night sky hills
Life, travel

Having a Panic Attack Alone in Rural Ecuador

Despite my exhaustion after 24 hours of flights, cabs and buses, every little sound wakes me up. Rustling in the brush outside, creaks inside. I hear pigs squealing 100m away. I saw a man beating them with a stick today while feeding them. They were all squealing in what sounded like a terrifying pig orgy.

Suddenly I can feel the distance between me and anyone I know. The 3,000 miles is a physical force weighing me down. I try to calm myself down by focusing on breathing, but my chest is tight, like when I was 10 and I had asthma attacks, and no matter how hard I tried I could not get enough oxygen. I think of the 2 cigarettes I smoked the other day when I was stressed, and how a friend recently died of cancer in her 30s. I’m certain I’m going to have a medical emergency alone on this hillside in Ecuador. A three hour bus ride from a city. 3 hours past cinder block shacks with exposed rebar, half of all the buildings unfinished. Past gray, depressing beaches, empty, devoid of the lush color and beauty of the Maui Beaches I once called home. Why were they so gray? The water and sand and sky. The relentlessness of the gray made it feel permanent.

I breathe in and imagine myself floating in the water at Paia Bay, where the deep blue ocean meets the orange-yellow sand, black volcanic rocks and lush greenery, all beneath the blue sky interrupted by occasional wisps of white cloud. It was cartoonishly vibrant, and for a couple years, every day on my lunch break, its cartoonish beauty spoiled me. I float there in the cool water as the sun tightens skin on my face, and wait for a good wave to bodysurf onto the beach. Then I’ll walk up to my old pickup parked beneath the 40-foot palms, grab a shirt from the truck-bed and walk to Paia, past the vibrant storefronts, full of friends & neighbors and tourists.

Back in my bed in Ecuador, roosters crow in the distance. For the first time in my life I’m glad to hear the sound. It reminds me of my old house on a Hawaiian hillside goat-pasture in Makwao. I close my eyes and for an instant I’m back in the lofted bed, staring at the stars through my skylight while my neighbor’s roosters try their best to keep me awake. They used to drive me crazy. But now as I struggle for breath in an unfamiliar country, surrounded by mosquito netting, more alone than I’ve ever been before, the crow of the roosters is reassuring. Maybe these places aren’t so different after all. Roosters still crow. Roosters still crow. I’ll be alright.


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