This post was originally written as an email on January 29, 2012.
I have never lived in an area (including Orem, Utah in 1970) where it is easier to make friends than we are finding it to be here in San Clemente, Ecuador! Partly because we kind of stand out as being from “out-of-town”, and partly because we do not stay inside our apartment and associate only with other Norte Americanos, but, mostly because San Clemente people are genuinely friendly people – we continue to meet and be accepted by more and more Ecuadorianos.
It is not just the general friendly, “Hola!” that I am talking about either! I am talking about people shouting, “Yon!” (that is how most people here pronounce my name) as they drive by, or stopping to talk with us about what pais we come from, or fishermen stopping us on the beach to give us fish. Last Wednesday afternoon we were riding our bikes away from town to a place where we really have not been very often and a woman flagged us down to introduce us to her parents and children and to point out where she lived up a side street inviting us to come and visit.
Even the young people are friendly. Mary and I rode the bus to Portoviejo last Friday and I sat next to a young man (perhaps 18) named Jose. He is a fisherman from San Clemente and he told me how he was going to Charapoto to get his hair cut. I told him we would look for him on the beach when we walk. He told me a few fish stories. One was about catching a fish on the line that he claims was five meters long! Fishermen are the same the world over, or Jose is, “The Old Man and the Sea” re-incarnate! None the less, Jose told us he would look for us on the beach and said it like he meant it.
A week ago last Saturday, Mary and I rode our bikes at low tide all the way to the point about a mile or two north of our beach access. We got some great pictures of the pelicans skimming the waves and came back toward home. The fishermen were bringing in an especially large catch, so I angled over by them. A friend of ours named Eugene shouted, “Yon!” and beckoned for me to come over. He gave me two fish about ten to twelve inches long (although if I had caught them they would have been two feet long) and we continued home.
As we got to our apartment area I stopped to visit with the young man who is the handyman for our complex who was working with three other men mixing concrete in the roadway with shovels. They all came to see our fish and told me the names – even the construction workers in San Clemente are pescadores at heart! I did not catch both of the names, but one was called a, “Gringo.” They all got a kick out of me commenting that I too was a gringo and I asked if it was cannibalism for a gringo to eat a gringo fish.
When we got home, we decided that I should barbecue the fish and share them with the workers, but I did not have any charcoal lighter fluid. I needed to go to the bank and to get a few items in addition to the lighter fluid, so I drove over to San Jacinto (the closest ATM) and made my way back home stopping to pick up the items we needed. Our friend at the general hardware store assured me he had lighter fluid and came out with an empty water bottle, a two liter liquid yogurt container, and a two to three gallon plastic jug and asked me how much I wanted? I opted for the yogurt container size and came home with enough lighter fluid to last out the year!
When I got home I was running late for lunch, so I hurriedly cleaned and prepped the fish, got the barbecue started (no-name fluid worked great!) and came back into the kitchen. I saw a truck pull into the parking area behind our house (something that rarely happens) so I looked up and there was Eugene (our pescadore friend) and a man we know from our Sunday lunch group named Claven. They were both looking up and down the walkway and I said to Mary, “I wonder what those guys are doing up here?”
I went outside and called to them and heard the familiar, “Yon!” I invited them down to see our house and Eugene was pleased to see the cleaned fish on the counter. Both Eugene and Claven again told me what kind of fish they were. I invited them to stay, but they said they had to go and that Pocho had sent them to find Mary and me to invite us to come have some carne at Pocho’s house at about three or four. I thought they were telling us that the Sunday lunch group was meeting at three or four o’clock on Sunday instead of our usual noon-time meeting, but Mary realized that they were inviting us to come down today.
It was already about 1:30 and I was quite tired from riding around on the beach and then to San Jacinto and back, but a man just doesn’t turn down an invite to have some carne in a town where pescado and other sea-food (mariscos) is the general fare, so I hustled around and cooked up the fish, got cleaned up, and Mary and I set out again on our bicycles to get some meat!
When we arrived a full-fledged birthday party was in swing. Pocho (who is an engineer of agronomy with at least a master’s degree who teaches at a University in Portoviejo) came out to the street dressed in a long apron and a facemask like a surgeon wears and shouts, “Yon!” I went to shake his hand, but he butted forearms instead, because he was cooking (hence the facemask) and waved us back into the courtyard area I mentioned in an earlier update. There were thirty or forty people crowded back there and Mary and I were the only gringos to be seen!
One of Pocho’s nieces, Gema (pronounced Hema) was celebrating her seventeenth birthday (although you would have sworn she was fourteen at most) and we were introduced to all of the relatives and friends. Mary and I sang, “Happy Birthday” in English and then I had the ladies teach me to sing, “Feliz Cupleanos” in Spanish. Pocho served us up a heaping pile of marinated barbecued beef that was out of this world good and we stayed there for a couple of hours singing, eating and just being part of the family.
Mary suggested that we could slip aside and get a gift for Gema and we found her a nice purse set (bolsa chica) and some ear-rings at a craft stand about a half block from the house. The gift was a hit, but mostly, all of the family and friends seemed genuinely glad that we had come. We were even invited to come to Portoviejo to sing Karaoke.
By the time we got home that evening, it was dark and the entire day had been filled with camaraderie and joy with our new friends. So, we have been to our first Ecuadorian birthday party!
One more quick note – Yesterday Mary and I were leaving our house to go for a walk on the beach when Eugene, who now knows exactly where we live, came by to invite us down to Pocho’s for some ceviche in an hour or so. I told him we were just leaving for a walk and that we would be down as soon as possible after our walk. Not a half-hour later I hear a loud whistle and the now familiar, “Yon!” from the stairway that leads to the beach from our road. It was Pocho with some friends from Guayaquil that he wanted to introduce us to. We visited for a while on the beach, went home and cleaned up and then went and had some ceviche.
Life is good here in San Clemente, Ecuador!