The bus journeys I have made on my travels have been some of the most memorable experiences of the last seven months; the overcrowded Bollywood playing busses in India, the ramshackle speeding-blindly-around-bends local busses in Nepal, the spitmobile Chinese affairs and the deafening mobile Karaoke bars that were the busses in Vietnam. I couldn’t wait to see what Ecuador had to offer and I was far from disappointed.
The Ecuadorians are an enterprising lot and the busses here provide a perfect vehicle (if you excuse the pun) for those burgeoning entrepreneurs. No matter what kind of journey it is there will be a constant trail of people hopping on and off selling various wares. These include ice cream, little cartons of fries – complete with ketchup, chewing gum, chocolate, biscuits, home cooked pies, jewellery, dvds, cds… the list is endless. They hop on announcing whatever is their specialty and will then hand it to all the passengers to inspect. If it’s food they will give you a taster to try and get you interested.
One man had a complete presentation with graphics (some unnecessarily alarming) and a 15 minute speech about how his magic pills could rid your body of any unwelcome parasites and if I understood correctly, colon cancer. He even somehow produced a glass of water – in the middle of the aisle – and emptied some brown liquid into it which represented all the toxins we pollute our bodies with. Then with theatrical movements proudly placed his amazing pill in the water and swirled it round as his captive audience became wowed at how the liquid mysteriously became clear again. Not realising this was most likely a water clarifier that absorbed the iodine that he had used he managed to sell quite a few packages of his product before talking his seat again and continuing his journey.
This is in addition to all the ‘ordinary’ passengers who bring just as much colour to the event. I have seen a man with a (astonishingly well behaved) chicken on his lap, one with two dogs tucked underneath his left arm and countless people dragging sacks of indeterminate substances. It’s a mobile circus really!
Our first proper trip in Ecuador was to Otavalo which apparently has the biggest market in all of South America. A couple of days later we headed south to Baños. On the bus journey there a man boarded and began walking up and down the aisle selling chewing gum. He seemed to know the woman sitting behind us who was holding a very small child and so he lingered next to us for a long time. Being the vigilant travellers that we both are we made sure our bags were safely between our legs in front of us. I had even tied one of the straps around my leg to be extra sure. All of a sudden the guy lent over me and without being asked showed my Newfie** how to recline his seat if he wanted. This rang all sorts of alarm bells and we became extra alert. He began chatting away asking the usual questions – where do you come from, where have you been etc which went on for a few minutes. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere I had a very bad feeling about the whole situation, about him, about the lady behind us, about the bus etc and decided to lift my bag up from between my feet and put it on my lap. At which point I noticed that it had been slashed open with a blade, from behind my seat. Somehow or other the lady had managed to crouch down and get under my seat to the bag that was between my legs. The whole bottom of the bag was now open and they had even sliced right through my netbook case. Fortunately my netbook and camera were safe – I had caught it just in time. At the very next stop the chewing gum seller and the lady hurriedly left the bus. All that they had managed to get in the short time was my deodorant (!), the charger for my phone, our sunscreen and my bottle of cologne.
There was also a smaller slit in my Newfie’s bag so it looks like they either tried his first or were just about to attempt it when we lifted our bags. We were both very shaken and upset that this could happen when we believed we were being so cautious. I had always thought my bag was safe between my legs but apparently not in South America. When everyone advises you to be super alert here – they really mean it. The only thing that was stolen from me before on this trip were three pairs of underwear from a hotel in Habana – and I simply chose to feel flattered by that!
It didn’t spoil our few days in Baños though. It’s a small town surrounded by magnificent mountains – one of them hosting an active erupting volcano! What a relief it was to arrive somewhere so picturesque and safe after the big city. We could walk the streets again with our cameras out without fearing for our lives. I decided to go into denial about the volcano, being fully aware that should there be an evacuation of the town we wouldn’t understand any of the instructions – unless they happened to consist of conjugating the hundreds of irregular verbs we had spent so much time on.
We went on a wonderful hike in the mountains overlooking the city and cycled many kilometres along a waterfall-filled jungle trail. And after all the hectic activities the town is full of hot springs where you can rest your bones and sooth the shocked muscles. Sitting in those baths I definitely warmed more to Ecuador and not just literally. I just couldn’t shake the nagging thought however that somewhere between Quito and Baños was a wretched but fabulous smelling thief charging up his phone.
After Baños we went to Guayaquil which is Ecuador’s biggest city. Again not particularly pretty but kind of charming in its own unpretentious way. What I liked most about Guayaquil is the park right in the centre of the city where countless iguanas roam about in between the pigeons and hang from trees like overripe fruit. Such a wonderful and memorable sight!
And now, finally I am bang up to date. Today we head to the Galapagos for a week so I will have no internet but will instead be surrounded by all sorts of boobies! I’m equally excited and nervous. For years I have wanted to go to these islands and can hardly believe that it’s really going to happen. On the other hand my Newfie* suffers from ridiculous sea sickness and so I’ve begun praying to the gods of motion sickness (and St Christopher of course) that he will be able to enjoy it all. I’ll be back in just over a week to tell all.
* Despite being aware that this particular term is used derogatively in Canada I wish to point out, just in case there is any misunderstanding, that I am not Canadian and couldn’t love this Newfie any more than I do. It’s simply a term of endearment and I have his full permission to use it. This does not of course give him the right to start calling me his Oldie.