Stylized line drawing of mark playing the flute

My single-handed destruction of an Ecuadorian cafe

Parque Calderon

The heart of Cuenca is the cathedral and the Parque Calderon. At one corner of the square is the Café Raymipamba, a small restaurant with the most fantastic toasted chicken sandwiche I've ever tasted. Entering the cafe from the ground floor, the center of the room is full of tables, the perimeter lined with booths. Sun from the plaza outside comes pouring in through the windows lining the front. The small upstairs is made entirely of wood, lamps hanging over every table, and a low balcony that opens to the rest of the restaurant.


It's the spring of 1997 and I'm sitting at a table upstairs, eating my toasted chicken sandwich, trying desperately to wrap my head around the dense packet of Cultural Anthropology in front of me. The right side of my table is pressed firmly against the balcony's bumpy wooden railing. I'm making progress with my reading, turning page after page. The side of my binder closest to the balcony is getting taller and taller.

And then it happens.

The massive binder slides over the edge of the balcony onto a long table below. It hits with a crash like a body falling and food and beer go flying everywhere.

There is dead silence in that split second after the fall and I leap to my feet intending to rush below to make amends, completely forgetting about those god-damned lamps. The beautiful, stained-glass lamps clearly designed for the average Ecuadorian, not scruffy, six-foot gringos. I stand straight into the center of the lamp which explodes practically scalping me and spraying the upstairs with broken glass. I manage to not pass out or fall over, press a pristine cloth napkin to my bleeding head and make my way downstairs.

The six-top below is a group of amazingly understanding American tourists who are, luckily, more concerned about my well being than annoyed about the destruction I have wrought upon them. I flag a passing waiter and order another round for their table and then make my way over to the register where the owner is almost unable to stand from laughing.

I make many attempts to pay for, or at least help clean up, the damage to the lamp and the table below. Gasping for breath and red faced from laughing, he refuses my offers. With some difficulty, I manage to pay for my lunch and slink out.

I stave off my chicken sandwich cravings for almost two weeks before I am forced to return. I can't tell if the owner remembers me or not and the evening passes without incident.