Buena’ dia’, whistled the man through his gapped teeth and ratty moustache. He had a bottle of aguardiente ensconced in his dirty jacket tied on with bailer twine, and took advantage of the first available space to nestle his head into the bristly seat cover. I studied his face. A face you could climb up; its crags and boulders mimicking the Andes; rising in the surrounding pueblos. His left eye was a pastiche of the lake at Cotopaxi – minus the perpetual rainbow thrown into the sky.
Darkness seeped in from the edges turning the sky black and the cityscape into a grid of LEDs framing faster moving lights with the erratic motion of phosphorescence. The surrounding hills disappeared; surrendering the landscape to the imagination and changing the narrative of the city. Quito was a place of secrets. A means to an end. Eagerly, I awaited my chance to escape it.
I arrived on Isla San Cristòbal having flown through clouds piled on top of each other like mashed potato sculptures. If you’ve never sculpted mashed potato; give it a try. If you mash sweet potato or other root vegetables you can make a variety of colours with which to sculpt. The peaks of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo – Ecuador’s two tallest volcanoes – interrupted the windless skyline. All the way from Quito to Guayaquil the clouds made shadow pictures across the hills, which rippled like oceanic clefts and hid Andean stories in the belching belly of the earth. The pacific rolled beneath; a slave of inertia; unfazed by the moon. It buried these volcanic archipelagos under a trampoline of white clouds through which I caught glimpses of randomly placed lumps of rock and thousands of outlines of sea creatures.
This was no tropical island. The cutthroat heat seared the coastline image to my retina; its surface as rugged and windswept as the shore I’d left in Falmouth. Its plant life as ragged and withered as an acrimonious break-up. In the highlands where the sugar cane provides sweet relief from the dusty sun by day; the dawn rolls in across the sky; a divine set change as morning breaks and night’s onomatopoeic chorus fades to hoof and horn. I hear his voice on the Southern wind and his face is carved in the lava tunnels which expose time’s secrets and assure me the world will be okay.
I’d read Dillard and listened to Corgan. I’d seen Attenborough and studied Darwin. To me this was the origin of the species. Where it all began. Where things were going to come full circle. To make that circle complete I’d armed myself with a quest: to bring a twenty-first century electro opera to where its first seeds were cracked by those finches with parrot-like beaks. Children walk around mimicking this action, by pressing the tips of the thumb and forefinger together so the fingernails make a seed picker. The finches changed the way people viewed the world and I needed something to change the way I did.