"I'd have expected to see hummingbirds around those flowers," I said. I'd hardly finished speaking when a tiny bird, hardly bigger than a bumblebee, shot past and disappeared into the tangle of foliage. We watched intently for a few minutes until the hummingbird reappeared. It hovered, darted, hovered again, then shot up over the canopy and disappeared somewhere into the other side. I had no idea what species it was, but the delight of watching it fly, of seeing something so intensely alive gave me a little hope. One of the things I love about birds is the way they so often either ignore us (within the limits of safety) or regard us as an opportunity to be exploited — in short, they live largely on their terms, not ours. The little hummingbird at Peguche exemplified this perfectly.
When I got closer I saw a black and white cat under the table, at her feet. Without thinking, I pointed and said "El gato," and the cat immediately rose and came to the edge of the terrace to bump against my hand. I rubbed its neck and head with my knuckles, trying not to think too hard about what I might be catching and consoling myself with the thought it probably would be nothing worse than something a fungicide would clear up in short order. The old woman was grinning; so was the woman at the pot.
On the bus back to Quito I tried to ignore the sporadic stench of some kind of solvent and the hideously awful movie on the screen at the front of the bus — a film seemingly about little more than steroid-poisoned men smashing each other into bloody pulp in variations on cage fighting — and instead looked out the window at the real lives going on in the late afternoon. The pigs in yards; the tom turkey displaying hopefully and futilely to an oblivious chook; a child running with a couple of dogs to a small stream at the bottom of a sloping paddock partly obscured by wild vegetation. What was the child feeling? The freedom of running in a half wild place, perhaps? The delight of being released temporarily from homework and chores? Maybe, without knowing it, the child was simply enjoying the freedom of not knowing enough about the wider world to be trapped into coveting it?
Later, I saw huge earth-moving machines with work-polished blades devouring the mountainsides, widening roads, straightening corners, improving bridges — gnawing at the Andes — and I felt momentarily overwhelmed by the relentless, inexorable destructiveness of human beings. The bus drove on into the evening and the lowering sun threw a longer, warmer light. On the side of the road I saw striations in the soft earth — the marks of the blade of a massive digger. A swirl of wind, and sand fills the marks a little more; the glancing evening sun accentuates the textures — the raw, brash marks of the machine; the fine, dusty texture of the sand slowly hiding those human-made marks. In the distance, the white cone of a volcano; here, the deep valley with its swift, turbulent river churning far below. A sere, arid landscape of steep mountainsides thorny shrubs, cacti, dust and the long, deep shadows of evening.
The bus drives on, taking us back to Quito, but to what future?
1. The Cascada de Peguche.
2. In the Otavalo market later in the day, when the crowd had thinned.
3. The view from my room one evening. The mountains appear smaller in the photo.
4. Same view, telephoto; this (I think) is one of the routes to Rucu Pichincha (not the usual one, which starts from the top of the teleférico).