Have you ever seen a ghost?
No. But I’ve felt pretty darn sure that I’ve heard one. In 2006, when Joshua, Caitlin, and I went to Peru and Ecuador, we stayed on a farm in the Andes. The place was quite remote, and although it has the trappings of an idyllic hermitage, it turned out to give us the heebie-jeebies (as well as a few medical conditions). I could retell the account, but I decided to dig up our e-mails on the adventure and post them for your reading pleasure.
As for ghosts, it’s a topic that intrigues me. It seems as though most people have a ghost story, and the ones I like best come from the most unexpected sources. I would say that I am inclined towards skepticism, but then there’s that feeling… You know when the hair on your arms stands up and your muscles still? When you feel your breath go low and you try to quiet the beat of your heart because you’ve just heard/felt/sensed something? I’m a skeptic, but I also like quoting my high school Humanities teacher, “suspend your disbelief.”
What’s your ghost story?
Subject: There once was a little amoeba…
Date: Saturday, September 30, 2006, 3:44 PM
From: Caitlin R Deede
Hello everyone- Internet cafe, Loja, Ecuador
1.We arrived at the Never Never Land farm just ‘outside’ of Vilcabamba on September 22. Definition of ‘outside’-one forty minute bus ride with at least sixty school children, one old man, and one perro caliente (dachshund). Temperature-roughly 95 degrees. Then, we embarked upon an hour-long trek off the beaten path in the countryside of Ecuador to find the farm. Shockingly, it is quite warm in southern Ecuador in the afternoon. Quite, incredibly warm.
2.Welcoming words from incredibly friendly, if not red-eyed, occupants of NNL farm: ”Take off your bags (sixty pound backpacks). Have a seat. We´re just trying to stay as high and drunk as we can until dinner.´´ Oh. Well. Ok.
4.Life on the farm: (A) The animals are wonderful (horse, donkey, cows, two cats, two dogs, four puppies, goat (cabra), lots and lots of sand flies (with a bite far worse than that of your ordinary mosquito). (B) Sleeping situation: I shared a small room with two other girls (Nicola, from New Zealand, and Ruth, from Wales). My bed, made of bamboo sticks precariously lashed together with twine, promptly fell apart, dropping me onto my face in the middle of our first night on the farm. Bam! It didn´t feel very nice. So, the next day: Ellie and I completely dismantled my make-shift ‘bed frame’, comprised of short logs nailed shoddily together, lowering it to a short stand to keep my mattress four inches off the rat-infested ground, and then chucked the left-over pieces of wood into the wilderness to destroy the evidence of our destruction. (C) Otros personas (que paises): Wales, New Zealand, Virginia, Montana, Minnesota, Canada, Ecuador, California. (D) General break down of day-to-day activities: wake up (whenever it pleases you), make breakfast, eat breakfast (note: most meals, although created from a diverse array of fruits, vegetables, lentils, rice, and honey, pretty much all taste the same), do dishes, change clothes, figure out what you´re supposed to work on for roughly two hours (sometimes, that means, read a book or pet Clementine, the affectionate orange cat), make lunch, eat lunch, do dishes, relax, bathe (a general term. ‘Bathe’ generally meant stand in the creek up to your knees and splash water onto your dirty self. Or, you could attempt to use the hot shower, entirely open to the public and give it your best shot to not flash anyone.), perhaps do some more reading or chatting, make dinner, eat dinner, do the dishes, sit around table and participate in some illegal activity or another, in other words, partake of the farm-wide glee in substance abuse. (Note-Neither Josh, Ellie, or myself ever partook of any illegal substances). Ahhhh…the life of liberty… (E) What I accomplished whilst on the farm: ‘Helped’, for one day, to recover an irrigation ditch filled with earth during a landslide. During this activity, I threw a rock over the ledge we were working on and fractured the main water pipe that provides the delightful people of Tumianuma (a nearby little city) with water. Alrighty then. No more water for those folks. The farm staff leading our project, Andreas, was not pleased. Lo siento. I also rode the horse (her name was Llegua), cooked a fair bit, managed to recieve upwards of seventy fly bites (concentrated on feet, ankles, and elbows), and saw my first ever scorpion in real life. Quick little devils.
There once was a little amoeba that lived on an organic farm in the wilds of Ecuador. Surrounded by beautiful papaya trees, tall wild grasses, velvety green avacados, and dark amber hills, the little amoeba floated happily down a small creek in the countryside. This creek was often used for drinking by local livestock and contaminated with decomposing food, dirty still-water, and animal feces.
SO. This little amoeba found it´s way into Joshua´s intestinal tract. OH NO! Combine the thriving, coniving amoeba multiplying in his intestines, Josh also worked for seven hours in the hot Ecuadorian sun and, subsequently, suffered from three days of serious heat exhuastion. Bed-ridden and feverish.
We decided, quietly, and in the deep of night, to cut and run. Get out. Find a place to take a shower. To eat real food that didn´t make us ill. Get Josh to a doctor. Wash our clothes.
We were at the Never Never Land farm for a total of six days. Six. Whole. Days…We are braver than you think.
a. Josh was diagnosed with amoebic dysentery. Took him to the hospital (the expression of the doctor´s face directed at Josh: How the hell are you still walking, white boy?) and got prescription antibiotics and anti-amoeba drogas (drugs). He is feeling much better now, slowly repossessing his ability to eat, and not immediately eject, food. He does NOT like pedialyte, should you ask, but can be coaxed into consuming an entire bottle if bribed with a snickers bar.
b. Ellie, today actually, was diagnosed with giardia. Also has ring worm all over her body. Took her to the hospital (expression of the doctor´s face directed at Ellie: What in the hell are all those little red patches all over your body?) and got prescription antibiotics. She will be entirely fine within the next five days. Has four medicines. Lordy.
c. I am feeling quite ok, thank you for asking, and am eagerly awaiting the on-set of my very own intestinal condition. Yip-ee.
What´s happening now:
We are now in Loja, Ecuador. Again. We arrived here on Wednesday, September 27. We spent most of last week and today, after taking Josh and Ellie to the hospital, convincing, in a professional manner as possible, several of the local English schools to pay us to speak and teach English to their young students.
We are now quite comfortably situated with three teaching jobs. Ellie and I are going to work at San Gerardo School, settled in the green hills just above Loja, in the mornings, and study Spanish in the afternoons. Josh is going to work, in a more structured teaching environment, at the Washington English Institute in town. The director of San Gerardo, a tiny woman who speaks very rapid Spanish, has given us an apartment, for free, to share while we teach at their school. It is quite nice- entirely furnished with a complete kitchen, bathroom with hot water, and a televison. Windows overlook the city and the mountains. Ellie and I will also receive stipends for our time, enough to more than cover the expense of feeding three people for a month. Josh will be earning lots of dollars, and his money, I´m sure, will be put to good use. Such as: buying a dvd player, numerous pirated dvds (the only kind available), and paying for us to travel every now and then to surrounding cities and parks, so that we may see more of Ecuador (which is mountainous and green). I, for instance, would like to visit the jungle, where I may perhaps see a little monkey.
We begin work on Monday. We are moving into our apartment tomorrow. We don´t know how long we´ll be here. But, we are officially making a living in Loja, Ecuador. We have officially entered the season of winter (invierno) in Ecuador, which means: lots and lots of rain and storminess.
To sum up:
1. WWOOFing is sort of scary and not meant for everyone.
2. Amoebas are bad. And they hurt.
3. The only qualification to teach English in Ecuador is to be a native speaker.
4. Giardia is bad. And it hurts.
6. Always, always wash your hands and eat food you prepare yourself.
Sorry this email was so long. I hope everyone is doing quite well and enjoying the fall. Please take care.
Subject: Quiste de Ameba Histolytica
Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2006 16:04:54 -0500
Greetings friends and family,
Where to begin…oh where to begin. It has been quite a while since I last wrote and quite a bit has happened since then. So, brace yourselves and take a few minutes because this is going to be a long one, and one that brings you both tears of happiness and sorrow.
Quiste de Ambea Histolytica translate to… well to be honest I am not sure what it literally means, but the affect is something like sists of amoeba dysentery. Yes, to answer your questions and jaw dropping…I contracted dysentery. Even better yet I have contracted the sist kind, which supposedly is the worst kind…the kind that killed lots and lots of conquistadors. But never fear, after going to the sketchy/ scary military hospital where
doctor, who was dressed in a garb very similar to that of Mr. T, gave me several perscriptions to combat the amobeas that were slowly working to kill my inner organs. In short, I am doing quite well now, and my organs will be liberated from amobeas in couple of days.
Now, I am not the only one to have been struck by a deadly and infamous disease. Ellie has been having a little trouble of her own. Now her diseasesare nearly and neat as mine, but she does beat me in numbers. As I write
Ellie is currently plagued by ringworm (which is slowly covering her body), a yeast infection, and GIARDIA! For those of you not so familair with fancy outdoor diseases, giardia is this fun little parasite that takes up esidence in your gastro-intesinal tract and proceeds to give you violent projectal vomiting and diarrhea (and yes they are both projectile). However, we luckily, and perhaps borringly, caught Ellie=B4s Giardia before it progressed to the “violent” stages. She too visited the fun filled Ecuadorian Military hospital and now has several prescription medications to fight her ills.
Caitlin is healthy as a horse. (That Bastard)
Perhaps I should back my tale up a little… maybe start from the beginning (possibly answer your questions as to where we found our disease?) After our travels through Peru we arrived in Guayaquil, Ecudaor on September 19. Immediately we liked it here in Ecuador better than that of Peru. As my last e-mail informed you all, we began to grow weary in Peru from the constant pollution and gringo harassment. Yet, In Ecuador it is quite different. People are much much friendlier. After only being here for a few hours, we each had had several wonderful conversations with multiple Ecuadorians. People are just much nicer and curious. Rather than trying to sell us something, people will ask us where we are from, what we are doing here etc… Moreover, the pollution here, at least where we have been, is virtually non-existant. Also, there are really no peddlers and beggers, and for the most part when we purchase various things we are given a fair price instead of always setting screwed. I don’t really understand why it is so different here. It was my understanding that thinbgs might actually be worse here than Peru because the Ecuadorian Government and economy is suppose to have
more problem; yet, it has been pretty good so far.
After flying into Guayaquil, we immediatly hopped onto a bus to the city of Loja. Loja is the capital of the province of Loja (the province in which he had planned to do all our farming), and is a fairly large, clean, and nice city. After a day in Loja, we then headed further south to the much smaller city of Vilcabamba. Arriving in Vilcabamba we thought we would be able to contact our first farm and catch aride there. However, after meeting a sixty year old man named Hans who lives on the farm, we learned we had to take yet another hour bus ride to the town, well four house that comprise the town of Tumianuma. (Interesting note: Apparently Hans is an infamous Maoist/ Anarchist that did a lot of crazy things in Germany in the 60=B4s and consequently has been wandering around south america for the past 20 some years. He was a pretty nice guy though.) Then from Tumianuma we had to hike almost another hour into the farm.
Now from here I don=B4t really know what to say. The farm, which is named Never Never Land, was well… a very …interesting place…. a place that didn’t fit so well with… well with my life. The farm is essentially a
hippie commune. a refuge of sorts for those societal misfits who feel that wearing sashes, listening to bob marley, reading Jack Keruoac, burning insense, and smoking lots and lots of marijuana some how makes them enlightened, somehow brings them closer to the world… closer to understanding the purpose of life. Now don’t get me wrong Kerouac and Marley had some ideas, did some interesting things… Yet… somehow this stoner cultworship/ hippie ecuadorian commune just… well… it just doesn’t seem to me like a way that actually does anything for yours or anyone elses life… I mean common people Keroac, Marley, insence, sashes come up with
your own damn ideas…is all been done before. So, to say the least we didn’t really like this place, nor did we get along to well the band of miscreants who have gathered there. Take for example Lucas. Lucas after a 5
years of college has yet to recieve a degree. HE claims college is easy, “you know, if I just sobered up every once, classes would be really easy, I mean it is just more fun, college you know if party a little…” later he went on to describe how one year him and his friends were drunk everyday from halloween until thanksgiving, just to see if they could do it.
Immediately, we could tell that Never Never Land was not going to be place for us. But we thought we would tick it out a few days and see if it got better, or had some hidden goodness. Regardless after the first day of working, I dug an irrigation ditch through a loandslide for eight hours, I got wicked wicked heat exhaustion and dysentery. The two worked together to absolutely kill me. I was bed-ridden for a couple of days, and I could
hardly move let alone make the journey out. All in all after about six days I was well enough to head out, and by that time we were stir crazy to get away from the hippie commune.
However, at this point we encoutnered a little trouble. We had hopped to stay on that farm for a least a month, and then move on to another farm. Yet, now, as we knew about this hippe communes we were a little bit wiser in finding a farm that would fit for us. Well… it turns out that most WWOOF farms here are either hippie communes or require you to work 40-50 hours a week. Moreover, all places asked that we pay $10-20 a week for food. Needless to say, we were hosed. Up a creek without a paddle. I had dysentary, we had no home, and we still had another 2-3months left of our journey. We had no idea what we were going to do. (now is the point where you gushing with tears of sorrow.)
Well, as we had hit rock bottom…things took a turn for the better. Just like in the movies, Ellie and Caitlin were crying in a cafe (I was laid out with dysentery), and then Ellie looks up and on the wall there was a flier looking for native english teachers… Ellie thought to herself “hey, we speak english. We could teach english!” and like that God sent angels and rays of light from Heaven. It was truly angelic. And, since this is getting very long, to make a long story short… we are now going to be teaching English. The farming game is out the window.
Now, we are back in Loja, the city, and have found employment (yes we are going to be paid) for the three of us. Ellie and Caitlin will be working for the San Gerado elementary school, and I will be working for the
Washington English Institute. As it tunrs out there are all kinds of schools looking for native english speakers to help teach grammer and vocabulary, and most of all to help with conversation in perfecting pronouncation etc…
Moreover, the San Gerado school, whcih Ellie and Caitlin are working of, is partly paying them in the use of a beautiful and spacious apartment. So, not only will we be making enough money to cover food etc…, but we also have a permanent place to stay for the next two months (we plan to travel throughout the rest of Ecuador in December before we come home). Now is when you weep with tears of happiness.
So, afters some bumps and a few ups and downs, we are doing quite well. We are healthy, at least on our way to being healthy, we have good place to live, and we have really cool jobs for the next two months.
I suppose I will sign off here, this is getting quite long, as I warned you it would be. Any how… If you have any questions let me know. I have internet access here in the city so I’ll check my mail ever so often, and I’ll keep you posted on how the teaching goes.
I hope all is well with all you.
P.S. Ellie too picked up her diseases from the wonderful Never Never Land farm.
P.S.S. For those of you not on Ellie and Caitlin’s email lists, they have started a photo-blog at http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/llama-lovers/ youshould check it out.
Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2006 16:21:44 -0500
From: “Ellie M Kuhne”
The bus ride from Loja to Vilcabamba winds along the Podocarpus National Park, a reserve reknowned for its rainforests, Andes mountains, lagoons, and wildlife. After forty-five minutes and a few small villages, Vilcabamba appears low in the valley.
The three of us arrived in Vilcabamba on the 22nd. After a few phone calls, vague directions, and a quick internet search, we boarded another bus for the even smaller village of Tumianuma. (I would like to add that the number of people squashed onto the bus was nothing short of incredible, and that, yes, there were chickens.)
From Tumianuma, we followed an older German man, Hans, who said he knew the way to Never Never Land. The journey is breathtaking. The mountains are yellowed with brush and the river-fed valley is green with flowering cacti, fruit trees, and grasses.
Breathtaking and hot. From Tumianuma, we walked for nearly an hour along the mountainside. We saw Hans to his home, and from there we walked another 200 meters to a swinging log bridge above the river. On the other side, a beautiful Husky with one brown eye and blue eye greeted us and led us up to the farm.
Never Never Land consists of three (almost four) buildings. The first of which is the kitchen, a small, square building with no refrigerator and no running water. As you progress from the kitchen, there is a sink with a hose (where I spent hours doing dishes), and a series of stone stairs which lead to the patio and `the downstairs.´ Behind the downstairs house, a shower head dangles from palm trees, and sheets are strung up to allow for privacy (supposedly). A steep dirt path then leads you to the poop shed and `the upstairs,´ which is comprised of three sleeping areas and a small courtyard. The property is nestled in a deep valley and a river traverses its entirety.
Our first night at Never Never Land was a harbinger of treats to come. We were informed that, with the addition of the three of us, the farm would now be sleeping seventeen, a statement shortly followed by another, far more telling statement, `so yeah, we´re just trying to stay a little bit high and a little bit drunk until dinner.´ After a little pep-talk amongst the three of us (`well, I guess we´re just going to have to adjust´), we prepared ourselves for our first day of work on the farm.
The next morning, Josh, Caitlin, Andreas (the hired farm-hand), two other WWOOFers, and I set out to dig an irrigation ditch. With a machete, two shovels, a pick axe, and two heavy stone-breakers, we worked on the ditch until lunch in the wet heat. It was hard work, and all of us were sweaty and incredibly dusty when we were done. After lunch, Josh went back with Andreas, while Caitlin and I helped clean the living areas.
That night, Josh got really sick. During dinner, he was weak with exhaustion, and afterwards he excused himself for the night. That night, Josh´s skin was incredibly hot to the touch, and he had severe diarrhea and nausea. The next day, while some of us picked zapotes, lemons, and oranges, and Caitlin joined Tina on her midwifery rounds, Josh lay in bed with a fever and diarrhea.
I´ve never been so worried about him. His eyes were glassy, his cheeks were red, and he was desperately homesick. Meanwhile, the inhabitants on the farm continued to smoke pot multiple times a day, drink abusively, gossip bitterly, and lay around, allowing others to do all the work.
All of this would have been enough, but there was more. I am convinced that Never Never Land has bad energy, spirits, sour karma… Whatever it is you want to call it.
I have never suffered from insomnia (except for when I was very young) and neither have Josh or Caitlin, but none of us could sleep. When I did sleep, it was a half-waking dream state. I heard whispers and footsteps. When I was awake, I was rigid with fear, because I had the very real, very lucid sense of someone being in the room. Every one else who slept in `the upstairs´ also had terrible dreams and trouble sleeping. A month earlier, a group of four girls had left after three days, claiming that the place was haunted.
The farm has a sordid history. Tina´s son was murdered four years ago on the property and he is buried alongside the river. A few years ago, a man went to rob the farm after every one had left the premises. As he was about to break into the house, someone within began to bang against the walls, screaming and writhing. Terrified, he ran away. He swore that he could see Tina`s son running after him. To this day, the villages of Quinara and Tumianuma believe that the farm is haunted.
The property was given to Tina by one of the first gringos who moved to Vilcabamba. He was a fruitarian, fasted frequently, and prophesized. His follows believed that he was the reincarnation of John the Baptist, as did he. His prophetic writings are stored in `the upstairs,´ and apparently the area also served as their ceremonial center.
There is more. Tina has just gone into remission after a bout with cancer, her grandson died from Leukemia, two of her husbands cheated on her, her latest husband was in a bus crash where everyone died, and she herself is having an affair with a married Shaman (who´s wife happens to be a very good friend of hers).
Long story short (sort of): we needed to get out of there. Caitlin and I went into town to call a couple other WWOOFing farms, but most of them required upwards of 40 hours a week, and none of us had that in mind for our `semester off.´ We decided to stay for the rest of the week at the farm, and then go to Loja to regroup.
That was the plan, but Tuesday night I woke up sweating with fright. I swear to you I heard footsteps and someone open the door, but when I looked, I heard nothing. The next morning Josh and Caitlin asked me why I had been so afraid, and I told them about the footsteps. They were silent for a moment, and then they both admitted they had also heard footsteps. We had to leave.
The next day we packed our bags and left.
Unfortunately, our bad luck had yet to run its course. When we got to Loja, we brought a lab a sample of Josh´s feces for a stool test. Drum roll… Josh has amoebic dysentary. Thus, we herded him down to Loja´s military hospital for a very questionable consultation where he was given a prescription for antibiotics.
Then, two days later, I was sitting in an internet café minding my own business when I all of a sudden pooped in my chair. I had no control what-so-ever. So, I did what any sane person would do after they had pooped in a public establishment: I got up and I ran.
I´ll spare you the rest of the gory details, but suffice it to say that I got a stool test and I have… Giardia! And a yeast infection, and… I´m breaking out all over my body in these strange red dry spots (I´m not kidding you, I have upwards of thirty of these little guys). Josh and Caitling think I have the grand-daddy of ring worm, but the doctors at the military hospital are very intrigued by my case (I had six of them ooo-ing and aaaa-ing over my skin).
Ok. Now for the good news. After three days of a very nerve-wracking search, Josh, Caitlin, and I have been hired to teach English. Caitlin and I are now employed by a very ritzy private school just outside of Loja, and Josh is juggling a couple offers from two other English Institutes. Caitlin and my salary consists of a beautiful, clean, furnished apartment (with a kitchen and a bathroom) plus fifty dollars each a month, and Josh will be making somewhere around 250 a month. So. Life is sweet. We are actually getting paid to speak our native language.
Signing off for now,
Lots of love and happiness to all,