Ecuador and Non-Baby Making Lovers – Ariel Campbell & Spencer Harding

Ecuador and Non-Baby Making Lovers
Words by Ariel Campbell Photos by Spencer Harding

I’ve been sitting on the photos from our stint on the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route last summer trying to figure out what to write about. My photos tell their own story, so in lieu of the usual route discussion and tales of arduous climbs, I wanted to open a platform for Ariel to speak of a personal encounter she felt like sharing. This was a rather personal and charged experience, one I was not present for nor photographed. While there has been plenty of discussion about privilege in visiting developing countries on bikes, I feel in Ariel’s instance there was an authentic opportunity to educate and have a cultural exchange. The little things in your pocket shouldn’t be taken for granted, they have the ability to affect how someone experiences the world… -Spencer

The 11K elevation was too much for my lowland and desert accustomed body, I struggled to acclimate. Towards the second half of our trip, I started experiencing altitude sickness to a crippling degree. It was difficult to ride or even walk my bike. Short of breath and extremely tired, altitude sickness got the best of me, which lead to our painful separation with Spencer.

Kurt and I turned around and backtracked to lower land while Spencer continued upward. Soon after, Kurt and I got caught in a terrible two-day thunderstorm. We reached a point where it was dangerous and we needed shelter, nourishment, and warmth. While walking our bikes up a rough dirt road, a woman flagged us in, inviting us into her home.

We sat huddled in the middle of a hand-built, single-roomed, mud house, while the woman lit handfuls of long, wild straw and bathed us in smoke for warmth.  Kurt was on the brink of hypothermia and we were both filthy and soaking wet. The woman arranged a small pile of burning straw on the compacted dirt floor in front of us as she proceeded to make the region’s traditional staples, a warm cane sugar and mint tea beverage and boiled potatoes.

The Ecuadorian woman, a single mother in her early 40s with missing teeth and weathered from a life of sun exposure and outdoor manual labor. She lived with her three teenage children, a son-in-law, and a 9-month old grandbaby. When we first arrived the family had been scattered, with a few piled on the only bed in the single room, one in the corner brushing her hair, and another coming in and out tending to the outside and keeping the chickens from entering through the doorway.

The family spoke to each other in broken Spanish and soft-spoken Quechua as a small radio played music in the background. Life started to slowly come back to Kurt and me, color came into our skins, sugar was pumped into our blood, our speech reignited. Gradually the members of the household congregated across the room from us and we started talking. Our conversation was held in Spanish between me and the family while I interpreted for Kurt.

“Are you Americans?” the woman asked.
“Yes”
“Is it true the roads are covered in gold?” her son asked.
“No.” Which led into a small discussion of misrepresentation of wealth in America.
“Are you a couple?” the woman asked.
“Yes.”
“Do you have kids?”
“No.”
“How come?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” I responded.
“Well, if you are a couple, sleeping together, you know, how do you not have any kids?”

Her round-about way of asking seemed strange. I asked her to further explain.

“I have three teenage daughters, four children altogether. They are all under 18 years old. I have 2 grandchildren. I am so young; my children are so young and we keep having children so young. We don’t want them anymore. We can’t afford them, it’s too much to care for. How come you guys don’t have children?”

She was asking about our contraception practices. I inquired if she knew about condoms. No, she didn’t. None of them did. “We use condoms,” I said. “Have you ever seen one?” None of them had, so I grabbed our small stash from a bag. “These are condoms,” I said. I opened one and demonstrated how to use it with my fingers. We talked about condoms and responsible sex with everyone was in the room, from mother, child to grandchild.

“The kids are going to keep having sex,” the mother said. “It’s no one’s fault for wanting to be together but we just can’t have them having more kids.”

This exchange holds a lot of significance within my memories of Ecuador and I share it to demonstrate a sliver of the human experience. Our perspectives are extremely different from the family we met in the mountains of the Andes that day, but both parties treated each other with respect by sharing honest feelings and concerns for the future.

These photos are from a 2 week stint from Quito to Riobamba along the “dirt road” version of the TEMBR.  More info on the route here

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Follow Spencer Harding Instagram  and Ariel Campbell on Instagram

  • andyestridge

    Knowledge is power. Big thumbs up for sharing. It’s hard to bring more than $$ to a region when traveling sometimes, and this made me think about my own traveling experiences & will keep it in mind when traveling in the future. +++

  • Superpilot

    Are the streets paved with Gold. Wow. Makes you wonder if the things you hear about other countries are really true. Cool read, thanks!

    • Avuncular

      +1 My wife’s family, who lived in Libya from the 1920s until the rise of arab nationalism in the 60s, would refer to anything rich or luxurious as “America”. The incredible wealth that was earned and displayed locally by big American companies extracting oil in the desert only added to the illusion.

  • Jordan Muller

    Beautifully written. Thank you for taking the time to share this with us.

  • 300 Homestead

    Best story every.

  • Rick

    Thanks for sharing this experience, beautiful.

  • Datech Dahaus

    I miss the Cotopaxi mountain and La Sierra!
    Thanks for sharing the story.

  • Benedikt Dörflinger

    Such a Great Story! Thanks for sharing that gives me so much Energy to do also something like this!

    Love you Guys!

  • colavitos_ghost

    I traveled through some of the Ecuadorean sierra with my gf earlier this year. Thanks for stirring up some wonderful memories with your lovely words and pictures!

  • Brett Rothmeyer

    fantastic!

  • Josh Monteith

    I haven’t seen a feature where almost every photos is this compelling and telling a story. Such great work.

  • dancakes

    absolutely STUNNING photos! also amazed at how compact/minimal their gear was for such a rural route

  • Samm Mcnees

    Rat here!

  • Chanel Abril

    This hits home working especially working for WIC. Thanks for sharing!