Driving to Baños, Ecuador involved driving through the Andes Mountains, a circuitous and often anxiety- and altitude sickness-provoking trip. I kept my anxiety levels at a manageable level by looking out of the window and taking in the beautiful and awe-inspiring landscape of Ecuador: the rolling hills, the babbling brooks, the small communities, and the impressive blue sky. Many things caught my extranjera attention, including—though certainly not limited to—the alcalde election advertisements painted on the sides of buildings, the seeming affinity for volleyball, the stray dogs, the livestock tethered to posts mere inches from the highways, and the scores of restaurants and bars attempting to offer respite to travel-weary drivers. Apparently, there is a lot of cultural information to be gained by staring out of a window while fighting the headaches and nausea that can come from being so high above sea level.
These quickly-passing images made the time go by more rapidly but often left little impact in my brain other than to note that it was different from what I am used to in the United States. However, one sign in particular jarred me out of my highway hypnosis and provoked a profound and enlightening metaphor that would become an important lens through which I examined not only my trip to Ecuador, but my entire education thus far in the Latino Mental Health Program and my role as a non-native bilingual therapist. One bridge, which did not seem any more or less precarious than the others we had crossed on this lengthy road trip, was called Puente Salsipuedes, a bridge of medium length that connected two mountains across a deep valley, punctuated by a mountain stream. At first, I figured it was named after a person, but when I broke down the word into smaller pieces, my heart skipped a beat realizing we were in the middle of “Bridge Leave If You Can.” This did not inspire much confidence in the heavy bus’s ability to traverse this apparently unstable bridge or to meet whatever foes might lurk on the other side. Gratefully, we crossed the bridge safely and did not meet any untoward creatures or dangers on the road that continued. Why, then, did this little sign—clearly meant as a joke—incite such an intense response in me?