Imagine Butlins with pyramids. Now imagine Butlins with pyramids 28 days after the zombie apocalypse first struck Skegness. Welcome to Pyramid Paradise.
Whoever built this leisure park had lofty ambitions. There are four swimming pools, three water slides, poolside bars, volley ball courts, reception centres and a restaurant. The trouble is, the jungle wants its land back and nobody cares to argue.
|Pyramid accommodation... this doesn't look so bad|
|You'll get a sore arse sliding down this chipped concrete water slide|
|Why wouldn't there be a knackered petrol pump outside the women's toilets?|
|Not in the least bit creepy|
|Relax in the lounge with a cool cerveza and watch the plaster peel away before your eyes|
|Just shift the calculator, the hat stand and the pram and recline on the soft mattress in the bedroom|
|Butlins after the zombie apocalypse|
La Mana is the largest town in the midst of thousands upon thousands of acres of banana plantations. Bananas grow here because the heat is suffocating and the rain is torrential. Bananas are big business, particularly for the export market. Check the label in Sainsburys next time you visit, your banana probably came from La Mana.
Bananas need a lot of TLC; plantations need to be kept clear of the encroaching jungle, the bananas need to be wrapped in plastic bags for protection, and picking the heads of heavy fruit is hard work. As a result there is a huge influx of labour to the area.
The owners of Pyramid Paradise probably imagined thousands of happy families arriving to town, all looking for some weekend diversion to escape the scorching sun.
Unfortunately the picture is rather different. Young, single men came, looking to make a quick buck to send home to their families. With the cool breeze and sunshine of the sierra just an hour away, why would anybody want to stay in La Mana unless they had to? Instead of happy families there are brothels everywhere and HIV is rife. So is tuberculosis, which will probably kill you first.
In La Mana everything rots under the rain and the sticky heat. Watch closely and you can follow the inexorable creep of the mildew tide and the plaster peel.
Inside the crowded medical centre of La Mana it's a depressing scene. Living in Quito it's easy to forget the other side of Ecuador, but lots of the people in La Mana are in desperate poverty.
I met a 50-year-old man with HIV who is recovering from a bout of tuberculosis. The aid agency I was working for had found him living under plastic bags at the back of his niece's house. He had no other family. He did not understand the nature of his illness and would surely have died. The agency bought materials and the community built him a more permanent shelter in the village. His favourite things are cerveza and fiestas... so we've really got quite a lot in common.
He knows when the agency is in town and always turns up to get a free lunch. Once he arrived and broke down in tears at the dinner table. He had just begun to understand the nature of HIV and wanted reassurance that everything was going to be all right for him. His tears were uncontrollable, he knew full well the truth but wanted somebody to lie to him.
I met another woman, just a year older than I am. She too had tuberculosis and HIV. She had contracted it from her husband, who later died of tuberculosis. She has two young children, who luckily escaped contraction, and is living in poverty in a remote village 20km from La Mana. She was stoic and found solace in religion but, despite new found evangelicalism, her's was not a happy lot.
Back to Pyramid Paradise for a spot of lunch. The chipped dustbin head of Micky Mouse grins back at me. The mosquitoes are eating me alive and I'm glad to be leaving for Moraspungo... but that's because I don't know what it's like in Moraspungo. There I would see what real poverty looked like and how short is the reach of Ecuador's impressive public health system.