Obviously, it wasn’t the first time but this time, I took a really good and critical look at my naked form. Normally, when I get outta’ the shower, I begin my well established routine without much scrutiny. When shaving, I never paid much attention to the territory south of my neck. Okay, I may have glanced but my eyes kept moving. Yesterday, I forced myself to look. It was a painful exercise!
I’m into my 65th year of life and my body shows the signs of an adventure well-lived. There is the normal amount of scars, marks, lumps and lines acquired by most folks over six plus decades. Some were childhood injuries; others the result of the toxic combination of testosterone and booze as a young military guy. There were a few marks provided by riding motorcycles for many years. The balance could be credited to some adventures in Alaska as well as a few surgeons. I spent a moment or two pondering a tattoo on my lower leg. There were several lessons there!
As I continued my evaluation in the mirror, I didn’t focus on those things. I was focused primarily on my overall condition. I wasn’t pleased! Although I had lost some 20 pounds when I first arrived in Ecuador, I’d pretty much held steady without losing more. In fact, I had gained a couple back. I needed to get back to work!
As a heart patient, my doc has always told me that the best thing I can do is to walk, briskly and regularly. I have no excuses so today was the first day of my recommitment. I got up early, dressed and headed out to walk the bridge to Bahia de Caraquez from San Vicente. The bridge is the longest in Ecuador at about 1.25 miles across the mouth of the Chone river. It would be a 2.5 mile round trip. It was to be no marathon but done at a brisk pace, and regularly…this should provide the benefits I sought.
This modern span opened in 2010 and replaced an antiquated ferry boat system. It has a nice bike path/foot path that runs alongside the roadway. I have driven back and forth across the bridge countless times as we regularly go to Bahia de Caraquez from San Vicente to meet friends, conduct business, or have a nice meal. Today’s walk was much different from driving.
I parked my car in front of the small terminal at the non-operational airport in San Vicente and walked across the street to the bridge’s pedestrian walkway. I began with a brisk pace, the skyline of Bahia de Caraquez gleaming against a gorgeous blue sky on the other side.
The approach to the bridge begins its incline over a working-class Ecuadorian neighborhood. As I walked, I witnessed the neighborhood coming to life beneath me with loud music already coming from a number of homes. Street vendors were selling freshly baked goods and a variety of fruit from small push carts moving about within the closely-packed collection of tiny huts and bamboo shacks. The smells of cooking fish and rice wafted up and several outdoor fires evidenced the morning’s food prep. As I looked down and to my right, fishermen were carrying nets and gear to their small boats beached along the shore while others had already launched and were slowly rowing their way to their favorite fishing grounds. Several dogs barked insistently, some tied with short pieces of rope and others roaming, searching for food.
Small children had already emerged, barely dressed and had connected with other small children, also barely dressed to begin their day of neighborhood play in the connected yards and narrow streets that was their world for now.
I continued to walk as the bridge began to rise above the river beneath me, the early morning Latin Rhythms, barking dogs and the smells of morning cooking were left behind as what was now beneath me was only water. The brackish, silt-laden water swirled some distance below as my breathing became a bit labored, the brisk pace and small incline attesting to my poor aerobic condition. I’m going to fix this!
I reached the peak of the incline and the open span lay ahead. A bit over a mile away was the other shore of the Chone River and the city of Bahia de Caraquez. I was loving this! Slight road traffic of taxis and motorcycles moved briskly past, separated by a guard rail. I became convinced that each of the motorcycle owners had purchased their add-on, hand-made mufflers from the same guy as they all sounded exactly the same and a bit too loud. A couple of taxi drivers I know offered a short toot of a greeting as they passed with a carload of passengers.
I continued my pace, meeting a few other walkers and joggers as well as a small number of bicyclists. We exchanged polite greetings as we passed. As I approached the other side, I noted a lone, old boat tied to the shore on one end and anchored to the bottom on the other end. Stretched between its two tethers, it bobbed lightly on the surface.
It was a small handmade boat typical of this region. It was narrow and perhaps 12-14 feet in length. Meticulously assembled by a skilled craftsman from wood and painted blue many years ago, what now bobbed on the surface could have easily been the subject of an artist’s afternoon; the faded paint and old wood decrying to the world of its journeys and adventures.
I stood above it for perhaps 10 minutes, absorbing the image of that boat and my surroundings. Huge Frigatebirds circled overhead, their ability to fly and soar and dive and swoop with such grace is astonishing. I looked behind me to the opposite side where San Vicente nestled between the shore and the rising terrain. I tried to take it all in. The boats laying at anchor, the skyline, the hills rising behind San Vicente, the Frigatebirds soaring overhead and the exhileration I was feeling at just being alive in this moment. With the sun warming my face, I truly tried to appreciate all of it. I wasn’t capable.
Through some very deliberate and intentional choices, we were now living on Ecuador’s coast; living a new adventure every day. It had taken some work to get here and even more work to adjust, learning a new language and an entirely new culture. I suddenly had great appreciation for the many immigrants who have arrived in the United States, often meeting less than welcoming circumstances from its citizens and doing their very best to meld.
I took a final look around and with a deep breath of appreciation, reversed my direction and returned the way I came. On my return, I noted small things I hadn’t noted on my first pass. First, the pedestrian walkway carried hundreds of impressions of large bird footprints in the concrete walkway. Obviously, as the concrete was setting, many birds wanted to leave their permanent impressions and strolled around a bit.
Then, there was the blood. A lot of blood. A trail that was obviously the result of a fairly serious injury. It was much more than a bloody nose would have produced and started perhaps half way across the walkway and continued back to the boat launching area on the San Vicente side. Hope he or she is okay!
I was a bit sad that my walk had come to an end. I drove home and arrived just as Diane was fixing her first cup of coffee.
“How was your walk”, she asked.
“It was great…really great!” I meant it!
My bridge walks will become a regular part of every week, as often as I can make it happen. I’ve become a bit more aware of my overall physical condition and I want to make improvements.
In about 6 weeks, I’m guessing my naked mirror assessment will feel and look a bit better.