I am now writing from the city of Cuenca, which is sort of in the southern part of the Ecuadorian Andes. Last night was a fun last hoorah in Quito with the group of volunteers. We had dinner at a Cuban restaurant and then danced Salsa and slowly filed out as the night went on in groups of 2 or 3. As usual, my sleep at the host families house in Quito was lousy and I woke up several times before my alarm finally kicked me out of bed at 5:30.
The ride to Cuenca from Quito takes about 9 or 10 hours, and we caught the 7:30 a.m. bus with Sucre Express. The ride was anything but express. Starting off with just a few passengers, we made stops in Ambato, Riobamba, and a number of other along-the-road-towns here and there. Hardly anything is dull down in Ecuador, and the bus rides are no exception. Well, that should be obvious from earlier posts.
Today, however, the excitement was more of an innocent type. First, at every stop 2 or 3 vendors will jump on board and yell their product over and over. Some sell nuts and fruit, others sell drinks or fried foods. Though the empanadas look and sound good, it's usually a better idea to just wonder what it tastes like, especially when you have 8 hours to go on a bumpy road.
Unlike bus companies in the U.S., some companies in Ecuador will pick up hitchhikers on the side of the road. They aren't getting a free ride though, they're simply passengers who catch the bus wherever they can flag it down along the route. So at any given time the bus might stop and pick up several new friends. Then later on, someone else could ask to get off anywhere along the emptiness of the Andes just by yelling, "Gracias!"
At one stop, a man jumped on and began to lecture for over a half hour about the powers of naturalistic medicince. Every story has a point, however, and after enough talking he began peddling his pills made of papaya extract. I wouldn't trust any medication that a guy who just jumped on the bus was pushing, but almost everyone on the bus bought some.
Next, a man was lecturing to the bus for 15 minutes about his creams, which many women bought. If there wasn't a guest lecturer, the bus driver played songs from his favorite selections. Being without an iPod, it was nice to drive through the countryside with some local flavor. Once a vendor was done with the sales, the bus would slow just enough for him or her to jump off with all of their belongings and head out for the next bus.
It was a beautifully sunny day and visibility stretched for miles. The Andes are something special--complexly simple. They spring up out of no where and present enormous peaks, yet they are still just simple mountain ranges with farms, animals, and people walking around. These guys make the mountains back in the northeast look like mounds of dirt. I've never seen anything like this before, not even in the Alps, and I spent the better part of 10 hours in awe, looking from side to side.
At one point we were so high up that we weren't just above the clouds, but we were in the second layer of clouds. If I'd been stupid enough to stick my arm out the window I would have been able to grab some cloud. The topography kept changing without much order; at one point it would be lush and fertile, and suddenly it'd be a dry, dessert-like apex for a half hour, then back to the lush greens.
For most of the trip the bus akingly chugged up and down the passes, but every once in a while the bus driver would see an opportunity to get the lead out and would speed around the turns with reckless disregard for human life. Taking sharp turns at 30 or 40 miles an hour, we'd hold on for dear life and pray we didn't go off the edge of the cliff that was just inches from the road. It wasn't that bad though, just a 100 meter plunge, followed by a plateau, and another 1000 drop. A tough break, but doable.
I was exhausted and really could have used some shut eye, but there was too much to see for me to close my eyes. I've been forever spoiled. I don't know how I'll ever be able to drive on I-95 again, with those hideous trees lining each side of the highway, nothing special or interesting to see for hundreds of miles, the only break being the occasional rest area with a McDonald's to break up the monotony.
We passed by plenty of little shacks and huts and I thought that I could honestly live there in peace without want of much else except the good view. Some of the best real estate in the world had shacks with rusty tin roofs in the view. Someone should send a memo to Donald Trump, or better yet, don't. Leave this pristine land the way it is.
A 10 hour travel day is never easy, but it sure does go by easier when you're staring at mountains and volcanoes that dwarf anything you've ever seen and you're practically in the stratosphere. By 5:45 p.m. we were finally rolling into Cuenca. The sun was setting behind a big mountain range. The only part of the city I've seen so far is the 4 minute ride from the bus station to my new host families house, but I can already tell that I'm going to like this place. It's got a very Spanish feel to it and seems very tranquilo. Tomorrow I'll get to explore more, and with any luck, by the end of the weekend will start to have a feel for the place.
A national prohibition goes into effect tomorrow at midnight as the country gets ready for the election on whether or not they should rewrite the constitution for the 20th time( yes, actually the 20th time), and won't be lifted until Monday. Depending on the outcome of the election, there might be some interesting developments, but until then, by experiences will be that of a fresh faced gringo to a new city, gettin' by on excitement rather than drinks.