Kayaking left me with an ear infection that felt as if someone had stuck a hot pencil in my ear and from time to time was whacking it with a ping-pong bat. In Cuenca, I gave in and went to the hospital. It was a two-for-one bargain, since I was treated by a kind middle-aged obstetrician and her seventy-five-year-old chest surgeon father. Most of the examination consisted of Papa interviewing me on why there was a war in Ireland and establishing whether we were part of England or not. Explaining the connection between these questions in Spanish while getting prodded in the ear took concentration. Then they prescribed enough antibiotics to run a dairy farm, and solemnly warned me to take plenty of sugar in my tea to combat my low blood pressure.

My hot ear reduced my interest in camping in huge, flood-prone caves inhabited by vampire bats. But I couldn’t reach my Guaranda friend, Carlos Alberto, by telephone in order to cancel the trip we’d planned, and so I took a ten-hour bus ride back to Ba’os to tell him in person. At nine in the morning I was sitting in the posh and gloomy Hotel Sangay, but there was no Carlos Alberto. Unlike me, he was too sensible to spend a day on a bus without a phone confirmation. I was relieved but cranky to be back in Ba’os’in the middle of the country’instead of continuing sedately south to Peru, like a sensible tourist. Some day I will learn to move through a country from top to bottom, instead of zig-zagging around like a pinball.

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