The bus swerved dangerously close to the edge of the cliff face, back fender hanging precariously as the driver cranked the wheel all the way around to accommodate the hairpin, break-neck speed of Ecuadorian drivers. Of course, being an Ecuadorian driver, he executed it perfectly, but to me, watching the road disappear under my window was enough to make me forget the dog-eared classic balanced on my knee. Actually, it wouldn’t have taken much to draw me away from Moby Dick; learning the correct method for processing whale oil was about as exciting as it had been seven hours ago. Really, you had to hand it to Ishmael: No matter how new he was to the field of whaling, he was sure passionate about his job. Unfortunately, he also assumed his readers shared this passion. I took one last, longing glance at the ice-cream palace swirls of mist capping the Cloud Forest ahead before carefully locating a new sentence to focus on.
Honorable Mention 2009 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
I was returning from a medical mission in Cuenca, Ecuador, where my father and about 20 other medical personnel provided medical services to the locals through the Fundacion Hogar del Ecuador. Belatedly, I was trying to cram in all the homework that I was supposed to have done during the week, which consisted mostly of reading Moby Dick and completing several journal prompts, a task that I was realizing involved way more than I had bargained for. Unfortunately, I had also spent the last eleven hours procrastinating thanks to Ecuador’s rainy season, which, roughly translated, means mudslides. Lots of mudslides. Now, after nearly 11 hours on the bus covering one hour’s worth of territory, I was beginning to get a little testy, not to mention sick of listening to Ishmael complain about the lack of masterpieces perfectly depicting the essence of the great white whale.
The bus gave a panicked jerk, and I found myself peeling my cheek off of a grimy window. I stared forlornly down at Moby Dick only to discover that I still had no idea what the page in front of me actually said. I looked out the window to see what gorgeous landmark…
The mountain was falling away right in front of my eyes, huge torrents of mud flooding across the road, dragging away anything and everything unfortunate enough to cross its path. An open semi truck chock-full of bananas was caught in the rush, tires spinning desperately as its rear end was swept toward the inestimable drop on the other side of the road. Our bus lurched again, and at first I thought the mud sweeping over the windshield had caught us, but then we lurched forward, so close to the mountain that the view was entirely obstructed by falling brush and watery orange clay. I realized the bus was attempting a Y-turn on a road enclosed by cliffs in the middle of a mudslide. I closed my eyes.
It started to rain shortly after. Swollen drops landed heavily in the mud, appearing relieved to have found somewhere to rest their bulk, and in the background thunder rumbled hungrily. The lights on the bus flickered, seemingly in time with the angry red battery flashing in the upper corner of my iPod. Then, in unison, every source of light on the mountain was doused. Under normal circumstances, I might have found it slightly disturbing to be stopped in a small town on top of a mountain in Ecuador with a power outage, but as it was, I was just relieved I wouldn’t have to keep reading Moby Dick.
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