Riding buses and whatnot
Trip Start Jul 12, 2006
17Trip End Aug 23, 2006
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I was dropped off five blocks from Latacunga´s main bus station, so I hoofed it and on the way there I ran into an Australian guy who had left the hostel in Quito the day before. He was also going to the bus station, so we entered the confusion that is an Ecuadorian city´s main bus station together.
Here is the biggest difference between American bus stations and Ecuadorian bus stations: in the US you buy your ticket and wait for the boarding time; in Ecuador, you walk along the area where all of the buses are parked with their destinations displayed in the window, all the while being shouted at by the drivers´ assistants. You find the bus you want, tell the assistant, throw your stuff below--or they tie it to the roof--and get on board until the bus is ready to leave. More people are picked up along the route, and people are dropped off just about wherever they ask. Once the bus is as full as it will be, the assistant comes around collecting the $1-$2 it costs. It´s extremely cheap--I made it from Quito to Riobamba for less that $5.
That said, I had a good time riding the buses between cities. From Latacunga I rode for two hours to Quilotoa, where I was dropped off at Cabaña Quilotoa, a home/hostel/restaurant/tourist attraction of sorts (I was not aware of the last until dinner). The owner is a man named Humberto, who lives and works there with his wife and their countless children--I seriously have no idea how many they have because there were about 15 running around, and I can only be sure that 4 actually lived there. Anyhow, I arrived in Quilotoa around 2:30 and left for a hike 15 minutes later. Three minutes from the Cabaña is Laguna Quilotoa, a lake of green water filling an extinct volcano crater. I hiked along the rim of the crater for a while, then turned back and descended the steep path to the shore. (I´ll post pictures later, when hardware allows.) They have kayaks and paddleboats to rent but I wasn´t feeling that, mostly because it was already nearly 5pm when I got down and the sun was starting to go behind the crater´s edge. They said it takes an hour to hike back up but I was feeling good and got into intense mode, and did it in about 45 minutes--not without my share of sweating and heavy breathing.
I walked back to the Cabaña and hung around for a bit while one of the boys painted (they´re really good) and another of the boys finished putting a large ugly rodent on a stick and then put it into the oven. I for one did not know that guinea pigs got so large--this thing was at least a foot and a half long without its tail. And no, I did not try it. I´m not sure what kind of meat I ate for dinner but the guy sitting next to me (he was from Quito and working there building irrigation systems) assured me that it was not cuy (guinea pig meat).
A bus pulled up next to the building just before dinner and about 20 French tourists got off. Apparently Cabaña Quilotoa is a tour destination. It didn´t make much sense to me until after dinner when a large number of children appeared in traditional dress and started dancing to what I guess is traditional music. It was really cool to see--despite the nagging feeling that it was all one big contrived exploitation, which was aided by the sudden materialization of a camera in each person´s hand. But after watching for awhile and seeing that children were actually having fun dancing and Humberto & co. were also enjoying themselves, I ran to my bed (there weren´t what you would call ¨rooms¨) and got my camera (again, pictures later).
After my hike around/to the lake, I could tell that I would be bored here so I asked what time the bus came by in the morning. Humberto told me it would arrive at 5am. I was obviously thrilled. I buried myself in bed--it´s really cold and windy there, as in it was probably in the low 30´s/high 20´s at night, and this is summer for them--around 10 and got up at 4;30am. I quickly packed up my things, woke up their German Shepard, Rambo, and walked out to wait for the bus.
I got impatient after about 10 minutes and decided to start walking in the direction the bus would be going. It was still dark and I could see the stars extremely well in the thin air without light pollution. I walked for about 15 minutes when a voice called out, ¨Hola,¨ from the dark on my left. I could only see the silhouette of a pair of legs and a poncho standing five yards back from the edge of the embankment. The voice seemed friendly enough so I answered, and this is how I met Augustín, farmer and father of six.
He told me that the bus didn´t come until 5:30. We waited together while taking shelter from the wind behind the embankment and discussed our respective families and what kinds of crops (potatoes, etc.) and animals (cows, horses, pigs) he raises. Augustín was born there and has lived there his whole life. His oldest son is 28 and lives in Latacunga, and his oldest daughter is a student in Quito. Anyway, Augustín was one of the nicest people I´ve met here. The bus came just after 5:30 and away we went.
I caught a bus for Ambato from Latacunga, then to Riobamba, where I am now. I got in at 10:30am and spent the day walking around the city. I had two good meals and set up a mountain biking tour for tomorrow on Chimborazo, Ecuador´s highest mountain. The tour will take all day, and on Saturday Riobamba has a large market--woohoo souvenir shopping. I´ll go to Cuenca on Saturday afternoon, and we´ll see what happens in between. Hasta la próxima vez, adios.