Sunday, October 30, 2005

Antedecents in Ancon





One of the most important stops for me on this trip was always going to be to a small dusty oil town on the southern Pacific coast called Ancon, but it exceeded my expectation. My great-grandfather Leonard W Berry (LWB) was head of the oil-field and (as the locals told me) the premier geoligist in Ecuador from circa 1927-46 and he and the rest of the family lived in this strangely charming place. A trip here was a must in particular, as my lovely grandmother lived there for much of the period and I know it has a significant place in her heart.

I knew LWB build the local school and hospital amongst over things for the locals, that the Ingles (English) hanged out in the Ancon Club (many G&Ts I am certain) and the family lived in the La Casa Grande. I did not though know what would be left and was more than pleasantly surprised. After taking a bus from La Libertad (where incidently I unfortunately failed to find the street named after my great grandmother Kitty) Monique (US girl) and I entered a town with one main street that was neither desolate nor bustling. After asking around I got directed to La Escuela de Leonardo W Berry which I found out later still has LWBs picture hanging inside.

The natural next place to head was the church, built and worshipped in by the Ingles. After arousing the Padre and describing my situation as best I could in my broken spanish (I do not think they many backpackers pop their head in claiming to have a 60 year old connection with the place) we were allowed in to look around. I would have been satisfied with what I had seen thus far but, by a stroke of luck (and assistance from my pestering of a few locals about LWB), we met an 83 year old man called Alfredo. He was a contemporary of my family in Ancon (only one year younger then my grandmother - Sheila Mcnaughton) and ended up showing us all the haunts and reminiscing for a good hour or so - I lost track of time in communicatng in spanish and taking tons of photos and videos for the family records. We were taken, amongst other places, around the Ancon Club, to the Casa Grande and up to the gate of the offices where LWB worked and my grandmother was his secretary.

It was a really special experience. It was fascinating to hear of a time past and the part my relatives had to play in it. One difficult question was left to be asked - what did the locals actually think of these foreigners who came to remove their oil? At first I was very wary and was not sure of the vibes I was getting, especially when Alfredo explained how the town was split and that locals could not enter the Ingles barrio after 7pm. I decided the best course of action was to be direct and to my relief the answer was solely positive where LWB was concerned. Alfredo's opinion was that the people liked and respected him and that he did a lot for the people. It is hard to describe but this removed a weight from my shoulders.

It was a delight to hear how he remembered Kitty, both Leonards and somewhere in the haze of memory he seemed to recollect the daughters - Audrey and Sheila. All in all, with the Pacific rolling in, vultures circling above and the oil well just over the houses, it was a place that charmed me through the freedom of imagining it at another point in time and through the memories of my grandmother and the ever so friendly and informative Alfredo.
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