Often, the people in Quito, the Capital of Ecuador, speak of the people on the coast as foolish people who are loud and party all the time. To the people on the coast, those in the mountain capital are boring bureaucrats.
At 12:30 A.M. we had descended out of the main mountain range and entered the town of El Carmen. After a long 6 hour drive we were hungry and anxious to take a break. Loud, energetic music invaded the night. On the left we saw a building, brightly lit, a bar and people drinking, talking loudly and appearing to be having a good time together.
We stopped our car in front. The building was large, with a sheet metal roof, supported by bamboo poles. The sides were open, except for metal bars that formed the outer walls and gave way to the environment and eyes that wanted to see inside. The entrance gate was closed so we began to pull away to find another place. We didn’t want to interrupt what appeared to be a private party.
Suddenly, a man appeared behind the closed gate, waving for us to come in. Pablo, got out and was met with such jocularity, warm embrace and conversation that I thought he had encountered a long, lost friend or family member. More waves and Pablo’s wife, Silvana and I joined them. We, too, were greeted by our new best friend with an abundance of hugs and welcomes. George, was the owner of the restaurant , appropriately named Choclo loko, and it was his birthday party.
The waitress took our order, - no food, just coffee. Did we want whiskey in it ?
George’s wife and small child sat quietly alone, she, shifting the infant from one breast to the other and back again as the party rolled on.
A National Police truck pulled up in front and the officer entered. He, too, was met with boisterous chatter and more hugs. He came to our table with a friendly smile and hand shakes for us all, chatted for a few minutes with the other party goers and left; the others apparently wishing he would stay.
George and Pablo continued their home coming, exchanging promises and phone numbers, though he’d never met George in his life. I took photos, e-mail addresses and swore to send copies. By the time coffee had been downed and we were ready to leave, we had been hugged, hands shaken and stories exchanged with about half the crowd.
By the time coffee had been downed and we were ready to continue our journey, we sensed that we were leaving old friends after a short reunion.
Down the street, there were more lights and rows of canopy covering propane cooking stoves. There was fritada being served, usually fried meats, bananas and eggs, with boiled rice, and groups of people eating and conversing noisily. After placing my order, I took out my camera and pointed it toward one festive group. In unison, as if well-rehearsed, they all stood up from their seats, arms raised, waving enthusiastically to welcome the picture amid the cheering and laughter of other late night revellers.
Minutes later, hunger satisfied, we left an old couple sleeping soundly amid the noise and the festivity continuing nearby.
I had met the coastal people.
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