The river that runs through Chone, Ecuador is bordered by homes that people in the more economically developed world would call shacks, barely fit to live in.
Walking along the side of the water one can see beauty everywhere. There are gardens with mango trees bearing hanging fruit. Across the river there are homes made of rough, scrap wood and cow pastures with mountains as backdrop. Ropes tied to small boats and rafts connect across the river and operate on pulleys like a clothes lines to move residents back and forth. The sounds of children playing and a burro approaching to investigate our arrival announced the presence of a residential area.
The presence of my friends and I near the first house aroused interest and family members came out to greet us warmly; first the senior male (Paco), his sister, the grandmother, then children, grand-children and cousins. The smiles and cheery greetings communicated sincere welcome and offer of friendship. Of course, on seeing my camera, they all wanted a photo taken so we wouldn't forget them.
Shortly after our arrival, Paco insisted that he show us his home. It was a small building of scrap wood with a sheet metal roof. Part of it was perched on poles and extended over the river. Inside was well organized and clean. The furniture and other belongings he described as antiques. In recognition of the environment, a mosquito net hung over the bed.
Paco beamed with pride as he showed us his humble abode.
Outside, plastic lawn chairs were brought out and the whole family gathered. Before joining them, Paco insisted on showing me the pen where he kept his chickens and a pig that would someday be eaten. There was also a pen with ducks and a small religious alter bearing a stature of the Virgin Mary. Catholicism and faith in God are central to the family’s beliefs.
We took our seats with the family and shared beer and stories about our lives. We were advised not to go deeper into the development as there was a history of robberies and murder. A bag containing five family photo albums was brought out and memories were shared as they were passed around. Grand-mother smiled throughout, making a point of letting us know that she had 26 grand-children. A guitar appeared and one of the males played and sang to entertain. A welcome party had been created for us. I took photos and the youngest children took great delight in looking at their own pictures in the camera’s monitor.
Eventually, the children ran off to play in the river again – despite tales that there were crocodiles further up stream, the assurance was that there were none in this area. The burro returned as if to tell us that it was time for us to go. We then bid good-bye with waves and the warmth of old friends parting.
A simple walk along a river path had turned into a memorably rich excursion in which the friendly character of the coastal people was, again, exemplified.
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