Now, recall that I am presently 73 yrs old and started early life without even radio in the house. (My grandparents had a radio) and I was charmed by the music I could hear from it. Then later on, like most boys of that time, we played cowboys and indians. We had cap guns then…I don’t even think they make them like we had anymore; Paper rolls of red caps that allowed us to make noise and smelled good (to me). Of course, not being more educated at that time, the only indian names we knew were ones we heard either on the radio or later (and after childhood), tv. Geronimo, and Sitting Bull, Hiawatha and …well, you get the idea. Then came the TV and The Lone Ranger. I don’t remember when it started, but it was after my cowboy and indian times but Kemosabe and Tonto have a special part in my life. When I was in my 40s, a good friend in Tampa, Tam Terpening, arranged for me to go to Ecuador for a week. It was totally mind boggling. The whole country speaks Spanish….”I”…carried a spanish-english dictionary. 🙂 We were travelling in the country south of Quito when Tam stopped along the road where a man was carrying a huge bundle of woolen goods that we bartered for. Tam was doing the dealing and I was frantically leafing thru the dictionary trying to get a sentence formed when suddenly the word “tonto” popped up on a page I was passing across. Damn! ALL Those Years of the Lone Ranger calling that indian Tonto when it actually means DUMMY! I was left forlorn. I wonder how many other boys had that feeling when they found out.
I was so fortunate to have the experience Tom Terpening gave me. The first time, he gave us the tickets round trip to Quito, Ecuador, and we went down for a week. Tam married a girl there and it was a wonderful experience. Sandra was a beautiful lady who spoke (then) no english, and it was a lot of fun with us both learning the others language barely enough to survive. They had a blind violinist play at the wedding. I’m not much of a drinker and it was pretty wild at the reception. Until the movie “Proof of Life” with Russel Crowe came out years after my trip down, I was unable to comprehend Tams concern and fear of being kidnapped. They actually buy insurance against getting kidnapped and the insurance companies have to have “proof of life” before they will pay any insurance to kidnappers. Pretty crazy, but Tam carried a machine gun under his pickup seat all the time. I just plain didn’t know any better. TV there was pretty weird…seeing the Pink Panther cartoon done in Spanish was intriguing, but then all of a sudden the TV would blip and there would be a group of military types around a table screaming and carrying on…Tam said it was communist take-over of the stations and that it happened regularly. We travelled around Quito and it was wonderfully abstract. I could probably write a whole book on just that. We met a very charming older man who owned a large ranch south of Quito. His mannerisms and voice were inspiring. His ranch was totally self supportive with “Peones” as work/live help. His house was incredible. I wish I could explain the aquaduct system of there…the whole country is afforded with water run-off from the snow peaked Andes..and all those streams are put where man wants them. All with little things to organize where the water goes. But then, you would see some woman pounding clothes on a rock in a stream and up or down stream (and not far) they would take water for household use…even drinking. And they bathe their dead in the streams before burial. The airport in Quito is at 10,000 ft and I experienced the longest takeoff roll ever. I swear we must have gone 2 miles before the plane lifted off.
When you went to bed, the air was so thin that you chilled easily and had to have 6 or 8 wool blankets to ward off the cold and be able to sleep. When you took a shower, you couldn’t see the other end of the tub due to the fog started by the hot water and thin air. They didn’t flush toilet paper in the one small shopping center we visited. One had to carefully pick out of the trash a small piece of toilet paper to clean off. Yuck. The 4 of us took a long trip to the jungle which was on the west side of the Andes and some south of Quito. It was 5 hours of downhill to get to this small city. The road into town was not paved but the road Out of town was. Ravens and crows and buzzards would be seen along the road picking at refuse that people threw along the road. We went to see Los Colorados…a tribe that live a short distance from this city. We would see a woman in town with patent leather shoes…not tied and not well put on and realized she was one of them shopping in the city. The men stood out because they were most always drunk but more so that they put Achiote (sp) seeds in their hair which was like a grease and it made their hair stick forward much like a baseball visor and coral red in color. Then we drove out to where they lived and we had to walk a foot path a couple hundred yards which included walk across an area on a log. Their house was large bamboo split open so that the whole shaft would cover a wider area and was held up by vines. A thatched roof…dirt floor…no electricity or running water. They took us into their house…about 30X40 ft in size…a fire in a corner with no chimney. The lady, now with a colorful wide striped skirt and topless made an effort to show us how they made their cloth. I understand Spanish enough to recognize the man telling her to make it look good for the tourists. We paid them to be allowed to take their picture. The man had a two color cloth wrap around him dark blue and white. They would not sell us any of their cloth and when we went to take their pictures, the man grabbed a pink piece of satin cloth and put it around his shoulders and they stood next to a flowering tree for their portraits. It was simply a mind boggling experience. We went back at nigh. They had a platform elevated about waist high for a bed and a single wick of some oil burning for light. We heard other people talking and moving around us and the house but never got to see them. We had been cautioned not to accept anything they offered us to drink as it was prepared by the women who chewed something and then spit it into the bowl to allow it to forment. This is why they were frequently drunk. Luckily I was not invited to have any. In the city square there was a drummer and a trumpet playing something loudly and people were dancing to it, but when we arrived, they quit suddenly. I did pass a group of men…begging…one was holding a bowl between his two wrists…his hands had been chopped off for stealing. I just couldn’t force myself to take his photo. Another memory is going thru the market area…most of which was under tarps or overhead covering and dark and Very dingy and crazy odors! I remember coming upon what looked like a cake of sardines…dark brown…fishy stink maybe 8 inches high and 3-4 ft square that was being doled out like an ice cream scoop…and when I got closer…live large maggots were crawling in it. Apparently part of the “treat”.
My second trip was by myself and Tams father was in Quito and had a heart attack. The company paid me to go down and see if he could come home safely. That alone was almost an whole other book. He was as tall or a little taller than I at 6′ 1″. He stuck out both ends of the stretcher he was on. The people there are quite small in comparison to most of use from the US. I saw a defibrillator in the “ICU” that was bigger than my Lazy Boy chair. And I saw medical equipment in the halls…obviously being used…that I had only ever seen in antique medical books. Yet a number of the doctors there had trained at Cleveland Clinic. I decided the safest for him was to be in a private room with an appropriately sized bed and time rather than go thru all the stress of an emergent flight back to Fla. Happily I was right.
For years, I yearned to go back and hopefully make a trip into the Amazon jungle but decided it was not in my best interest. I was scared to death of Malaria and the logistics of such a trip. Nice to dream about. I’d never survive it. The experience I had was way more than a tourist would get and I can never thank Tam enough for it. I never once saw a pig that was not being directly guarded, usually by a lady or young girl. She would be sitting on a knoll doing needle point on what looked like blouses or pillow cases. Otherwise the pigs would be on a leash. No refrigeration meant that on driving out of Quite..one would see a pig or calf strung up on a tripod and being cut at for direct sale to the customers, and on the way back there would only be a head and spine left. I was never served a drink in a glass with ice…always in a bottle which they kept. My memory is fading…I miss it!