I was pushed out of the bus as a cartoon character. I felt thrown up by the crowd. With my backpack and three bags I had a bit of what’s completely unknown in Ecuador – personal space in a bus. No one let me pass – I had to fight my way out with my elbows. Even people getting on it didn’t wait for me to get out. I saw the hatred for a foreigner who, instead of letting a taxi driver earn over 10$, had chosen a 25 cents worth bus ride. And now he decided to get off!
Quito is about 50 km long from the North to the South. It’s relatively narrow but incredibly long. Additionally, the buildings are rather low, so two millions people occupy a huge space. From Quitumbe bus station in the South to Carcelen bus station in the North there are about 25 kilometres. Google gives the fastest itinerary by car – 48 minutes – via some minor streets – over 40 km. Still in one city. A taxi would cost about 25$, but what are buses for? One can travel all the way for 25 cents, a hundred times cheaper. And three times longer. I’m not a skinflint, by why should I overpay?
The city council only recently decided to build the underground which is, in fact, a bit challenging operation because of volcanic terrain and constant tectonic movements. There is, though, a well developed system of Metrovía – long and a bit special buses, which circulates the main arteries on N-S axis. What’s special about them, that’s door – on the left side and on the height of over a meter. The bus stops are located in the middle of the street. From the door to the platform there is a gangplank which allows to access the vehicle. Also, they have up to three joints. Anyway, they’re always full.
Another day, another bus stop. A bus arrives. A small one, belonging to one of many cooperatives which bring passengers to where the Metrovía doesn’t go. It’s on time – they’re always on time as a schedule exists only in the driver’s head and it’s simple – get there the most quickly possible. I get on and ride. I don’t know where I’m going – the important thing is that the driver knows. Two stops later an orange seller gets on. Next another one – with chocolates, another with ice creams. We approach the market. People load some big sacks, baskets with fruits, bags with vegetables. It becomes crowded, but I got a seat. First time in the bus in Quito, I let myself sit.
The knowledge about the schedule and buses’ other than Metrovía destination is a secret lore. I suppose it’s carried through generations and is impossible to be possessed by a newcomer. Only choice we have is to go on a bus stop and go where the bus takes us, hoping it’s going a good way.
By the way, you all know the crazy guy, who has to be first and outruns every other car on the road and breaks only the last moment? Quito bus drivers are those drivers. No wonder, if they hit someone it’s usually this person’s problem, not theirs.
The Ecuadorian approach towards the time is rather easy but there are two circumstances one has to be on time – a meeting with a lawyer and long-distance bus. You’re not there, the bus will go without you. A ticket can be bought directly on bus or in one of a hundred ticket offices on the bus station – every bus company has its own. Cashiers shout the destinations to attire the passengers attention. If you know the market, you can choose between slightly cheaper and more expensive options – with TV or Wi-Fi. Once I had even an USB port to charge my phone.
It’s thought that an hour of ride costs about a dolar. Maybe it used to be the case, but know the expense is slightly bigger. Why an hour? Because in the mountainous Ecuador giving the distance in kilometres gives no idea about the actual travel time. For example, a bus from Guayaqui to Quito, which takes 8 hours, costs 10$. Quito-Loja, about 11-13 hours – already 19$.
A confession. I hate buses. It the least comfortable mean of transport. I prefer walking. I love trains, the air planes fascinate me – not even mentioning everything that floats. In Ecuador… well, I’ve changed my mind. Mostly because of the seats which are possible to almost be laid down on the laps of the person behind. And you can sleep there normally. I was told (but I’ve never seen them), there are sleeping buses. Then, you can really lay down the seat. They are twice as expensive though, as they can take only a half of normal passengers number.
In long-distance buses there are many entertainments. Sometimes some Columbian trie to sell watches and parfumes, the standard thing is few food, newspapers or powerbank sellers jumping on just before leave. Once I even bought myself a lunch – chips and some fried chicken, supposedly – not leaving my seat. In general, it’s fun. It lacks only showers and I could live without hostels.
One thought to finish. In the cities taxis are the best mean of transport. A wide choice, negotiable and reasonable prices. And there are places you cannot get the other way.