Into Ecuador

Every traveler will argue over who has had the worst local bus experience.

I myself have broken down on the highway several times, rode for 8 hours sat on a box of onions, seen a pet bird escape from its cage and cause a panic, nearly took a permanent nap from carbon monoxide fumes….you name it.

Everyone has a bus nightmare story.

¨Chicken buses¨ as they are sometimes lovely referred to are never a pleasant experience, but are necessary in any country for budget travel. Riding on a stinking, half-broken-down bus is a rite of passage for any proper backpacker.

I´ve had my brains rattled out on mountain roads in many countries, but I have to say that Ecuador or South America in general might take first prize for spine readjusting rides.

For the last week Alex and I have been busing south across the Colombian border and down the coast of Ecuador, trying to meet back up with Katrina to climb up to Machu Picchu in Peru.

We haven´t spent the night in the same town more than a few hours (hence my sparse writing) and the routine of waking early, hiking to a terminal if there is one with our bags, and bouncing in a sweltering bus for 8 hours is starting to take its toll.

With no stops, we don´t eat until late at night when we come walking into no-named dusty border towns to search for a cheap hotel. Businesses close early so there are usually no restaurants and very few shops open…I am surviving pretty much on junk food.

Some of the places aren´t particularly the safest and I actually walk armed (I´m not going to say with what).

Needless to say, being the only white travelers wandering around at dark lost without maps and carrying bags gets us a lot of attention. There is no English anywhere whatsoever, so necessities like bus times, directions, etc must be puzzled through tediously.

To add to the challenge, buses stop randomly through tiny villages on the way to your destination, and it is just expected that you know where you are. There are no signs, no announcements are made – people just get on and off. Already we have missed a stop at night and ended in the middle of nowhere (a town called San Vincente) at night, starving and cursing under our breath.

This is no get cozy in your seat and turn on the IPOD ride.

The buses which cost between .50 cents and $5, depending on the distance, are a real test of internal kung fu. Most during the day are standing only and we find ourselves without a seat for hours at a time. There is no concept of capacity, people are filed into the center aisle butt to crotch, and you end up bouncing around on bad roads while sharing sweat and grime with locals.

When I finally got off the bus I felt like I had just made love to 8 farmers.

Already I´ve had the pleasure of riding with a guy holding a live rooster and another carrying a full bucket of dead fish.

As we rolled through Quito, one of the largest (and reputedly roughest) cities in South America, our bus driver and his assistant started arguing fiercely. It didn´t take long to realize what was going on….we were lost at dark.

We drove through tiny alleys not designed for anything larger than a motorcycle and asked for directions every rare occasion that we saw someone brave enough to be out walking. Eventually they sorted it out and we made it through town, very late but hopeful.

The saving grace so far has been the scenery. Amazing. Diverse. For a few hours you are looking at rain forrests and green hills splatted with patches of black volcanic soil….then just down the road you see red dust gathering on your bus windows and the land is littered with cactus, rocks, and landscapes that look like the US west.

Another bonus is that so far (me knocking very loudly on wood) our big rucksacks have always turned up in the baggage hold at our final stop. As conspicuous as they are and with as many stops in dodgey places that we make, it is a miracle.

The charming and pleasant little brick streets of Popayan seem so far far away now. I guess this is the price we pay to play.

A small spark in the back of my tired brain is hoping for a fun Halloween night, but more than likely I will end up in a town that most maps and guidebooks don´t bother to acknowledge. Three years ago I was in Italy for Halloween, and 2 years ago I carved the first pumpkin in a hostel in Chengdu, China to celebrate.

My stomach has slowly recovered from the new continent TD, but its still always in the back of my mind.  Having a ¨problem¨ on an 8 hour bus ride with no stops could be very messy indeed.

I´ll check in when we finally reach the coastal party town of Atacames.  Someone go watch a Tim Burton movie for me as I get close to a few more farmers tomorrow night.  🙂

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7 Responses to “Into Ecuador”

  1. How do you check your email, update you blog. I remember you saying that your were not bringing your laptop on this adventure.

    I’m glad to here you use Linux instead of MS. You are free and so should be your OS. What flavor do you prefer (Ubuntu)??

  2. Well I guess “Chicken Busses” can be just a tiny bit tirering in the long run, but I’d guess it’s also a part of the whole experience and something you’ll remember for a long time to come. Wouldn’t you say so as well?

  3. Your analogy to making love to 8 farmers is perhaps the most hillarious sentence (and image) I’ve seen from (of) you. I cannot wait to get on a chicken bus to trade stories with you !

  4. Interesting story and the bus ride sounds scary.

  5. Ecuador is a place Ive always wanted to visit, you are doing well to keep the rucksacks aswel on those bus journeys.

  6. I love how you refer to riding on a stinky old bus as a right of passage for every back packer!

  7. Hey Greg, how come there haven’t been any updates in a while. I’m very curious to hear about your adventures. I surely don’t hope anything bad has happened to you.

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