Sunday, May 4, 2008

From Guayaquil to Riobamba...

When I left you last, I was being dropped off at the bus terminal. It was a huge place that had a multi-story shopping center incorporated into the building. As I approached the entrance, a young man walked up to me and asked me (best as I could figure) what bus I was wanting to take. Before I go on, I have to say, this was a'll find out why in just a moment. I said Riobamba, and he motioned for me to follow He led me through the crowds of people and around the right turns to the ticket counter.

It turns out that the bus driver was there getting his bag, and the bus was going to leave as soon as he got to it. I paid the 10-cent fee to the terminal itself, and they motioned that I'd pay the cuatro cincuenta ($4.50) to the bus driver on the bus. After an exchange between the driver, the ticket agent, and the young man who'd led me there (with the "non-Spanish speaking me" being the obvious topic of conversation), the driver grunted to me to follow him, and we were off...weaving through 100's of people, up the two sets of escalators to the 3rd floor loading area, through the gates, and onto the bus. I'd planned to stop at the ATM before going on the bus, but if God hadn't sent that young man to lead me to the right place, I'd have missed the bus!

Within moments the bus headed out. I was a little disappointed that I hadn't had time to buy a drink before boarding, but that would end quickly...this is Ecuador, and there's always somebody trying to sell you food or drink. Even on the bus. At every traffic light, or even at random places along the road, there are street vendors waiting to pitch their wares to you. And being the thirsty, hungry, and curious gringo that I am, I was happy to oblige them. I bought water and juice through the window at a red light...reach out the window with your money and grab a bottle out of the bag.

Then some vendors flagged the bus down and hopped on for a sort distance so they could sell helados (ice cream!!! God loves me!!! :D ), frozen juice, pirated record copies, more water, etc. I bought, of course, ice cream and frozen juice in a baggie. (You poke a little hole in the baggie and suck the juice out as it melts.) Later in the ride one of the vendors had these flat bar -looking things (see picture.) I'd ignored him at first, but he kept talking straight to me, and I was curious as to what they for cincuenta centavos (50-cents) I figured I'd give it a shot. Seemed that lunch would be a series of snacks.

Mainland Ecuador is broken up into 6 regions. Guayaquil is in the South Coastal Region, and Riobamba is in the Central Highlands. By the time I got my "some-kind-of-fruit-maybe" bar, we were leaving the Coastal Region, and starting to enter what I'll call the foothills. I was snapping pictures like a tourist (oh, I am a tourist, so it's OK...) and getting weird looks from the other passengers...I WAS the ONLY gringo on the bus...I'd have gotten weird looks anyway. By the time we got to the section of the highlands with all of the spectacular, majestic views...I'd blown through 2 sets of batteries...and the rest were in the luggage compartment in my backpack! I was definitely kicking myself.

I've been to several foreign countries before, and I'm accustomed to seeing poverty. It never ceases to amaze me though the wonderful strength of the people who live in countries like this. You can see from the photos on my Flickr site that outside the cities they live in very meager dwellings, yet they have such a pride in themselves and their country. They are hard-working, resourceful, and have an entrepreneurial spirit to be envied by those back in the states. Lest I get on my "welfare-mentality-everyone-owes-me-something" soap-box, suffice it to say that there's a wealth to be learned from the people in countries like Ecuador.

Back to the bus ride...and the Central Highlands. Oh my gosh! What a magnificent ride! Ecuador's mountains are wild and beautiful! And Ecuador hosts some of the most active volcanoes in the Andes. Tomorrow I'm taking the bus to Banos which is a jungle town that had to be evacuated in 1999 when Volcan Tungurahua was changed from a yellow alert to an orange alert due to a climber and his guide being burned by a gaseous eruption. It's was changed back to a yellow alert in 2002, and though it is still active...burping ash, smoke, and steam... they don't consider it to be an imminent threat of eruption. It is continually being monitored.

As we drove, we passed numerous mudslides brought on by recent rain. None blocked the whole road, so they posed no problems for us. We stopped in a mountain town to let some street vendors on, and since I was hungry, I bought what I was hoping to be chicken on top of hominey. It came in a little styrofoam bowl, and you had to eat it with your fingers. It didn't quite taste like chicken, and was very salty. As we passed another little stand in the village the whole, splayed open pig on the table told me what I needed to know. Pork, not chicken. That explained the salty flavor. That also explained the suspiciously shaped piece I was gnawing on...pig ear...I ate part of it, but passed on the cartilage...I don't think you're supposed to eat that part.

I watched the mountainsides as we drove. They were amazingly steep, but what was more amazing was seeing the homes clinging to the steep mountainsides and the successful attempts at cultivating those steep areas.

I shot a little bit of video while we were driving...crazy! The buses pass in the fog, on a curve on a mountainside...they all do it! It was SOOO "just like in the movies!" I kept expecting either Harrison Ford or Juan Valdez to show up on the road...I'd have preferred the former! :D But neither one appeared, darn! The memorial crosses that were scattered along the steep mountain road were a grim reminder that there is a lot of mistaken judgment on the part of the drivers who traverse this area.

During the last couple hours of the trip, they driver's assistant turned on a Jean Claude Van Damme movie for us. You couldn't hear what was being said, but who needs to? It had the same basic plot that all of his movies have...pretty girl, seemingly endless bad guys, and he wins in the end. It ended just shortly before we arrived in Riobamba.

The bus doesn't actually go into TOWN, just to the outskirts, so I grabbed my bynow normal mode of transport...a taxi, and we went in search of my chosen hostel. That was a trip in itself. He didn't know where it was. We drove all over Riobamba, a city of 126,000 people, and no one we spoke to had heard of it. I finally got him to look at the map in my Lonely Planet guide book, and he realized he was on the wrong end of the very lengthy street that it was on. We finally arrived at about 8:30-ish, and I gave him a good tip for all his trouble.

The son of the hostel owner greeted me. I was so excited because he speaks a little bit of broken English...someone who understood a little of what I was trying to say! Whoo Hoo! English, by the way, is NOT widely spoken...anywhere that I've been here in Ecuador. They all look at me and shake their heads...I know they think I'm crazy for being here without speaking the language. Heck, I'M beginning to think I'm somewhere off center for being here without speaking the language as well! Oh well! To late to turn back now...just adds to the adventure! More in the next post.

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