We were the only Americans on the bus as it wound along the road under the waterfalls. The windows were open and when the water hit the roof it made a loud drumming and some of it splashed inside. I was sitting by the window and my jeans were getting wet. Kelly was next to me but we hadn't spoken since leaving the jungle village and heading back toward Banos.
"Are you okay?" I asked, knowing that she wasn't.
At first she didn't say anything and just kept looking out the opposite window at the mist-covered green hills that rose on either side of the narrow river.
"The local people see these mountains every day," she said finally. "I wonder if they still find them beautiful."
I sighed. "I told you I'm sorry about what I said before."
"Yeah, sure you are."
We hadn't seen any other vehicles since leaving the jungle so I was surprised when the bus suddenly slowed down and then stopped on the two-lane road. All I could see ahead of us was the back of another bus.
"What's going on?" she said. "A traffic jam, out here?"
The other passengers started talking in quiet voices. In the seat in front of us there was a short woman in an Andean fedora, red and made of rough wool. She wore a brown poncho and was traveling with two small kids who had been sleeping before the bus stopped. One of them, a little girl, woke and peered at me through cloudy brown eyes. Kelly looked at her with a sad smile.
Ten minutes later the bus still hadn't moved. We heard voices outside. The driver opened the door and got out to look. I followed him.
Stepping around the front of the bus I saw a line of ten others in front of ours, all at a standstill on the road. People, mostly men, were walking up and down and talking to one another. At first the curve in the road blocked my view but then ahead of the first bus I saw the pile of rocks. Hundreds of gray boulders the sizes of large pumpkins were heaped across the width of the road, ten feet high. From the hillside on the right rocks continued to fall; there was a grinding sound and I looked up to see a man operating an earthmover at the top, sending rocks tumbling down the slope. They hit the pile with loud cracking sounds, crashing and scattering before coming to rest on the top and sides of the growing mound. To the left of the road the hillside dropped another hundred feet to the river and some of the falling rocks were ricocheting off the pile and flying down toward the water.
I turned and saw Kelly coming toward me with an anxious face. "What the hell is going on?"
"I think they're planning to rob everyone in the buses."
Fear shocked her blue eyes. Another rock hit the pile with a loud smack and we jumped back.
"I don't see anyone else here but the passengers and drivers," she said.
"Other men will come soon."
"Oh, Christ, Dave, what are we going to do?"
The sun was dipping lower in the sky, nearly touching the ridge of the mountains.
"We shouldn't wait around to be robbed. God knows what else might happen. We could be stuck here all night."
"Well, what choice do we have?" she said angrily. Whenever she was frightened she expressed it as anger.
"Let's go back to the bus, get our backpacks, and climb over the rocks to the other side."
Her eyes swelled with alarm. "Climb over the rocks? They're not stable, Dave! They could start rolling again while we're on top of them. And we're still another hour from Banos, anyway."
"Like you said, what choice do we have?"
I turned and started back toward the bus. I heard her footfalls on the gravel and she came along beside me.
A few minutes later we were back at the base of the rocks. The man in the earth mover was still scooping up boulders and dropping them down the hill, raising dust as they pounded the dirt slope. I looked up at him and whistled, waving my hand. He saw me and stopped. I pointed at the mound and pantomimed a climbing motion. He nodded his head and held up his hand.
"C'mon. Let's do this."
I stepped onto the first rock and fell forward onto my hands, feeling the sharp edges on my palms as I started to climb on all fours. One of the rocks shifted beneath me. My heart was pounding. Without realizing it I began moving up the pile to the right, instead of going straight across. I looked back at Kelly and saw her coming behind me. We were the only ones attempting the climb; the Ecuadorans stared at us in amazement. I tried to block the thoughts but they rushed through my mind anyway--the rocks moving under my weight, pushing me into a hole and crushing me; a rolling boulder bashing Kelly in the head, knocking her down the cliff and into the ravine. For a moment I couldn't move. I wished I hadn't made that remark about her weight earlier. But this sure didn't feel like a honeymoon.
"Why aren't you moving?" she shouted.
Finally I started to crawl over the rocks again. At the top I crouched and then moved sideways down the other side, slipping a little and scraping my leg. But I made it.
From behind me I heard rocks sliding and then Kelly screaming. I looked back and couldn't see her, just the top of the pile.
The road ahead of me was wide open. I walked for a while and then hitchhiked back to the town.
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