I ate a bug - Otavalo, Ecuador
I ate a bug…..
No one forced me to. No one held a gun to my head and said, 'eat this bug or die a slow and painful death'. No that's not what happened at all. We were all nonchalantly strolling through this food market in Otavalo. My interest was particularly piqued by this toothless Indian man trying to halve a cow's head. He was whacking away at this large severed cow head with a rather large ax. Sort of a South American Paul Bunyan…..
Anyway just past this enticing meat stall was what appeared to be a mound of peanuts. Now I am man who fancies a good peanut every now and then. Hell, even Jimmy Carter was able to further his political career by growing a few goober peas. Anyways, a closer inspection of this mound of lightly basted peanuts revealed that these weren't peanuts at all! They were June bugs!!!!! Lightly roasted sans the legs and wings ( I mean how uncivilized eating the wings and legs). I couldn't believe it. I had to bend over and closely inspect this large mound of basted bugs. That's when the Indian woman selling the bugs and I made eye contact. We smiled at each other. Little did she know I was thinking behind my smiling facade, 'what the fuck is she selling bugs for? And what idiot buys these things'. I suspect she too through her smiling facade was thinking, 'look at this fuckin' smiling gringo. What a joker.' So the Indian woman politely offers me one of these tasty treats. Her eyes were simply begging me to try one. Sami and Scott both looked at me like go ahead and try it. I asked them if they thought eating a bug was lethal. As for their professional opinions, they assured me nowhere was it documented that lightly basted June bugs were toxic. Unless of course, just like saccharine you ate 3 tons of them then you might get cancer.
What can I say? Sometimes traveling makes you do stupid things. I mean I went down the mental path of, 'hey I'm travelin' to experience other cultures, to see how other folks live, to experience their customs, their foods.' Before I could talk myself out of it, I popped that little basted bastard right into my mouth. I gave it a good chew too. Then the enormity of what I had just done hit me. Hit me like a dry heave. I was eating a goddamn bug. For fun!!!?!?!?! I mean what the hell was I doing…. Then my brain switched gears. My brain started rationalizing its own stupidity. I mean WHY SHOULDN'T I EAT A BUG? We eat all sorts of crazy stuff in the States. This was no different than many of the processed foods we eat at home. What the hell are Twinkies made of? How about Milk Duds? Try explaining a Milk Dud to an Indian.
Well its done. There's not much I can do about it now. The bug has been chewed and swallowed. I have let myself slip almost off the end of the sanity spectrum. For the record the bug tasted like a bug. Not even salt and butter could have saved that morsel from tasting anything other than buggy! Perhaps it would have been easier to swallow with a good Twinkie and Milk Dud chaser…..
Now one might have thought that the voluntarily action of chewing up and swallowing a June bug would have been the highlight of my stupidity. But nope. Two days later I bested that action by a long shot. I mean on the stupidity scale I hit one right out of the park. Babe Ruth couldn't have driven a shot any farther….
My Travel Journal
Monday, December 17, 2001
There is a famous statue that rests high upon a hill overlooking all of Quito, Ecuador. It's kinda like their Statue of Liberty. She is known as the 'Virgen de El Panecillo'. She really is a magnificent statue. And the view from where she rests simply can't be beat. The problem was that the road leading up to the statue was filled with 'Ladrones' or thieves. Seems this is perfectly well documented in EVERY guidebook and by everyone who knows anything about this town. Rachel told me that, 'I would be attacked if I tried to walk up that road! No ifs ands or buts.'
What does Rachel know anyway! I can go anywhere and do anything. Why I have trekked my happy ass all thru Morocco, India, Turkey, Guatemala, and Honduras. I'll be damned if these little Ecuadorians are going to give me any trouble. (See how delusional I have become? It might be due to the ingestion of the June Bug. Perhaps a thorough enough investigation hasn't been conducted on the effects of June Bugs on one's psyche.)
So one morning I got up early and started walking alone to the Virgin. (Hey virgins have made men do stupid shit throughout the ages so this was really no different!) Sami and Scott refused to even consider the idea of walking to the Virgin. 'What the fuck are you crazy?', they asked. 'No way will we walk to that statue and you shouldn't either!!!'
Well Hell, I can do as I want. I'm un hombre libre. Libre para hacer como me gusta. (I am a free man. Free to do as I please.) The statue was about 7 miles from Rachel and Andy's house. I thought if things got too sketchy I would simply turn around. I was well aware of the dangers. I didn't bring anything of value with me. No money, passport or camera stuff, nothing but my shoes and hat.
I walked towards the statue, due south west of Andy and Rachel's house. I traipsed all through Quito. I walked through up town, down town, the old part of the city, the good neighborhoods and the bad. Everything was going fine. I didn't feel in the least bit in danger. I was enjoying watching all the people go about their business. Pondering just what the heck everyone was doing in this city so far from my home. Sometimes I enjoy taking long walks alone.
OK now the stupid part. Before anyone gets himself or herself too worked up. I am ok!!

After walking about 6 miles I arrived at the base of the hill that the Virgin rested upon. I was feeling pretty good and things didn't look too sketchy. It was 12:00 in the afternoon and there were plenty of people about. There is a road that winds its way up the hill leading to the base of the statue. There is also a footpath that goes straight up the hill. It's really more of a stairway. Anyway the stairway would bisect the road every 100 yards or so. I started up the stairs fairly confident that I could avert any trouble that I may happen upon. There was good visibility in every direction and I figured I would alter my course if I came across any characters I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. Up Up Up I climbed. I was about 2/3rds of the way up the hill. I could almost taste the summit when I passed an Indian woman going down the stairs. (Many of the Indians in Quito don't speak Spanish but rather some Indian language.) The woman was somewhat frantically trying to communicate with me that 'Ladrones' or thieves where everywhere.
I then thought that the next time the path crossed the road I would stay on the road. The footpath was getting a little off the beaten path. So before too long I got off the footpath and found myself traipsing up the street. I felt better about walking on the street, as there were more people about. That's when I happened upon the gang of men. I knew instantly that this was the moment of truth. This was the group of thugs that where famous for robbing and stabbing the tourists. There was no doubt in my mind trouble was soon to ensue.
As I approached them I tried to remain confident in my gait. I didn't want them to see any fear in my eyes. I knew that they were going to try and rob me and was trying to figure a way out. I thought if I turned around at that moment they would sense that I was afraid of them and would follow me down the trail. So to catch them a little off guard I walked straight towards them. Giving myself more time to size up who was going to act first. It also gave them a bit more time to let me get closer before acting. I tried to stay on the other side of the street but still walked confidently towards them. I think this may have bought me just enough time to pass them by. The men all got up and started walking towards me. I was walking rather quickly so it was hard for them to get too close with out being too obvious about what was about to happen. The men were all extremely drunk. I could see that there was a drunken glaze in their eyes. Trouble! I knew I was in big trouble and the shit was about to hit the fan….
Anyway, the men told me that the street didn't go to the statue. They told me to take the footpath. This is where I made my only mistake. I stopped for just a
moment to try and get a better understanding of what they were saying. This gave one of the men just enough time to get closer to me than I would have liked. No! I opted not to take the drunken men's advice about getting off the road and turned around to march back up the street. That's when the guy closest to me pulled out a large knife and lunged towards me!
Well I'll be god damned if that drunken bastard didn't pull out his knife and actually lunge at me. No polite words were spoken like, 'hand over all your money or I'll stab you.' That son of a bitch was hell bent on stabbing me first and then asking for my money. He seemed ready to kill me just for my shoes and hat…. This wasn't at all what I had in mind when I envisioned getting robbed.
Instinctively I went into Chuck Norris mode… well actually it was more like Carl Lewis mode. Nonetheless I acted quickly by backing my merry ass up. When I saw the glint of the knife blade and the look in this guys eyes, I was ready to run. And run I did! I doubt even Carl Lewis could have caught me. Luckily I was passed most of the men when the guy with the knife attacked me. After about 15 yards my hat fell off. For some reason that pissed me off. I turned and looked over my shoulder to see how far back the gang was. They had stopped chasing me. They too knew they couldn't out run me. (I even surprised myself at how quickly I was able to run. Talk about inspiration. I was REALLY inspired to run run run….)

I stopped and turned around to survey the scene. I didn't know if they were working in teams. For all I knew I might be running right into more of the Ladrones. I decided to head back for my hat. I walked back towards the gang trying to assess who was going to do what. Remember I was still in great danger and was trying to figure just where their assaults might come from (either in front of me or behind me). I picked up my hat and dusted it off. The guy with the knife and I glared at each other. I was waiting for him and his crew to continue or not. This was sort of a moment of truth so to speak. He made another attempt at running towards me. That was enough info for me. With my trusty hat in hand I hauled ass down the road.
I ran about 50 yards down the street. Fortunately, Many women had come out into the street to help me. They were all watching the assault from their houses. They knew the gang well and could tell I was in great danger. Luckily, one of the women ushered me into her house. She made sure I was ok and then called the police. There is a whole team of police at the top of the hill trying to prevent this type of situation from happening. Within minutes than ran down the hill and met me. We had a small chat about what had transpired. They then safely escorted me up the remaining 1/3 of the hill.
So after all that I finally made it safely to the Virgin.
Once at the top I tried to compose myself and process the events that had just transpired. I guess I rather sheepishly came to the conclusion that I was an idiot. I had knowingly put myself in a dangerous situation. The only thing more painful than getting stabbed was the thought of my sister and brother-in-law smirking at me in their 'I told you so' way. Oh well what can ya do? Life is a learning process… I'll make a mental note of not strolling unaccompanied through notoriously bad areas of third world countries.
Man what I wouldn't give for a Twinkie and Milk Dud fix just now!