Anybody seen a trumpet-playing Mexican around here?
We’re sitting at breakfast yesterday talking to a couple from Ireland, and once I manage to drag myself above an animal level of delight at their accents, I realized that their words are describing a jungle trip where they saw a jaguar. I think of seeing an animal like that in the wild along the same lines as the Pope thinks about the Holy Grail. They didn’t see one once. They saw one…four times. FOUR!
So the next day we went looking for tours into the jungle. The local place made a good offer, and the bazillion websites generated another, but most of the tour companies are in the “New Town” part of Quito, along with the other tourism services like restaurants and hotels. We hadn’t been yet, and when we walked in there last night…culture shock.
There were white people everywhere! So THIS is where the tourists have been hiding! There were miniskirts on women, polo shirts on bro‘s, and bleached blond hair on both, They were sitting at fancy tables in glass-sided restaurants eating dishes other than pollo a la plancha! There were no giant piles of plain white rice with heaps of greasy fries on their plates! And English, English everywhere!
We were amazed, and fairly quickly kinda grossed out, but we drowned our unease in Indian food, which is always a good treatment. Afterwards we ran into a supremely amiable Danish couple we met in the hostel last week, who told us about the agency they were going to the Amazon through, which was cheaper than the others and included the prefix “eco” in their name. Cheap and eco? Sounds good. Where is it?
Like a backpacker treasure map, their answer was to look for the Mexican guy playing the trumpet, it was near there. And behold, the Danes were heard to say “Seek ye the Mexican who playeth the trumpet, in pursuit of thine dining business, there shall ye find thine goal.” Indiana Jones 5: Curse of the Cryptic Hostel Advice.
So this morning we walked back over to New Town with the mission of finding one tour agency among the hundreds, in a large bustling part of a Latin American capital city, and our only guideline was to search for a trumpet-playing Mexican.
And maybe the prefix “eco,” and we knew their price for a 4 day tour.
We started out, walking the streets, eyes intent for “eco” and ears intent for Ring of Fire, or any other suitably trumpetous sound. Nada. Then: Ecosomething Tours! Nope, they wanted $60 more than what we heard. Mexican restaurant, albeit sans trumpet…nope. We stopped for a cup of tea and asked the guy where the nearest trumpet-playing Mexican was. He was unhelpful. And possibly offended.
However, we were learning that all of the myriad tour companies offer pretty much identical tours, and the mythic offer was only $20 cheaper, so we kinda gave up, and just went to look for a good company. We found one, full of professional-looking young women, one of which was laughing quite merrily at our difficulties with their bizarre magnetic door. I liked them immediately.
We heard their spiel, and were considering, when I mentioned the Myth of the Musical Mexican offhand. They laughed en masse, and started reciting his sales pitch. They said “He’s down the street.” They said “Hola amigo, Mexican food, Italian food, upstairs, second floor, good for lunch or dinner!”
Sure enough, a block down we found him. “Good for lunch or dinner!” And we found the place. Ecosomething-or-other. We edged past the dude glaring at us in the doorway, smoking a cigarette, and heard the details. Yup, another carbon copy, but for $20-50 cheaper. Credit cards carry a 6% surcharge so we went looking for an ATM, eventually coming back to ask where a functioning one was. (I guess we could have asked El Trumpetero, but he was busy.)
This time the glaring cigarette guy on the stoop annoyed me. And the building was fairly scabrous, lurking in the shade of the smog plumes of a major thoroughfare. Inside were two bored scruffy salesmen, a saggy and stained couch, and two dirty bicycles waiting for their next renters. (Wouldn’t you at least wipe them off?)
We got the heebie-jeebies. Does that dude stand on the porch all day glaring and smoking? Maybe we shouldn’t just take the cheapest option in town…
We pondered our options over lunch at a touristastically awful place whose staff came pre-annoyed with us, in the capitalism-tourismàbad-attitude tradition. Halfway through the meal two blond princesses shouted in full British prima donna impatient style “Hello?!?” They had been waiting about 3 minutes. This ain’t England, honeys. Suddenly we didn’t mind our waiter’s surliness.
And just to make the day really bodacious-bizarre, at one point I recognized across the street the shaggy visage of a British bloke I met and very much liked in the Sahara three years ago. We remembered each others’ names, although facebook may get some credit for that. Small world.
Then back to our Neck of the Woods, to the original company, whose salesperson was cheerful, informed, and clean. Pictures of other customers blanket the walls, smiling in satisfaction. And it turns out their 5 day tour is cheaper than the Angry Smoker’s anyway. So tonight at 10:00 PM the guy from Carpe Diem Tours will pick us up to take us to our overnight bus to the Amazon, and I’ll tell you about it in 6 days. (If I don’t get eaten by an anaconda or caiman whose lagoon we go swimming in.)