A couple of white girls in shorts hitching a ride is an Ecuadorian truck driver’s wet dream.
Having woken up several days earlier, on the cold, hard floor of a stranger’s kitchen, with a naked man laying expectantly on top of me, (with me dressed and relatively safe under the thin fibres of my summer sleeping bag) following an atrocious journey from the country’s capital the day before, I thought that my run of bad luck might finally be reaching its end. I had arrived late for this renowned fiesta, after all. It was normal that the only rentable sleeping space left had been the floor of somebody’s kitchen. And perhaps the amorous advances of a fellow traveller from Israel that morning had been nothing but harmless fun.
What I did realise on this particular evening however, was that my sense of unease since my arrival at this enchanting Ecuadorian village wasn’t going to be quelled by this ogre of a man who was currently reaching lecherously across me to lock my door. The door of his truck that myself and a friend had willingly got into only moments before. He turned his unshaven, sweat-laced face slightly towards mine and grinned, his red, bulbous nose inches from my own.
‘Guapaaaa,’ he blew at me through stained yellow teeth. The alcohol-scented words hit my nose and stomach like a noxious gas and I had to swallow my nauseous urges in order not to offend the man. He was our precious ride home, after all. And home that night would be about threes hours walk away up a steep mountain path in the middle of the night without him. We’d already waited an hour and were beginning to get extremely tired and worried that we’d never make it back.
If I’d have been alone, the truck and its amorous driver would have been unwelcome blips in the distance. But I wasn’t alone. And for some reason I mistakenly believed that because my wispy friend, Emily, was seated next to me in a tipsy daydream, my safety was secured. I was selfishly glad that her petite form was between his and mine, however, as he seemed to have his somewhat unfocused sights, set on me.
The engine refused to turn over straight away and I realised that I felt relief. As the intoxicated man began to thump the steering wheel angrily as he swayed in his seat next to Emily, yelling obscenities that I was yet to learn in my Spanish lessons in Quito, I subtly reached for the lock on my door, briefly wondering in my own drunken haze why it had been locked in the first place. I felt a sweaty yet steel-like grip on my wrist and again had the pleasure of his agua diente fumes caressing my nostrils,
‘_a donde vas, guapa?_’ he asked me, raising his eyebrows suggestively and roving his bloodshot eyes up and down my body. He ripped my hand from the door , gently grazing my breasts as he drew his hand back, and I shrank back into my seat, glancing at my friend who seemed to have just woken up and was looking at me, sober and alarmed.
Fired up by my attempted escape, the man flicked the key in the ignition angrily and to my dismay, the engine began to tick over perfectly. I felt the truck lurch forward and we began our death-defying journey up the hill. At least we were heading in the right direction. Whether he intended to take us to the destination we’d so naively mentioned to him earlier, who was to say, but my new concern was the seventy-metre drop to my right that, every so often, was getting a little too close. The dirt road snaked its way upwards, with a huge, unprotected drop to the right that, up until now, had only provided access to stunning views as we’d travelled up and down between our bungalow. Suddenly it looked like the jaws of death, stretched wide-open, ready to receive us, the dirty old truck, and the seemingly oblivious driver, chewing us into a battered pulp with the jagged teeth of broken rocks that lay waiting at the bottom of the valley.
Everything seemed completely out of control and I could see in Emily’s wide eyes that she was as terrified as I was.
‘We have to get the fuck out of here’, I tried to whisper through gritted teeth and took her hand, as if somehow that would save us plummeting, now an even higher 150 metres, to our deaths below.
The driver threw me a warning glance, as if he’d understood my declaration of escape. But the glance turned into a stare as he leered at my bare legs, hardly covered by the hiking boots I wore on my feet and my suddenly seemingly provocative hiking shorts, and back up to my breasts. As he leaned in to get a better look, the rest of his body came with him, including the hands that rested on the steering wheel. The truck swerved to the right and the front wheel was suddenly, briefly, spinning over nothing.
I tried to think fast but it seemed that this swerve had got to the brute too as he widened his eyes in horror, opened his mouth and puked all over me. The shock of this left me immobile, until I saw Emily terrified into action. She shoved the man back into his seat while at the same time grabbing the steering wheel and wrenching it to the left. In confusion, our driver pressed down on the gas. The truck careered towards the rock wall that hurtled towards us at khaki-short soiling speed, when he jerked the wheel back to the right, and towards that nasty drop.
Emily was quicker to respond this time though, and in a normally improbable situation, she managed to claw those enormous hands from the wheel, just as the road edge disappeared from view on my right side again, throwing all of her miniscule body-weight over the wheel, and flinging us back to safety. I didn’t need to think twice as I flipped the lock on the door, grabbing her by the hand again before we both tumbled out into the middle of the road.
Laying there, covered in stinking vomit, I felt to see if there were any broken bones piercing my skin, couldn’t find any, and before the first bruise could show itself, I leapt up and yelled:
‘LET’S GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE’!!!!!
We started to run, trying to catch the elusive breath that had already been knocked out of us; first by fear, and then by the fall.
The truck had stopped a little way ahead and in spite of myself and with my new state of bravado, when I’d passed it, I stopped and turned to face our kidnapper. As I listened to the comforting sound of Emily’s boots hitting road in the distance ahead, I saw that he was alive. He sat there staring into the distance ahead, in a state of shock. His eyes shifted slightly towards me, and he regarded me with a look that suggested that he’d never even seen me before. And as I saw his eyes lose focus again as he sat in wonder, I felt a rush of exhilaration crashing through my veins. We’d survived.
I peered up at the Mandango mountain that towered over the valley, and didn’t know whether to curse it or thank it. Fabled to protect the area from natural disasters, I wondered whether that protection extended to a slightly drunk British girl who was only visiting. I decided, after everything that had happened, that perhaps it did.