Canary in the Coal Mine

25 Nov

This following story was written by my friend Lewis ‘Lucho’ Wheelwright. I met Lucho in Cuenca, where he has been working for the last year as a study abroad program coordinator. He writes about some of the very sentiments that I have written on in the past, and presents a really nice and reflective voice on his perceptions of his place in Cuenca. So I offered to publish his story on Travel Guy, so that more people would be able to read it. Take a look, and leave some comments so he can get some feedback on his writing, which I think shows a lot of potential, considering he just started.

I think that every traveller at heart feels restless. It’s the kind of feeling which originates from passion, and is driven by unrelenting desire. It grabs you, lets you know it’s there, and shakes you by the shoulders as if to tell you to return yourself to the unknown. It is a time when majestic photos of sprawling white mountain ranges, every word of Kerouac or Thoreau speaking of the great vastness and the “ success unexpected in common hours,” and every leathery  sun-worn local face leaves us with a deep and inexplicable aching of the soul. The feeling from the gut, much as if jumping unknowingly from a plane, giving one the mentally confused, sensory overloaded, stomach dropping feeling which slaps you into a stupor. The legs bounce and a primordial voice whispering “move.” The heart beats, and then it passes until subconsciously stimulated again.


I am not a stagnant individual, nor am I one who is willing to settle. I would not fall, even though I might wish, under the category of “mochilero” or backpacking vagabond. Although I dream of the worn travellers shoes, with toes ignobly poking out, a road-weathered face only broken by the circular 1950s goggle shape from too much foreign road dust. No, no such nomadic meanderings have I completed, yet I would describe myself as itinerant; rather, ‘pata caliente’ or literally, hot-footed and restlessly adventurous, but stable for periods at a time.  

It is when the internal sands stop moving that this inner goliath grabs you and screams for something new. It burns to be let out of its comfort zone and begs to be placed on the wire. If to be just running for a bus, wide-eyed and nervous. The only real answer is to feed its insatiable hunger for something. Perhaps just a lick of burned earth wafting through a window, a lazy, loosely connected ceiling fan blowing in rank humid city air, or the jittery feeling of unfamiliar streets is that prescription which kills the voracious beast. Perhaps just a new type of frosty brew, maybe one like Ecuador’s Pilsener, which is Ecuatorianamente Refrescante, or “Ecuadorianally Refreshing” might cure all that ails.


Last week I completed my first full year here in Ecuador. A milestone in my book of international living. This day seemed to touch a nerve or re-awaken something sleeping. Now, the big elephant of a question that sits in the small room in my head, who normally is at peace, has decided to move into a fragile antique shop of my memories. It blithers non-stop about my past adventures, weighing in on the shoulds and should nots, asking “Where next?” and “How?” threatening to bring up every last great memory I had.  It comes on fast like a badly poured beer, rushing to the top while you unsuccessfully struggle to sip off the excess froth before running out of breath. Too much, too fast and you find yourself more confused than before.

If I have realized anything throughout my last year here, it’s that the simple things in life are what I miss. Although, I might go so far as to say that it’s the simple things in life that keep me here as well. True, a brilliant, colorful fall will never been seen in Ecuador,  but  the pace of life, the fingertips of the wild creeping at the city’s edges, and the forever lasting summer is one of the things that makes this second home so appealing. 


I frequently wonder why I left the amenities of my New England life behind. Perhaps I love being able to play with the Spanish language and to see a shocked face when I speak the local lingo, or it might be that I see people on the street, and they recognize me as if I at were home. Maybe I wait for my South American epiphany—Kerouac style—breaking through the clouds to provide momentous clarity on life. Or perhaps I am still waiting to take my Che Guevara motorcycle ride through the Andes, hoping for my moment of soul searching amongst the Incan ruins, travelling the dusty road, my thoughts vividly transposed into experiential writings.


Even as I wait for these possibly unattainable desires I realize that perhaps this is not the goal. There is ample time down here on the equator, plenty of warm faces, as well as rich communities and history in which I can peaceably pass my time. Yet I am feeling my feet itch and I am no longer passing my time peaceably. It’s as if to have a great urge to use the bathroom on a bumpy road, jammed between 5 non-English speaking passengers in a hot and overcrowded car. Uncomfortable at best. So the true question that lies at the heart of all of this is how to pass this feeling. The truth really is that I am living it in this moment, and my thoughts of returning to my homeland, moving to another country, or just a simple vacation are all running through my head. Which one will calm the urge, and tame the beast I do not know. I feel that this is a point which many arrive to, can perhaps delay for a while, but must eventually face. The challenge is with what, and more importantly, when will our “hot-feet” cool down, and allow us peace and tranquillity in being comfortable somewhere. Or better yet, do we want this?  

By Lewis Wheelwright 

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