Nelly and the six forest elfs in Never Neverland
Embarrassed by how my Dutch clumsiness sets off against the agility and elegance of the little elf dancing in front of me from stone to stone, I waver over the loose stones of the river bend towards the water. She waits patiently for me and says: “You first!” For a moment I fear that “swimming” is going to be not much more that splashing quickly in the ice cold torrent, but I couldn´t have been more wrong. When I lay myself down in the lukewarm water that slowly flows past me, I even wish it would have been a little colder in this tropical heat. A second elf appears underneath the tree where my clothes are, and together they point at the flowers, the birds and the trees that you can see from the water. Then we float back with the stream, while I watch the grey clouds and all that green passing by. We´re three hours by bus away from Quito, but much further away than that.
After four days of getting used to the holiday idea and four days of badly planned Ecuadorian stomach aches, I had left Quito when half of our two weeks long vacation had passed already. I could only hope that my malaria pills would be sufficiently absorbed to be effective with this altered intestinal activity. Because my landlord had planned his yearly family reunion just the night before departure, with a barbeque and lots of beers until six in the morning, I was too lazy to get up in time. And so I was too late to be able to make it to the coast before dark. Oh well, I wasn´t confident enough about the rumble in my belly to take a chance on a seven hour bus drive anyway… Puerto Quito was a nice stop somewhere half way the north coast.
Still, for a moment it seemed like it was going to be a long trip anyway, when a man with a non ignorable alcohol smell choose the chair next to me and directly started a conversation with a double tongue. “Where does this bus go? I forgot to look at the plate…” Luckily he was still conscious enough to notice that I didn´t feel like talking and ten minutes later he was in a deep sleep. I didn´t even mind him snoring loudly, and my chair was on the right side to be able to open the window. :P
Puerto Quito was a chaotic little town with dust roads, moto taxi´s and men hanging lazily in plastic chairs, their shirts open to give their big belly a little air. The hostel was a ten minute bumpy tuctuc ride away from the center. Three exotic beauties to be in dripping clothes immediately appeared when they heard the sound of the motor. Yes, they had a room for me. No, their parents weren´t home. The oldest one, Yali of 15, was in charge of the hostel and her three sisters and two brothers. Six forest elfs, all equally beautiful, curious and helpful. There was a dog named “butterfly” and the doorbell was a siren that reminded me of the community alarm at the market of San Roque.
I put my stuff in my room and I asked twelve year old Andrea if she wanted to go for a swim in the river. It took her a while to understand that I wanted to change: usually people just go into the water with the clothes that they happen to wear at the moment they feel like swimming here. But I knew how much time it took my “fast drying” towels to dry in a tropical environment, as well as I knew the smell of wet clothes put in a backpack, so I definitely chose for my bikini. On our way down to the river she pointed at the guanabana tree before we stepped along the ripe avocados down the concrete steps leading to the water.
When I´m dry again, the ladies want to show me how to make bracelets from colorful mini rubber bands and Yali, who wants to be either an architect or a beautician, combines her creativity and ambition using her glitter nail polish. Then we´re ready to prepare dinner. The word “stewed meat” seems to have a magical effect on the little ones, who repeat it with big glistening eyes before they quickly start doing their part. The oldest brother goes on his bike to the village to shop for ingredients; Andrea climbs in an orange tree and throws down the ripe fruits that the little ones squeeze above a sieve to make juice, and the little brother… teases his sisters, stands in the way and plays the game “Look! I´ve got no hands!” with everyone that runs into him. For desert we grind cacao beans and we cook the powder in milk with panela to make chocolate of it. Served with pineapple from their own garden, it makes me forget how much I miss vanilla “vla” for a moment. Then it´s goodnight to all the frogs, crickets and elfs... I walk back to my little river house in the full moon while I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
That´s first of all a shower with no water followed by a breakfast with home made guanabana juice and half a kilo of fruit, before we walk to the finca de frutas about a mile away. Yali picks tropical flowers with the most beautiful colors and shapes while I´m waving fanatically with my fan now the sun inexorably breaks through the clouds now and then. Behind the gate that must have been white someday, but that´s green now due to the moss, an older man with a huge machete is busy cutting things. When he´s noticed us, he steps closer on his rubber boots and he raises his hand while he smiles with the few teeth he still has left. “Welcome to my finca!”
The next two hours we see and taste everything the finca has to offer: the cacao beans that taste like sweets (or the other way around?) right out of the fruit, the rubber trees and giant mandarins, vanilla and papayas, and a fruit as hard as stone with tagua (vegetable ivory) inside, three kinds of oranges and bananas, a tree with coca leaves (“No, I don´t sell these..”), and the plant used for both the panama hat and roofs. We drink juice from a yellow coconut and he licks his fingers he put into a termite hill just before, while he explains how nutritive those little animals are. I skip this round. In the end all the names, trees and fruits make me dizzy, but still our guide apologizes because he didn´t have more to show at this moment. “It´s dry season, you should see this place in a few months!” We thank him for the tour and I take my fan out again for our walk back to the hostel.
There Andrea has just started preparing lunch. There´s still no water, so I suppose the chicken has been washed and cooked in river water. Oh well, as long as it´s cooked… :P. When I ask her if she´s happy with the result though, she suddenly looks disappointed: “Well, it didn´t turn out to be chicken stew I guess, I think it´s going to be chicken soup. Do you like soup?” I assure her that I do, but with a little help from her big sister she can proudly serve a chicken stew in the end.
After lunch I say goodbye to my forest elves and I take the bumpy moto taxi ride back to town to catch a bus to the sea. If Peter Pan ever loses his way home, I now know a house in the forest that I can recommend to him :).