In the Caribbean coast of Honduras, I had been given a taste of Island and Marine life, and had learned that the clear blue waters of the Caribe were good for healing any psychic misadventure one could possibly have suffered from. In El Salvador, during the height of their Civil War, I had learned that life is most precious when it is not guaranteed (eat, drink, and be merry...)
There, I had been arrested, I had been threatened with loaded guns pointed directly at my chest and face, and I had once stood up to them, refusing to allow a soldier's grubby fingers to search my freshly made popcorn while on the way to a party. None of this seemed real, or even significant, until I left and was in a normal place again.
In Colombia, I had fallen deeply in love with a girl, someone who was as easy to love as eating a piece of pie. She so completely and effortlessly disarmed me and dismantled all my self protection mechanisms, that before I knew it , I was in the grips of love, and panicking, since I had promised myself that no such fate would befall me, ending my days of travel prematurely and turning me into a married zombie. I had promised myself to keep going south until I saw penguins, and then from that point I would look into further travel, or the possibility of sticking in one place a little longer.
I suppose in part, I was a refugee of this old devil, love, in this very different, and very native-dominated country. Ecuador was full of Incan tribes and different languages like Quechua, which was very different from Colombia, which had European, African, and a small portion of Asians and Middle Eastern peoples, who had mingled with the original peoples, the remnants of which had mostly been pushed up into the hills and hinterlands of the country. Here in Ecuador, there was no such push evident; since most people I met were Native American at least in appearance if not actually in culture as well (much more difficult to accurately gauge in South America).
Here in the capital city, one could see more clearly the ties with Spain and the Colonial past, even in the rare European looking faces of the capitalinos, and in the long, narrow avenues of the cold, grey metropolis. It was in this capital that I got my first taste of the huelepegas, gangs of homeless street urchins who are all united by their addiction to smelling glue, or more specifically xylene, the active ingredient in 'airplane' glue.
I was coming back to my pension a bit late, perhaps midnight, and perhaps a bit light headed with grog, when I saw across the darkened plaza what appeared to be a cloud of birds, perhaps pigeons, forming a ball of activity with their beating wings and even cries. As my eyes began to focus better, and my brain engage, the cloud seemed to lift and fly away, and I realized that at the core of this imagined pigeon mass was a middle aged man in a suit, apparently drunken and dazed, sitting on the curb. The 'pigeons' were urchins, moving very fast, stealing the man blind and then stealing from each other, so quickly that I was as clueless as the drunken man that had been picked clean, until I realized that it must have been theft, why else would all this fluttering and sputtering and even mistaken bird cries be so self-evident and then the next minute so totally wrong?
By the time I had realized all this, they were gone. I was physically afraid of going across the plaza to help the poor old man, simply because that thieving cloud was probably still around, and looking for the next target of opportunity. I was later to experience the cloud firsthand in Lima.....