I told Dave I hadn’t played rugby since school and I hadn’t been that good then. He assured me that just knowing the rules would give me an advantage over half of the rest of the team. So it was that at 5am on a Saturday morning I was waiting outside the Sheraton hotel for him to pick me up.
I was representing the Guayaquil rugby team in one of their occasional outings against their apparently better prepared and more experienced rivals from Quito. They had arranged to play in Cuenca as it was approximately equidistant. Some of the team were flying. Nine of us plus one girlfriend / supporter were squashed into two hatchbacks for the 3-4 hour journey by road.
The first ominous sign occurred before we had even left Guayaquil. We stopped at a petrol station and as I was still feeling a bit stiff and tired I walked around stretching my arms. I must have jarred a nerve in my neck because I felt a sudden pain and realised I couldn’t turn my head properly any more. I got back into the car, desperately hoping I’d be able to free the nerve on the journey.
The roads are pretty clear at that time of the morning so we made good time as we headed east and then south, passing El Triunfo as it was getting light and turning onto the road to Cuenca at Puerto Inca. It was an overcast day and we were expecting the way to be hazardous due to the terrible quality of the road and the thick cloud in the lower parts. What we weren’t expecting was that, before we even reached the cloud, a driver descending in the other direction indicated to us that the road ahead had been closed by a landslide.
I suppose we could have kept going and tried our luck but it had been raining hard that week in the mountains and in Ecuador a landslide can meet the whole road has disappeared and won’t be repaired for at least a week. So we didn’t really have any choice but to descend. After a brief conference it was decided to continue south to Pasaje and ascend to Cuenca from there. At the time I had only a sketchy idea of the distances involved but I now realise that it would have been about a hellishly long journey in our cramped conditions.
However after another hour on the road we were saved the ordeal when, on a long, flat, straight stretch of road our friends in front suddenly braked to pass over a speed bump. My driver barely reacted and ploughed straight into the back of his very good friend’s Volkswagen Golf. Fortunately no-one was hurt, although I still couldn’t move my neck. Unfortunately the Golf was completely smashed at the back and couldn’t be driven. It was the end of our mission.
There was a village to the left of the main road, though it was hardly close enough to warrant the series of speed bumps that had been constructed. While we were waiting for the tow truck to arrive from Guayaquil we wandered into the village to find a shop and buy a juice. This quickly became a beer and by the time the tow truck appeared about an hour later the whole situation didn’t seem so bad. Dave had phoned the players in Cuenca to break the bad news. The others were quite happy sat in the car marauded on the back of the truck. We set off in front of them and were soon back in Guayaquil.
It was a shame to waste the day and so we convened to a team mate’s house for a barbecue which unfortunately became an all day drinking session, in which I lost track of time and most self awareness for one of the last times in Guayaquil, due to the less than enthusiastic response of my pregnant wife when I stumbled in after walking home through the pouring rain in the early hours of the next day.
And I haven’t played rugby since.