Lt. Col. Serrano met us on the field. He had a surprise for us. He led us to his office and out of a drawer, he took a bunch of rolled-up newspapers. From the first one, he unwrapped a nutria skin. The rest of the newspapers were rolled to the size of cigars. Each one contained a beautiful dead bird—tiny as hummingbirds, brilliant as gems. So pathetically dead, their delicate wings closed around them, their feet curled up. Their colors exquisite.
Serrano, Montesinos, Terry, Chichico and I headed for a pueblo 30 kilometers from Pastaza . Villagers were told to spread the word to bring artifacts to the base the next day.
Heading back to the base, a torrential rain came down as only the jungle knows how to send it. The windshield wiper was a toy against the flood that poured across the window. With almost no visibility, the driver made our way back to the base. We dashed through the water to the dining quarters for dinner—which was rice, potatoes and a small piece of anteater meat. Again we slept on base illegally. It rained all night.
Early next morning, Serrano appeared with his arms filled with monkey bone belts, monkey teeth bracelets, head dresses of colorful feathers and other artifacts. The Indians in the village had come through for us. I bought everything—intending much of it for resale. Montesinos received an unexpected change of orders, which canceled our plans to fly back with him to Quito. So, Terry, Chichico and I had to endure a ten-hour bus ride. We sat near the front of the bus. In South America gringos and better-dressed people are generally given seats up front.
I spent the next few hours talking monkey talk to my new baby, my little 'hunk of monk.' After awhile Chichico was hungry and became ornery. We had no food to give him, but there were plenty of flies. I began swatting flies with my ubiquitous Time magazine—which I read cover to cover even when it was three months behind the current issue. On that jarring, bumpy bus, it wasn't an easy feat to hit a moving target as small as a fly. But when I gave one to Chichico, he chirped so happily, it was worth the effort.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a dead fly. I thanked the donor and fed it to Chichico. Soon people were bashing and slapping the seats, roof and sides of the bus and passing flies down to us on small pieces of paper. It became a game, participated in by everyone on the bus. It certainly shortened the trip.
We pulled into Ambato, where we had to catch another bus to take us to Quito. It was twilight and clear. A gentle breeze sent us whiffs of fresh earthy greenness as we rolled along on the bus. Terry and I began to softly hum our new song, Vasija de Barro.
An old Indian couple near us was surprised and delighted that two gringas would learn their songs. The wife sang the words and we followed her. With each verse (she knew all twenty verses), her enthusiasm rose as did her voice. Toward the end of the song, she was in full volume, singing solo to a silent packed bus load of passengers.