Nick Grace C.
Our bus pulled into Coca, a jungle town with no paved
roads, at 5 AM. Coca is the home of Radio Cumandá, a station
that once was on SW, and what a weird feeling I had hearing
its sign-on from a street vendor’s boombox!
Elsa and I stood by the side of the road for almost an hour
waiting for a big bus, but the only thing to pass were chivas
– pick-up trucks with four rows of benches used as public
transportation in the Amazon.
"Come on," I insisted, "Let's get on one!"
Elsa wasn't too keen on the idea, being a urban lady of the
Nineties. But as chiva after chiva zoomed by screaming
"Lago, Lago, Lago!" she finally caved in.
so we climbed onto the back of one not knowing that a lovely
and bumpy 4-hour ride was waiting for us...
Lago Agrio didn't even exist twenty years ago, but
after oil was discovered a boomtown was born. It's a hot,
humid, and bustling town with a population of hustlers and
aggressive Colombians. In fact, walking around in Lago Agrio
felt more like traveling in Indonesia than in Ecuador! People
try to hawk everything from watches to tiny pet monkeys on
the street, but since most people are there to make money
I doubt much is really ever sold. Only two streets have running
water, and luckily for us, one office with service is Ecos
del Oriente where we were able to refreshen ourselves once
again. At least Elsa was smart enough to...
We pushed our way through the crowds to a sign-less
building and asked the yuca and banana vendors sitting in
front where Ecos del Oriente is. Thats the door, they laughed
pointing to what seemed more like an opening to an abandoned
building. We went inside and headed up a bleak stairwell,
where painted on the wall were the words ECOS DEL ORIENTE
SIGA. Up to the third floor we went, but the office was empty.
So we went back down and found Olímpica FMs little studio.
The announcer greeted us and called Luis Velástegui, director
of Grupo Radial Continental.
Mr. Velástegui brought us up to his office and explained that
Ecos del Oriente, once a rare catch on 3270 kHz, left SW in
1995. It didnt make any money, he sighed. SW transmitters,
he says, cost about 15 million sucres (US$3000) a month to
power, whereas FM transmitters cost 9 million sucres (US$1800)
and pull in more advertisers. Do the math. It just wasnt
a feasible service to maintain.
del Oriente remains on 1510 kHz MW, however, and is part
of the Grupo Radial Continental network, which includes two
television stations, two MW outlets and 6 FM stations. This
is Ecos del Oriente, he joked as we walked into the studio:
a single mixer, two turntables, a tape deck, and a wall of
LPs. On the roof of the building, however, are signs of more
prosperity. Mr. Velástegui proudly showed us his companys
two satellite dishes that are used to capture various television
programs. "Oil is what moves this town," he
said as he pointed to massive refineries looming on the horizon.
We went back down to his office and he offered to type up
a quick verification letter for a reception I had of Ecos
del Oriente somce years ago. Elsa looked at her watch
and whispered into my ear "We've got an hour, Nicolás,
there's no time to see the antenna!" I took it
as the clue that it was...
Before the two of us left, Luis urged us to try Ceviche de
Boa, a local delicacy of Lago Agrio. And so we indeed ordered
the dish later that morning and can now say that snake does
taste like chicken. Unfortunately, it also gave me an
horrible case of gastrointestinal problems! With little
time to spare, we bounced from cafe to cafe looking in vain
for a bathroom with running water. (Toilet paper is
uncommon in Indonesia, so I can easily make do with water
and my left-hand - however, as I quickly realized...
Water is uncommon in Lago Agrio, a city named "Bitter
Lake" in Spanish.)
Feeling absolutely dehumanized, I lumbered onto the bus with
Elsa feeling deathly ill. And what a surprise...
For the first time ever in my travels around the developing
world this had to be the bus to break down in the middle of
Well, we finally did make it back to Quito after our marathon
through Ecuador's interior. As exhausting as the excursion
was, getting to know the radio stations and the people behind
the microphones was well worth the effort. What is certain
is the coming decline of short wave in this country - unless,
of course, the Church has anything to do with it!
©1998 by Nick Grace C., All Rights Reserved
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