around the city before catching a ride to the camp outside Same. Our car was eventually fixed, and we were able to return to Quito with two or three days to spare before my grandfather and I caught our flight to Indiana.

Our adventure cost us sleep, for we were awake late into the night; money, for we had to pay to have the car fixed; and blood, for we fought a losing battle against the mosquitoes. In the end, however, we gained more than we lost: my family and I had one final adventure together in Ecuador before parting ways and traveling to opposite ends of the earth.