Boots and stuff


Dear Lisa,

I have sad news about the boots. Sadly I can’t take any picture with them because I lost them on one of my trips. Unfortunately someone took them from the front door when I went to get my dinner and sadly I couldn’t recover them and I’m in trouble with my wife too because she really liked for me to have those boots, and they were really nice and there were many people that really wanted them. So I can’t send you any picture, as this happened a month ago, I don’t know how to get it, I might never get it but such is life, I’m so sorry about it.



Six months before this email Steve and I were in Ecuador. It was the morning of our first day of birding at Tandayapa Lodge in the Ecuadorian Andes when José, our bird guide on this trip, first spotted the boots—the boots I was wearing. I was trying to untangle myself from the mess that already was happening around my neck. I was caught in a web of straps that included my binocular strap, a crossover strap for my camera, the cord for what I affectionately call my adventure hat and the cords for my eyeglasses so I can quickly drop my glasses in exchange for the binoculars or camera. All useful cords and straps, but a real problem when they’re all around my neck at once.

“Are you guys ready?” asked a voice. I didn’t have to look up. It was José, and he was pushing us to get going even though it was black as tar outside. It’s always dark when you’re going birding.

“Yeah,” I said, still concentrating on undoing the knots around my neck. “Steve’s in the bathroom. I’m just trying to organize myself so I don’t choke.”

And then as if José turned a switch, his voice changed from his polite and professional version of “hurry the hell up” to something that women recognize in other women, as he said “Heyyyyyyy, I like your boots!”

“Oh, these? Thanks.” I said as if like saying, “yeah, no big deal.” (It’s the token response a woman gives to another woman when her shoes are admired.)

These were my new boots I found a couple months prior from LL Bean. We needed mud boots for this part of the trip and I knew I couldn’t fit into ordinary rubber boots or Wellies due to my ankle break and surgery that pretty much prevented from forever getting my right foot into anything without a zipper. So I scoured the Internet for what could work for me and I found the perfect pair.  THESE had a zipper, excellent tread, a neoprene lining to keep me warm and dry and they were waterproof. Plus, they were awesome looking.

And José was salivating over them.

LL Bean boots

“Want to try them on?” I asked.

All of a sudden we weren’t in a hurry to get outside. He slips off his rubber boots and I unzip mine and we trade. As Steve walks out all ready to go, he sees that we’re not heading out to the van just yet. No, José is trying on shoes like we were at Nordstrom, walking around with a big grin on his face as he joyfully reports, “They fit great!” and “I love them!” “I want to buy them from you!”

Oh lordy. I love these boots, like I love all my shoes. But these especially because they were exactly what I needed. But I knew it was difficult for José to get boots like these in Ecuador. Ordering from a US company when you’re in South America is not easy.

“I’ll think about it,” I said.

Five days we were all together, birding in the Andes and José kept eyeing my boots. “Really, I will pay you. I want to buy them,”  he would beg.

So I included the boots as a portion of his tip. And it happened fast, just as we were being dropped off at our hotel for our final night, and since we were double parked outside our hotel there was no time for photos together or for even a snap of José in the boots he literally bought right off of me. In fact, I had walked into the hotel with only my socks on as my other shoes were packed away in my suitcase. My boots were gone, but I knew I could easily order more from LL Bean upon my return to the U.S.

Yet I wanted a picture of José in those boots. They brought him so much joy as I knew he would be the envy of all the bird guides with those boots. So that’s when I contacted him and found out the horrible news that someone pinched them.

*     *     *

The following year we decided to return to a different part of Ecuador for some birding and we arranged to have José guide us again. I wrote to find out if he wanted me to bring him a new pair of boots to replace the ones he lost. He was over the moon. I was able to replace my boots after we returned from our first trip to Ecuador and I was certain I could easily find him a pair to bring with us.

But they were sold out.

*     *     *

The next month before our trip I went back and forth on this one. “You can always get boots for yourself but he can’t get these that easily.” And then there was this selfish voice that was also floating around my brain: “But you LOVE those boots. What if you can’t find another pair?”

If travel has taught me anything, it’s the disparity that exists around the world. I’m not necessarily referring to economies, though that’s a big play here, but it’s what we value and why. I value the boots, yes, for security and warmth, but really it’s just for one or two trips I make a year where the location dictates such a need. But José? He has a greater need for the boots—the need to use them every day for his job as a guide, and the value is greater because of the difficulty in getting them. All I have to do is wait four days and they’re shipped to me with free shipping.

It’s like having too much stuff, I thought. Like the cords and straps of all that crap I have around my neck. I don’t really need all this stuff. All I do is get tangled in it. And these are boots. Just boots.  The “just” applies to me, but not José.

*     *     *

We are in Ecuador again.

“I have your boots,” I told José the morning he met us for breakfast in Cuenca.

His face lit up. “Really?” he asked.

“Really.” I assured him. “But this time let’s get a picture before someone takes off with them.

José and his LL Bean boots