Author Trish J. MacGregor shares her impressions of Ecuador, where her new fantasy novel, Esperanza, is set. Learn how this country's contrasts captured the author's heart and get a glimpse of some of the moments that inspired her novel.
Ecuador is a country of stunning contrasts. From its Andean peaks and volcanoes to the seaside towns that smell of salt and fish to the mysterious jungles that are home to indigenous tribes, it’s a writer’s dream. Pick an area, any area, and you’ll find unique cultures, customs, and mythologies.
In the jungle, for instance, there’s a small tribe for which invisibility is an art. In the seaside city of Guayaquil, the illegal trade in wild animals flourishes. I once walked into the restroom of an inexpensive hotel there and at the sink next to mine, a woman had a black panther on a heavy leash and the wild cat was drinking water from the sink. In Quito, the altitude – over 9,000 feet – leaves you breathless. On the shadowed, cobbled streets of its old town, your eyes must adjust to the antiquity, the brilliant colors, the poverty. Your senses don’t know which cue to follow – the scents or the colors, the touch of the past, the music that energizes the air, the taste of the foods. The Quechua and Inca cultures are evident in the faces of its people, in their dark, soulful eyes. No matter where you look, it’s as if you have fallen into a lucid dream. In Ecuador, everything is fodder for a writer.
|Otalvo Hotel where Tess and Ian stay||
During one trip, my family and I stayed at a beautiful hotel in Otavalo, home of the most prosperous indigenous tribe in Ecuador. It was owned by expatriates, an American couple, aging hippies, characters out of some Graham Greene novel. When I asked him why he lived in Otavalo, he laughed. "Are you kidding? Back home, I’m just another suspect." I used their hotel, with its lush, beautiful grounds, in several scenes in Otavalo.
One time we stayed in a hacienda above the city of Baños, famous for its hot springs and the nearby Tungurahua volcano. The place is known for its hummingbirds – 27 species of the little bird live in Ecuador – and every evening they hovered around the feeders, a carnival of color, their wings beating at luminal speeds. Hummingbirds proved to be key for how my female character recovered her memories about what happened during her near-death experience, when she ended up in Esperanza.
On that same trip, a young man who worked at the hacienda drove us down the precipitous mountain (no guardrails!) and as the valley 8,000 feet below us opened up, verdant, lush, breathtaking, I asked him if he’d ever seen a UFO here. He gave me an odd look that made it clear no tourist had ever asked him such a question before. His sighting happened when he was working for an oil company that was exploring for drill sites in the jungle. The UFO swept into the valley at an impossible speed, hovered, took off again. Brief, brilliant. He felt it was an omen for what happened to him the day after the sighting.
While in the jungle, he was bitten by a poisonous snake. He came to three days later, surrounded by the indigenous people who had saved his life. He spent two years with them, a small, secretive tribe that had mastered invisibility. He was the first white man with whom they had ever interacted. He eventually wrote a book about his two years with the tribe, but when the publisher asked him to reveal the tribe’s location, he refused and withdrew the manuscript.
For me, his story underscored Ecuador as a place of such impenetrable mystery that I knew Esperanza, which had once been a location in the afterlife, had to be situated there. If a country can be the locus of your soul, then Ecuador is certainly mine.
- Trish J. MacGregor
Esperanza Old Town