Friday the 13th

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

(Note: I wrote this a couple of months ago, in Ecuador. And yes, it really was Friday the 13th.)

We live on the margins nowadays. I realize this, and that’s mostly fine by me. I wander through the world, watching from the outside, but never feeling as if I belong. There are disadvantages, of course—the community that I actually feel like I belong to is mostly in my phone—but for an introvert like me, it’s sort of okay. I get to see how the rest of the world ticks, but without getting too worn out by it.

Most days.

Sometimes, though, we find ourselves in a place that just makes me want to go somewhere normal. I want to bury my head in the sand and forget that the world is full of, among other unpleasantnesses, the kind of interesting characters who make you question reality. Puerto Lopez, it turns out, is definitely one of those places.

Our Airbnb host is a good example. He’s a Canadian man who retired (very) early, built himself a gigantic house on a hill overlooking the town, and spends his days puttering around the property. I guess I can understand that, maybe, but getting into town requires walking down that rutted dirt road, running the gauntlet of stray dogs between the cardboard-and-plywood shacks where the neighbors live. And even I need occasional forays into humanity.

Apparently there’s a wife, but she’s in Canada for something like 5 months, and I fear the stress of isolation is getting to him. Cracks are starting to show. At least, I think they’re cracks? Maybe this is just what passes for normal around here.

Yesterday was a good example. I was sitting on the back patio, writing, when he wandered back to check that everything is going all right. This is a sometimes occurrence, but it’s unpredictable. Sometimes we’re asked several days in a row, sometimes we’re ignored for several days in a row. Whatever. We’re low maintenance.

But yesterday, during the how’s it going chit-chat, he randomly asked what bank we use to get cash. It threw me off so much that I wasn’t even sure what he was asking. I stammered a bit, and he went on to say that his bank is closed for construction, and he needs cash.

Every red flag and alarm bell in my head went off at that point. Maybe it’s just Puerto Lopez, getting to me. I’m normally a very trusting person. I assume most people, the world over, are just living their lives, like I am, and no one is trying to rip me off or steal my stuff or hurt me (except taxi drivers—they are probably definitely trying to rip me off). But we’ve heard more stories here about one expat preying on another expat, or this local ripping off that tourist. [For reasons that I don’t understand, most of these stories have to do with the purchase/ownership of property, which brings me back to there’s no way in hell I would buy land here absolutely not no way, but apparently other people look around and see paradise? I don’t know—to each his own, I guess.]

Or maybe it’s the cumulative effect of two weeks of tiny, almost imperceptible inconsistencies. Admittedly, I have a memory for details, so if you tell me you’re going to pay for the cleaning woman once a week, on Fridays, I think to myself, okay, I have to pay for Monday-Thursday, then you’re going to pay on Friday. When that payment is not forthcoming on Friday, I notice. I don’t care, because it’s $6 (yes, the maid makes 3 dollars an hour) and that won’t exactly break us, but I remember. Because details matter. Precision matters. Okay, maybe I’m a little tightly wound.

There was also that one very inappropriate joke, wildly inappropriate, so off-color that when I texted Lane about it, they said WHY DID YOU REPEAT THAT TO ME? DON’T EVER SAY THAT AGAIN!

(After our landlord told me the joke, which I can’t quite bring myself to repeat, he high-fived me, which just made it so much more disturbing.)

Anyway, the general unsavory nature of the expat population is starting to make me wary, so I was hearing those alarm bells in my head, and mumbled something about Lee being back soon, and that was the end of that. I texted Lee, because misery loves company, or weird gut instincts are better shared, or something like that.

Fast forward an hour or two, and Lee has come back, and we’re getting ready to go into town for lunch. The cleaning woman comes at 1, so we try to get out before then. Yesterday, she was arriving as we were leaving, and the host accompanied her to our front porch, where he hung around for a few minutes, chatting. 

He kept throwing out comments about banks, and credit cards, and getting cash, and what kind of daily limit our debit card has. We kept changing the subject, but somehow he kept going back. He seemed to be throwing off energy, taking up more space than usual. It was quite odd, so we left for lunch, leaving the cleaning woman in the apartment.

When we got back a few hours later, the furniture had been rearranged. Like, everything except our bed had been moved. And not just a little bit, either. Not just shifted over by a few inches. Completely rearranged. There had been two chairs together, facing the television, and a couch off to the right. Now the couch is facing the television, one chair has been tucked into the far left corner, and the other is off to the right where the couch was. Everything has been moved (and this is a fairly large apartment, with quite a lot of furniture).

There’s no way the cleaning woman did it, at least not by herself. This is big, heavy stuff. There’s no way it’s an inadvertent shift, like you might do to mop under the chairs, or maybe when there’s an earthquake. I seriously considered that, for about 2 seconds.

It’s as if you’re staying at a Hilton, you’ve settled in for a few days, unpacked your suitcase, and while you’re out sightseeing, the front desk staff has come in and moved the bed to the opposite side of the room, facing the other direction. And not mentioned it.

Remember last time you rented a beach cottage, how disorienting it was when you went out for dinner and came back to find that the whole cottage had been completely reorganized while you were out? No? That didn’t happen to you? Of course it didn’t. IT’S NOT NORMAL. The word gas-lighting comes to mind, but it’s weirder than that, because it’s so unsubtle. It’s just … surreal.

Anyway. Lee says the expats who come here are edge cases, people who live on the margins. He’s right, of course, but I think there’s more to it than that. It’s something about this town. David Lynch totally ought to make a movie about this place. When we went whale-watching, a woman fell off the top deck of the boat, screaming the whole way down (she was fine, once they fished her out, just cold and wet, and minus one mobile phone). When we went for a walk on the beach, we had to walk around a huge dead turtle, rotting in the sun. Nothing quite fits within my mental framework of normal.

Also, that thing I said in the first paragraph, about how we live on the margins nowadays? I totally take that back. These people, though—they definitely live on the margins.

Take care,

Lisa

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