Lost with a Boyfriend: Beyond Cumbaya (The Country Retreat)

Adventure Travel, Couples Travel, Dispatches from the Road, Ecuador — By on March 6, 2008 at 11:58 pm

After sleeping off one hell of a long-haul travel hangover, Jeff and I stumbled downstairs to meet our hosts, Andrew and his Ecuadorian girlfriend Lau, for the day’s activity.

When the pair had originally suggested a small barbeque at the family farm outside of Quito, I’d somehow presumed it would be the four of us, the boys’ backpacker buddy Jenna, and possibly a few relatives to even up the local-to-gringo ratio. Within the next two hours I’d discover that when Latin Americans throw a party, the word “small” is up for interpretation.

At noon six of us piled into a tiny compact car driven by Max Epstein, a Californian ex-pat who’d recently found local fame with his band Ecuafornia (particularly the hit song “Light it Up”). As we struggled through traffic, Max kept us all amused by singing the jingles he’d written for local clubs and burger joints, while Lau and Andrew laughed giggled then eventually translated. Ten minutes after passing through the town of Cumbaya (not to be confused with the slighter better known gospel kumbaya), we turned off the winding dirt road, passed through a gated archway and arrived at Lau’s farm.

Set high up on a hill overlooking the city, the place was mix of Old MacDonald’s farm (complete with geese, duck, horses and cows) and quaint country cottage. We walked inside the small, but cozy house, and started unpacking the veritable mountains of groceries that Andrew and Lau had somehow managed to cram in the trunk of the car.

Just as I started to grasp that we had enough chicken, beef, sausages, and of course, beer, to supply a small village, three more vehicles filled with friends descended upon the little house. Among the masses, there was another Andrew (who’d brought his 2 year-old daughter), Angus, a junior archeologist from Cape Cod (who’d brought his cute and extraordinarily young-looking girlfriend), Paula (Max’s girlfriend), Lau’s cousin (also with a girlfriend). I felt a teeny bit bad for Jenna, who probably hadn’t realized that she’d gotten roped into a couple’s retreat. With a drink in already hand, she didn’t seem particularly phased.

Not long after everyone had arrived and the grilled had been lit, the heavy storm clouds rolled in and started drizzling their contents.

“Ah, don’t worry about it. This happens all the time.” someone piped up. ” It goes away in 10 minutes.”

A half hour later, the light rain had turned into an outright downpour. No way would the sun make a reappearance. The relatives scramble to set up the tent that would cover the grill, and the hardy folks smoking outside scrambled in the house for cover. In the confusion, the dog slipped inside as well and manged to steal a hamburger before he was shoed back out again.

Once the grill-and our feast- was well protected, everyone relaxed and used the inclement weather as an opportunity to get to know one another. And, of course, to work their way through the extra cases of 40-ounce beers that the guys had dashed out to pick up. Later, someone “found” a large bottle of rum not previously offered up. We feasted on the meat, roasted vegetables, queso fresco (fresh cheese?), a massive salad, chips and ice cream. We stuffed ourselves silly, drank a little more, then went back for seconds and thirds of the food. By the time the alcohol started drying up, the language Spanish-English language barrier had mysteriously disappeared. Everyone seemed to understand one another.

After the last stragglers left, it was down to me, Jeff, Andrew and Lau. Max had taken his girlfriend-and his car-home earlier, so we walked out the the dirt road to catch the bus. Within seconds, a pickup truck with an extended cab slowed down to pick us up, and Andrew negociated a rate for the driver to take us back to Quito.

I’m not sure why (maybe it was the idea of sitting in a cramped bus for two hours) but I was inordinately pleased abut that we were psudeo-hitchhiking back to town. Sure, the ride set us each back $5, so it wasn’t actually the thumb out tramping I’d recently read about in Into the Wild, but a cool (and climate-controlled) adventure all the same.

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