In my early years of teaching I decided I needed an adventure, so I took off and traveled to Guayaquil, Ecuador. I spent two years as a second grade English teacher at a private Spanish school. My goal of seeking adventure sometimes led me into some rather precarious predicaments. Guayaquil was listed by the UN as the world’s third unhealthiest city. They failed to mention it probably ranked as one of the world’s most dangerous, as well. Within the first week of my arrival I heard of two people in our church who had been murdered; one involved the robbery of a tape recorder and the other the robbery of a watch. I knew to be cautious and to always be on the lookout for stalkers. I grew an extra set of eyes in the back of my head. I could smell a piranha a mile away. I learned which parts of town to steer clear of, night or day. Being a single woman and a foreigner didn’t help matters. I was always running into total strangers who would walk up to me and warn me, “You shouldn’t be here. It’s very dangerous!” I also quickly learned (the hard way) never to travel with my colleague and best friend who was a blonde knock-out. However, none of this phased me. I had been born in Peru of missionary parents, and I was just thrilled to be back in South America, where every day was an adventure.
When our first school holiday break approached, my Ecuadorian friend, Yolanda invited me to spend a week with her, visiting family in the mountain town of Riobamba. Her six-year-old daughter and sister were also to make the trip with us. The trip by train was amazing, maneuvering miles of switchbacks through the mountains – a real feat of engineering. Yolanda’s family were sweet and hospitable, insisting I had to sleep in Grandma’s bed (the only bed the family had.) No amount of resistance on my part was given any consideration; Grandma was adamant! It was a delightful week, until the trip back, which turned into a nightmare. The train arrived at the station at 1 a.m. at which time we had to cross the river on a ferry. The river landing in Guayaquil was considered the most dangerous part of town, day or night. We were beginning to feel a little uneasy.
We knew that taxis in Guayaquil quit their runs by nine in the evening, mainly due to safety concerns. We breathed a quick prayer, and sure enough, a taxi came breezing down the most dangerous back street in the city. It was a small taxi which could sit four people comfortably, including the driver. No sooner had Yolanda, daughter and sister climbed in than the driver took off, leaving me abandoned in a cloud of dust. Yolanda leaned out the window and yelled back “See you at church, Sunday.” If I don’t get myself killed first! How could they do this to me? I was in a state of shock. I looked back at the row of trees by the river and noticed several shadowy figures giving me the stare down. I knew I needed a divine intervention, and fast! God, please send me another taxi! Miraculously, I saw headlights coming around the corner. I waved down the driver, and opened the back door. “Please,senorita, get in front with me!” Keep calm. Keep calm. Don’t panic! I had heard way too many horror stories about single women and taxi drivers. Just get in the front and stay cool. It was going to be a long ride clear over to the other side of town “So what are you doing here in Guayaquil?” Thus began a pleasant conversation about my job as a teacher. Out of nowhere, God had blessed me with a friendly gentleman of a taxi driver who took me safely to my destination.
This experience had been bad enough, but the one to come was even worse. My apartment mate, Susan, had just arrived from the U.S. to be a teacher in our missionary school. She didn’t speak a word of Spanish, but was eager to see the sights and talked me into going with her to visit the Doulos. The Doulos was a ship that traveled the world selling Christian literature, and sharing in social services and evangelism. We thought it would be an interesting evening outing. We had been browsing around the literature display for awhile when a friendly young lady came up and introduced herself. She happened to be on staff and asked if we would like a tour of the ship, and to see the room where she bunked. Of course, we were delighted. We were having such a good time, it never dawned on us how late it was. It was past nine o’clock. How could I let this happen again? I kept chiding myself.
We walked out into the darkness of the port. At that point, a young couple from Ireland walked up and asked how they could get to town. They also spoke no Spanish. They had made the same mistake. “You can go with us if you don’t mind hitchhiking.” I managed to wave down a pickup truck. The driver told me he was only going to a certain area of town. I figured that was better than spending the night at the port. The four of us climbed into the back. True to his word, the driver got us to town, then yelled back to us that was as far as he was going. We thanked him and jumped off. Of course, it was a dark, abandoned street. My three cohorts looked at me for some guidance. I noticed a lone, solitary light down the street. “Let’s go down there and see if we can find someone to ask for directions.”
What followed was a scene right out of a horror movie. We found the one establishment with an outdoor light and walked in. The large room was dark, filled with smoke, and the shadowy walls were lined with caskets. In the center of the room was a group of men sitting at a round table, smoking cigars and playing poker. One small light bulb hung overhead. We bravely walked up and as politely as I could, I asked if they could possibly give us directions to downtown where we might be able to find a taxi. One man stood up, got in my face and sneered, “Get out of here before we kill you!” I had come face to face with a piranha! I backed up, said “Si, senor!” and did a 180. When we got outside, my friends asked what the man had said. “He said we couldn’t find a taxi around here!” I didn’t want anyone to panic. As it was, I was rather impressed with how calm the three were staying. Perhaps they were just masking their panic, as I was at that point. Please, God, send us a taxi! Right at that very moment a lone taxi came down our dark street. We all got safely home that night. It turned out that our taxi driver said he was a member of one of the local churches. Was he really? Or was he an angel on assignment?
Looking back, I often wonder. Were these two taxi drivers for real? Where did they come from? Right at the very moment we needed divine intervention, they miraculously appeared out of nowhere in the dead of night. I am left without answers for right now, but someday I intend to find out. If you ever happen to visit South America in search of an adventure, just remember to double-check your bus and taxi itineraries, and keep on the lookout for piranhas! And…oh yes, it helps to know how to pray!