Culture

The Land of Bananas and Boom-Boxes

Priya Lal
Cabo's Beach in the Morning Mist
Photo by Priya Lal

This tiny sliver of Ecuador rocks: with the waves of the surrounding ocean; to the beats at the Saturday night discoteca; and under the teetering mass of the world — its weight unrelenting as the pull of gravity — and industry. This essay is presented in four parts.

Lurching Buses and Perfect Beaches: Situation Cabo

There are two ways to reach the village of Cabo San Francisco in Ecuador. The first route takes the traveler from the party-happy coastal town of Atacames on the northern Ecuadorian coast via a three- to four-hour ride in a vehicle called "the ranchera" (which has been known to leave passengers stranded in the forest when the roads flood). The ranchera, literally, is a big wooden box on wheels without sides and filled with a few metal benches, drawn by a pickup body. It is generally loaded with gossiping women, snoozing men, chickens in makeshift cages, and occasional adventurers, like me. The traveler will probably fight for a seat on the border of the box so as to maximize her access to the stunning views of towering masses of lush tropical growth, to feel close to the vividly green trees of incredible shapes and heights zipping by as the ranchera lurches and bumps its way south. After the endless, disorienting hours of the ride through the forest, a bridge will transport the vehicle across a small, yellow-watered, dreaming river, into the final stretch of the journey.

This past April I lived in the village as a volunteer for the small, local non-profit Fundacion Cabo San Francisco, an organization dedicated to regional environmental conservation, the improvement of medical and educational services for Cabo residents, and improving the villagers' economic health. My mission was to complete a detailed survey of local plants used for traditional medicinal purposes to be used in conservation advocacy.

About once a week I would run away from my duties to the Internet-connected, newly commercialized, tourist-infested Atacames, the biggest nearby town — just to soak up reminders of the existence I am accustomed to, an existence that takes technology and convenience, anonymity and options for granted. Once in Atacames it usually only took me a few hours to get my email, newspapers, converse in English, watch cable television, indulge in hot showers if I spent the night at a hotel, indulge in much-missed M&Ms, and get my overall post-modernity fix. To return to village life in Cabo I would embark on La Costenita, a large bus packed to unbelievable capacity with human bodies, and turn off my brain for the hour and a half that we zoomed south towards the small town of Muisne on a narrow paved highway. And, impossibly, I'd almost doze off amidst the cumbia and salsa music blaring from the bus speakers, the humid air whipping through the open windows, the insistent, impromptu sermons of traveling salespeople preached from the front of the bus, and the piercing sales pitches of the shirtless, scrawny boys who would jump on and off the bus at the vehicle's intermittent stopping points to hawk their sliced mangos, fresh orange juice, and cheese empanadas up and down the aisle.

At Muisne, I'd disembark onto the town's single muddy road and walk a few paces to a raggedy dock, mentally adjusting to the switch from semi-developed Atacames to a region of more obvious poverty. Here I had to hang out for an indefinite amount of time waiting for a little motorboat that would transport me to one end of Cabo's little peninsula. I'd pass the minutes in the blazing sun by staring lazily at the milling fishermen with their silvery, sometimes still wriggling loads of sea life for sale, and often buy a 10 cent zapote, a sweet, round, fruit with large seeds and juicy orange flesh, to slurp on. Eventually the boat would scoop me up and slowly rock north, depositing me after half an hour on an empty strip of land jutting out into the sea. Just 40 minutes away from the village now, I would walk along a wide beach of a beauty that even now makes me almost dizzy when I remember it. Occasionally a machete-toting fisherman or two would pass me and nod, or a young boy would gallop by riding bareback on a skinny horse, toting burlap sacks full of electric-green bananas, but otherwise the beach was empty. When I made it beyond a long coconut grove and a few large rocks, the uncrossable cape (cabo) that cuts the village off from the coast to the north would come into view, and I knew that in a few more minutes I'd be seeing the houses of the village.

The nature of this rather arduous process of travel to and from Cabo was perhaps the most central aspect of my existence during my stay there; it most shapes my memory of the village. Cabo's physical remoteness from the urban centers of Ecuador and the adjacent coastal towns impacts the lives of its villagers in hugely significant ways. And in many ways the journey to the village is symbolic of the conditions of village life itself. Stunningly beautiful and refreshingly unpretentious as it is, the trip (via either route) can also be maddening, hazardous, and often dysfunctional, much like Cabo itself. Though the village sits in the middle of an ecological paradise far away from most of the uglier aspects of overdeveloped concrete-and-chaos urbanity, it is a place of extreme poverty and its inhabitants live with the constant threat of environmental devastation.

Next Page

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image