On one of the occasions I came to visit Maria Fernanda, in 2005, her brother was working for Porta erecting bases for telephone masts in the southern highlands. He phoned us at 11am one morning as we were in an internet café and announced he was leaving in an hour to visit the sites and would we like to accompany him.
Less than an hour later we were in the car, only to spend another hour sat outside various offices and houses as Xavier conducted business. Finally we got on the road south to Machala. He drove fast and employed the same high risk overtaking strategy so loved by the buses; he who dares… Somewhere in Azuay we stopped next to a bridge over a little river and had a delicious meal of shrimp and rice at a simple little restaurant. Then we were on our way again, passing banana plantations, bypassing Machala and finally turning left near Arenillas to climb uphill on a very quiet stretch of road littered with potholes. We climbed past green cultivated terraces and then descended through a drier desert-like landscape to the bridge over the Rio Puyango.
On the bridge a couple of soldiers were checking people’s details. This point is very close to the Peruvian frontier and so the military maintain a permanent checkpoint. Xavier and Maria Fernanda handed over their ID’s and then I realised I’d forgotten my passport. For me it was no big deal but no-one else could believe it. For a minute I thought he wasn’t going to let us past but I just played the stupid gringo and I think Xavier said something along those lines about me and the soldier reluctantly lifted his barrier and let us through.
We started climbing again and continued all the way to Alamor which we reached in the dusk. The construction of the base was complete but there were problems with the connection to the electricity grid – probably the local company holding out for a bit of extra money. Therefore one of Xavier’s workers had driven up with a tank of diesel which it was necessary to connect. We met him at the foot of the hill and left his wife teaching Maria Fernanda to drive by careering around a field in Xavier’s Optra while we drove up the steep dirt track in the four wheel drive pick-up. We left the cylinder in the base and for some reason couldn’t connect it until the next day.
We returned into Alamor and found a hotel to spend the night and a cheap restaurant to eat. There wasn’t anything else going on but it felt like a safe and pleasant place. The next day after breakfast we returned up the hill, which seemed even hairier in the daylight. I really can’t remember why but we put the cylinder back in the pick-up and drove it down the hill. Then at the bottom of the hill we had to transfer it to another truck. While we were lifting the cylinder off the pick-up I trapped three of my fingers under the rim. I didn’t exactly feel pain, more the sort of sensation you get when you turn on the tap. I must have shouted something because they lifted up the cylinder. I thought I might have lost a finger but they were all still there though it was hard to see through the gushing blood. For some reason I ran a few metres, then I pulled off my T-shirt and stuffed my hand into it. Someone wrapped it a little better which controlled but didn’t stop the bleeding and we set off to find a hospital, asking directions was we descended and cut across to the other side of town where we finally found it.
Fortunately the emergency department was deserted (patient-wise) and so a doctor saw me immediately. She helped to wrap the fingers to stop the bleeding and sent Xavier off with a list of medicines to buy. Maria Fernanda was in a worse state of panic than me and I remember trying to smile and say it was ok, which at least helped distract from feeling so embarrassed, stupid and worried. By the time she finally calmed down the bleeding had just about stopped, then I relaxed a little and started to feel like I was going to pass out. I remember lying down on a bed mumbling nonsense until the doctor came and cleaned the fingers and stitched them up. She assured me than the tendons were not damaged and they would recover. She told me to keep my hand up to my chest for the rest of the day. I felt incredibly grateful to her, more than I was probably able to express at the time. I mean I expressed it, but then she said you can go and that was it, we were off. The bloody T-shirt was in the boot, I was full of painkillers and anti-biotics and we drove to inspect another construction at Catacocha and then descended to Balsas and made the long journey back to Guayaquil in the dark.
My fingers looked horrible even after the stitches were taken out but they recovered pretty well, although I’ve still got scar tissue on my left index finger and I can never stop analysing how it feels different to the others. But if you’re going to have an accident I’d recommend having it in Alamor.