Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age
Ecuador’s first rugby club was formed in 1974, in Quito, by a collection of expats from the UK, Chile, the Argentine and France. Our first intercity match, in 1975 was against a team in Guayaquil, cobbled together by Colin Armstrong, the British Consul. Our only spectators were a few friends and a bevvy of bewildered exotic coastal beauties. The game was played on a shale surfaced, football pitch, which following a tackle, produced a lot of minor abrasions. The Latino wife of one of the players – watching rugby for the first time – became most agitated and attempted to physically remove her bloodied but otherwise uninjured husband off the pitch. After the game, we retired to the Phoenix Club to celebrate.
The truly memorable game was played a few months later, when the crew of the visiting Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, Sir Lancelot, challenged us – a joint Quito and Guayaquil team. Once again we partied in the Phoenix Club, this time with thanks to Colin’s secretary who managed to produce an incredible number of attractive Guayauilenas to party with two-hundred, white-uniformed sailors from Sir Lancelot. It was the talk of that city for years to come.
The majority of the Quito contingent flew to Guayaquil for that game, but as part owner of El Pub and as such, having more time on my hands, I decided to travel the 350 kilometres and 2,800 meters downhill to the Pacific coast by road. My idea, in theory, was good but as I did not own a car or relish the fatiguing six to seven-hour bus journey, I had to find a solution.
I knew a few friends with cars but it seemed that particular weekend there were no volunteers.
In truth, no one enjoyed driving to the coast because, at its best, the condition of the roads were either bad or atrocious, depending on the lack of maintenance or the weather.
It was then I remembered Alan Miller, a sometime kilt-wearing Scotsman who lived amongst us and had a car. I do not mean just any old car. I mean a 1936, white, Rolls Royce Continental roadster. It was originally built for cruising the deplorable pre-WW11 country highways of Europe – and it was the only one in Ecuador.
Alan was very proud of his RR and from time to time he would take the Continental out for a short spins. Once he entered her in an Ecuadorian antique car rally, which she won hands down. Sadly, Alan, a stickler for the correct thing, was somewhat put-off from entering future competitions when someone stole his silver-plated trophy.
The inter-city game was the perfect moment to tempt him to take the Rolls out for a good run and would be the perfect opportunity because he was on El Pub team. Fortunately, he was all for it and adding icing to the cake, Carola Borja, a good friend and ideal travelling companion pleaded to join us.
On the appointed day we set off with Alan at the wheel. Instead of taking the normal and faster road route via Santa Domingo de Los Colorados, we drove via Riobamba and followed the old railway line down to the coast. The drive was a dream, despite the roads being in the same condition as were the continental roads fifty years earlier.
I suppose one can expect it of a Rolls Royce owner but Alan could be quite affected at times. However, his affectations did have a beneficial side. He liked everything to be of the best. Everything had to combine. His mode of dress, his luggage and his picnic hamper had to blend in with the Rolls. At some point in the journey point, Alan instructed me to open and pour a bottle of champagne into his crystal glasses – to prove even at speed and over a rutted road surface, we could slurp without spilling a drop.
In a lonely spot, high in the paramo and before we started our descent to the coast, we stopped and laid out the plaid car-rug for lunch. I was stretching my legs after the excellent cucumber sandwiches and apple pie served on Spode china and accompanied with further champagne, I caught sight of a herd of elephants on the skyline.
My first thought – it was the champagne, but the distant animals were not pink. I beckoned Carola and Alan over and asked if I was correct in believing wild elephants were not native to the South-American continent. They confirmed this to be the case. I then pointed out to the six of the beasts grazing on the opposite side of the valley to us. They were as amazed as was I. Could we be mistaking them for hairless mammoths? Carola expressed her doubts, recalling the last living one must have been 10,000 years ago. Alan remembered from school history that Hannibal had them in the Alps – but those had been imported. However, despite our doubts, they definitely were elephants we were seeing, and they were alone. Not a soul, not even a solitary Andean Indian was to be seen in the vicinity.
Alan bravely proposed driving closer to take photos which Carola suggested we could send to David Attenborough for his professional opinion. It took some time to find a track that would bring us closer to them but the Rolls lived up to its reputation as it purred along over the dirt trail as smoothly as if it was careening along a German Autobahn. Eventually, we managed to get pretty close to the herd without spooking them.
Being of similar size, they probably mistook the Rolls for one of their own, albeit an albino. The six beasts, showing neither fear or anger, ignored Alan’s clicking camera as though it was something they were justly accustomed to. They seemed quite content to have us close while they happily chewed on the tough, dry turf which grows at high altitudes. However, as friendly as they appeared we did not have the nerve to get close enough to pet them. Our dilemma, when we eventually drove off, leaving them to their own devices was who we should report our natural history discovery too.
Less than a kilometre further and over the crest of the hill from where the animals had been foraging, our problem was embarrassingly solved. Hidden in the lee of the knoll was a group of colourful wagons. Not only had we discovered elephants in the paramo, we also found a circus.
If it must be known, we unassumingly continued our journey to Guayaquil without further revelations and as I recall we, the home team, lost – forty to three but that after-game party was something else.
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