A Walk in the Park

by Natalie Testa (United States of America)

Making a local connection Cuba


"In the moment that I believed I was about to be abducted, two guilt-stained thoughts lodged themselves in the forefront of my mind. The first thought was the image of thirty freshly-printed pages that my grandmother’s arthritic hands had thrust toward me only two days before: a well-intentioned, albeit exhaustive list of Ecuador’s most common scams, diseases and natural disasters. The second thought was that perhaps if I had bothered to give her research more than a cursory glance, I might have avoided my current predicament. At the time, my longing for fried plantains and bragging rights had overridden any desire to read about the intricacies of removing chiggers. A reverberating screech of nearby car horns brought me out of reverie and back onto the cobbled alley in which I stood. My eyes traveled the stranger in front of me- older, with a weathered face and smartly vested in a sports jacket and pressed chinos- down to his gnarled hand wrapped tightly around my forearm. My gut bubbled with fear and I glared at the map clutched in my sweaty palm. That slip of paper had so effortlessly betrayed my naïveté and status as an extranjera, a foreigner. Hadn’t I been warned plenty of times that something like this would happen? Had I not been advised against traveling alone? The man roughly tugged at my arm and pointed in the direction of a dusty pick-up truck parked across the narrow street. Was I being given an option or a command? I jerked my head "no", shook my arm free of his grasp and backed into the cool stone of the wall behind me. Low, tiled roofs I had found so charming minutes earlier now cast constricting shadows. I felt his hand snatch at my arm once more and as he pulled me into the street the incessant honking that permeated Quito escalated from nuisance to threatening roar. My body went woozy with the dread of being driven to an unknown location. And then, instead of shoving me into his truck as I had anticipated, he resolutely turned heel and towed me uphill while grumpily muttering in a language I did not yet understand. My fear displaced by confusion, I took stock of my situation and realized that he held my map in one hand, his sharp turns preceded by quick glances at its crumpled face. The altitude of Quito’s hills and the pace of his march had left my blood feeling like oatmeal. In my oxygen-deprived brain I sleepily questioned the proficiency of a kidnapper that needed to reference a map. Without slackening his grip or letting up his steady stream of exasperated Spanish, he led me several more blocks uphill. As the streets widened, the sky bloomed overhead and I began to make out the top of a grassy slope. Abruptly, he stopped, placed the map in my hands and grandly swept his arm in the direction of the greenery. "Aquí, Parque Itchimbia." I stared stupidly at those same words on my map. Words I had so eagerly circled before I set out that morning. With a terse nod of his head, my guide bid adieu and began his descent back into the cool alleyways from which we had come. I turned back to the face park and made my way to a small stone bench. As I looked out over the city below, I reflected again upon my grandmother. Nowhere in her extensive research had it mentioned the dangers of my congenital arrogance. "