BELIEF ARTICLE

Ecuador

Smelly Travel Can Open Up a Heart

Diarrhea, Motion-Sickness, and a Stolen Camera

Originally published in Austin Woman magazine, August 2008, by Lyssa Myska Allen 

“?Que quieres?”

The short, balding hotel owner steps menacingly toward my tall, long-haired brother.

“!Quiero mi camera!” my brother shakes his fist as he stands in the dimly-lit entryway, backpack strapped on and guitar slung over one shoulder. I look back and forth between them, trying to casually step between the dueling men. Visions of lanky, good-natured Jordan lying dejected in an Ecuadorian jail cell flash before me as I step toward him.

“Let’s just go,” I say, the tears no longer falling.

We’ve been robbed by the hotel we’re staying in, my camera taken off my bed from a room both locked and padlocked. But when we confront the front desk staff, they feign innocence. I cry and watch, alternately amazed and horrified, as my baby brother—all 21 years of him—argues in Spanish with the hotel owner on my behalf.

This isn’t the first time he’s stuck up for me, but it strikes me as a change in roles. Growing up the elder, I took care of Jordan: I taught him “school,” had him film movies my friends and I made, and took him with me to do everything I did. Now, he’s simply bigger and stronger and assuming a more stereotypically manly role.

My best friend Jonathan assumed a similar role in my life up until he was killed over a year ago. He and I were closer than I’ve ever been with anyone outside of my family and he often took a protector role with me—albeit protecting me from dating the wrong guys, not from errant hotel owners. When Jonathan died, what I said most often about him was that he taught me about unconditional love. He was both endlessly thoughtful and arrogantly smart, a combination that suited me perfectly.

Likewise, my brother Jordan is similarly a study in opposites: a wicked free spirit and sensitive sweetheart. The parallel was never more apparent than when I met him down in Ecuador for ten days of sibling sojourning. He’d graduated from college in May, then two weeks later taken a bus to Mexico and worked his way south; two months after he’d left I flew down to meet him in his final destination: Ecuador.

Truth be told, I didn’t know a thing about Ecuador. I didn’t even really know where it was. South America, sure, but where? Turns out it’s above Peru, which is above Chile, on the western coast. Good to know. I just wanted to be part of my little brother’s big adventure. We didn’t make plans until I got there: see the coast, surf a little, then head to the mountains for some adventuring.

In typical Jordan fashion, he was late to pick me up at the airport. I sat there with my backpack, in a fleece I brought of his, and had a little chuckle: here I am in an airport in Ecuador, and I have no idea where Jordan is staying, what his Ecuadorian cell phone number is, or where I would go if he didn’t show up. But I wasn’t ever worried. Late, Jordan often is, but he’d never leave me stranded.

We took bus after bus to traverse Ecuador, from the coastal town of Monpinche to the mouth of the mountains in Mindo. Jordan and I talked and fought and giggled across cities and towns, past dilapidated houses and skinny horses. We’re a team; a brother and sister adventuring in South America. Well, most people thought we were newlyweds, but nonetheless …

Two days after the camera incident, I got the traveler’s sickness in a town aptly named Banos—commonly understood as bathroom, though it can and does in this context mean baths. I lay in bed for two days, unable to be away from a toilet and alternating between wet sweats and body-shaking shivers. Jordan hugged me despite my dried sweat-soaked sheets, brought me vegetable soup, and bought DVDs off the streets to watch on his laptop.

He also held me while I cried. This newly-minted manly-man listened while I wept over my Jonathan’s death a year earlier, lamented over my latest love, and let the uncertainty about my career pour from my eyes and my heart. He listened; he understood. This is unconditional love.

It’s hard to lose someone you love so deeply, like Jonathan, and my healing is an ongoing process. Traveling often grants time for reflection, so many of my thoughts turned to him. On a bus, an airplane, a long walk I don’t have time for at home, thoughts can wander in that need ample time to think over. Trying new things in a new land allows for new thoughts to come in too. So while I played on beaches and went canyoning down waterfalls, took a ride thousands of feet above the jungle in a car attached to a steel cable and hung out with the locals at the discotecas, I won’t remember Ecuador for those things.

I will remember Ecuador for diarrhea, motion-sickness, and a stolen camera. Because it was in those smelly and sad times that I could really see the unconditional love shining from my little brother, Jordan. If my best friend Jonathan
taught me about unconditional love itself; Jordan taught me to see the unconditional love I already have in my life.

Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Rinaldo W (remember, my camera was stolen ...)

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