Wandering in America del Sur

Travel time: July 2005 - March 2006  |  by Allison Webb

Bus rides not for the faint of heart

Now have I mentioned anything about the bus in Ecuador? It is both amazing, terrifying and annoying. A little patience definitely goes a long, long way. The most amazing thing is that the taxi drivers will drive you and your increasingly heavy backpack - as you shop at all the markets - right up to the door of the bus. And as soon as you step out the door someone is taking your pack and loading it on the bus. Most excellent and easy! The only thing is that the bus´s that they recommend may not always be the best one!

And if you should actually enter from the main entrance of the bus station you will be followed by everyone asking you your destination. Outside of Quito, the refrain is almost always "Quito, Quito" and if you shake your head "no" they ask again or try the next most popular option "Guayaquil, Guayaquil". As you walk you are hounded with the refrain of places until you actually ´fess up and tell them your destinate. If their bus doesn´t go there, they look forlornly and point you in the right direction of their rival company! But it´s all part of the travel experience and quite fun and easy if you don´t mind endless numbers of people coming towards you!

Once on the bus even though it will leave right on time, don´t expect a quick getaway! The bus will adopt an approach best likened to trolling while they try to catch more passengers to fill up their aisles. They literally crawl through town at a snail´s pace, door open, calling out their destination.

So slow that repeatedly salespeople hop on board to sell you all kinds of food and drink so bringing your own isn´t really necessary. And the deals on the buses are incredible - one day we got 4 chocolate bars for $1! And boy, can these salespeople talk. They take turns standing up in the front of the bus, proseltyzing as if there were on the pulpit - their speeches going on for what seems like hours, their voices loud and penetrating making it impossible to ignore them. But surprisingly they don´t seem to sell much and then after sometime they jump off the still moving bus and head back in the opposite direction on the next bus. What a tough life!

Bathrooms are unheard of as are bathroom stops so a strong bladder is a must. It can not be recommended to drink coffee before getting on the bus. You might be parched or suffering from caffeine withdrawal, but it´s better than the alternative. If all else fails, sit with your legs crossed and pray that there aren´t any bumpy roads!

Finally out of the town, the bus picks up speed, but will still stop anywhere to drop or pickup passengers who often come running out of the hills. The roads are incredibly windy with narrow paths close to the edge of precipitous dropoffs and sitting in the front seat is definitely not recommended! Landslides are common as is construction and surprisingly most of the roads are paved, but not all of them! There is no such thing as a long distance express bus so all rides take a long, long time, but relax and take in the gorgeous scenery and people and you will find yourself warming to the experience!

Which is just what we did! A mere 3 1/2 hours from Quito, south through the Cordillera of the Andes mountains to Riobamba, capital of the province of Chimboraza. With a population of 126,000 it is a distribution centre for the surrounding area. In the morning markets we would listen to the bartering over the squeals of the guinea pigs which we would later see roasting on the spits in the restaurants - a very popular local dish! Vegetables and fruits abounded, but also woven goods, tailors set up in the market with their old Singer sewing machines doing a brisk trade while locals brought brightly coloured fabrics for their clothes.

We wandered through its streets, largely without tourists and soaked up its atmosphere while trying to avoid being soaked, literally, by water balloons fully in flight. As part of Carnaval, water fights were all the rage among the children and it was reputed that no one was immune.

The next day, Lori, Catherine and I decided to hop the local bus to check out the touristy spot of Banos and indulge in its hotsprings. Our bus ride on dirt road was dizzyingly dramatic following the river with lush, lush greenery setting off the high mountains. The narrow road with sections barely wide enough for the bus and mud was a little disconcerting, but we made it to Banos in time for lunch.

Arrived in the rain, but donned our goretex after carrying it all this way, and wandered out to shop in all the little shops. Have to do our bit to prop up the local economy. The town was very touristy with a tour company on every corner and tons of restaurants. Found a funky little cafe on the square and enjoyed some Indian food over some great conversation.

After lunch went to soak away our troubles, but found out that the hotsprings were closed all afternoon. Oh well ... they didn´t look all that impressive anyway. So we wandered through the rest of the streets while the sunshine cleared up the rain and then decided to head back to Riobamba for our Valentine´s Day dinner complete with roses and candlelight. Kurt had his hands full with the three of us, but seemed to have survived!

The next morning we headed off to the market to do some serious bartering. Using Lori´s shrewd bargaining skills and my Spanish, Catherine and Lori managed to get a hat or two. I wandered trying to capture the locals as they shopped, but people really didn´t like having their photos taken as we found out. So, I left with many pictures in my mind of women with their long braids, tied by colourful ribbons down their backs, porkpie hats, flat and seemingly perched on their heads, their children slung through blankets worn over their backs carrying all kinds of heavy bags.

In the sunshine we wandered back to the hostel to check out and go our separate ways as Catherine and Lori headed to paradise, aka the Galapagos and Kurt and I headed into the mountains. Made a plan to meet up in 5 or 6 days to exchange stories, but between now and then it would be a whole bunch more Ecuadorian bus rides!

Church in Riobamba

Church in Riobamba

Local market in Riobamba - no wonder we were eating so well

Local market in Riobamba - no wonder we were eating so well

Out for the daily run - local soldiers or soldiers in training, Banos

Out for the daily run - local soldiers or soldiers in training, Banos

schoolboys in Banos

schoolboys in Banos

sugarcane in Banos

sugarcane in Banos

Catherine, Lori and I - post shopping - see their new hats!

Catherine, Lori and I - post shopping - see their new hats!

A very "romantico" Valentine`s Day in Banos

A very "romantico" Valentine`s Day in Banos

Ah, the bus! What a joy! Catherine enroute to Riobamba from Banos

Ah, the bus! What a joy! Catherine enroute to Riobamba from Banos

Our hat seller Riobamba

Our hat seller Riobamba

Local shopping with obligatory child on back and hat (not a porkpie, but more common one seen everywhere)

Local shopping with obligatory child on back and hat (not a porkpie, but more common one seen everywhere)

Yet another church in Riobamba

Yet another church in Riobamba

A rose by any other name ... Catherine and Lori on V-Day - a gift from one of Catherine`s admirers!

A rose by any other name ... Catherine and Lori on V-Day - a gift from one of Catherine`s admirers!

Kurt and I - V´-Day

Kurt and I - V´-Day

Our romantic Valentine´s Day dinner - ah, just the 4 of us!

Our romantic Valentine´s Day dinner - ah, just the 4 of us!

© Allison Webb, 2005
You are here : Overview The Americas Ecuador Bus rides not for the faint of heart
The trip
 
Description:
My trip through Peru before heading to Chile to work for 6 months and then travels afterward in South America
Details:
Start of journey: Jul 05, 2005
Duration: 8 months
End of journey: Mar 02, 2006
Travelled countries: Peru
Chile
Argentina
Uruguay
Ecuador
The Author
 
Allison Webb is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 15 years.