It was a rough journey, like the decade that started that first day of the year, and the road from Tulcán to Quito seemed more like a dirt track.
Halfway through the journey, cold, hungry and afraid, an enormous lorry was overturned in the middle of the road, preventing the bus, full of sleeping and tired passengers, from passing it.
The lorry was full of cattle, some of them found on top of others that were badly wounded. Many of them were tied to lassos, which were strangling them.
I got down to help untie some of them with a borrowed machete. I tried to free one, but the bus had already got on its way in the midst of the fog on the first day of the year.
We arrived in Quito at dawn after a 15-hour journey. It must have been two in the morning, because the city was still asleep and some civilians were walking down a sloping street with their long ponchos, similar to one of the Chiquinquirá streets (in the tourist district of Boyacá).
And it was also similar because the appearance of the colony was reflected in the façades.
I got off the bus that had arrived at a station where there were only vehicles of the same type, and sleepily I started to walk to nowhere in particular, since I had never been in the Ecuadorian capital.
I stopped after several blocks in a ‘tinto’ stall, as they call black coffee in Bogotá.
I was hungry, cold and with little money in my wallet, since in the military quarter near Tulcán the guard had taken my identity card claiming that I had no customs permit to go to Quito.
An ID that I later got due to that, further on, someone stopped the bus. It was a customs civil servant, who made me get down and return on foot to Tulcán while asking me questions and I expressed my love for his country, and knowledge of its literature, art and poetry, that he told me was hated in Colombia.
On arriving at the quarter where the courier was still playing with my document, the customs officer got into a discussion with the soldier, convincing him to return my ID.
In his office, and reassured by the chat on the journey that awoke his sympathy, he gave me a pass to stay in Quito for two months.
The surprise came that early morning when as I went to pay for the coffee, my wallet was not in the inside pocket of the bag.
I felt very afraid of having lost the fortunate pass, my remaining money, and the recovered ID card.
I retraced the way I had come, and as if a marvelous hand was leading me blind to the place where the bus had dropped me, I suddenly found it. For an hour, perhaps, I walked without stopping. Suddenly I was in the bus station and it was still not dawn in Quito city.
I asked the bus attendant to let me in to sleep there until dawn, but the true reason for my request was to find my wallet, which I found under the mud under the seat where I had sat for hours.
I went at once to look for the pharmacy, where the person that my friend Echeverry in Bogotá had recommended to me was sure to be.
After travelling to the centre I arrived at the place, but there was nobody with that name of the friend who would supposedly meet me in the Ecuadorian capital. I was disheartened but decided to go to the Quito Central University to find help, since in Bogotá (where I live) it is what you do when someone is lost.
That is why I thought the Quito academic headquarters must be the same, and I walked there.
On reaching the university campus I had a short rest on the lawn to regain strength. I looked terrible because of the hours travelling in difficult conditions.
Without thinking twice I directed myself to the office of the biggest student organisation, where I told one of its leaders my worries, but neither he nor any of those who appeared could tell me anything about the friend I was supposed to meet.
My friend Echeverry had told me, when he was there selling his posters with pictures of Che, Mao and Camilo Torres, that he had seen him among the students.
It was almost midday when I dared to go to the rectory to question the rector, whom I knew was a man of the left, defender of the Cuban Revolution and who would certainly know something about this man.
When the office door was opened I was face to face with the person, who was sitting at his desk with a patriarchal appearance.
The rector received me calmly and listened attentively to why I had come to Quito, and to its university.
Without asking me for any identification, he told me that he had no information, but on the point of leaving the enclosure, thinking he would call the police, he told me: “Look for Burbano, he is the head of student accommodation. He will certainly know something, and could help you”.
On waking at six in the evening, and seeing the posters of my friend Echeverry on all the walls, the person that I had gone to find was opposite me, observing me.
(Photos from Pixabay)
(Translated by Claire Donneky – Email: email@example.com)