Monday, June 29, 2009

Stay Off the Road at Night

I've warned as many people as I can about the dangers of taking a night bus in Ecuador. Still, some people continue to choose to take them, and it's their choice. As I've said before, you can ride a night bus 100 times and never have any trouble, but if one time something goes wrong, you'll be wishing you hadn't. Not only can you be robbed or temporarily hijacked at night, but the drivers can fall asleep and the buses can roll off a cliff (which happened to another volunteer in my program.) And though I'd warned one of my closest friends here, Jamie about what happened on my bus back in September, last Friday night she was on a bus from Cuenca to Quito that got hijacked.

The coast is definitely considered more dangerous, but these things can still happen in the sierra. I still haven't even heard from her because her cell phones were stolen, but I've heard about what happened through other friends who saw her in Quito after it happened. The circumstances are similar to what happened to my friends and I in September, which I wrote about in a blog. I also wrote about what to do in a situation like this in an article with the Matador Network.

Basically, she was taking the bus up to Quito and three men with guns got on the bus, robbed everyone, and left them in a field. This time around, however, they actually fired the guns in the bus. But Jamie was fortunate too because she was able to hide money in her shirt and it wasn't discovered. She was traveling by herself, and I can't imagine what that must have been like all alone. I'd seen her just before she left that night, and though she left later in the afternoon, her plan was to spend the night in a town a couple of hours away, and I still don't know what happened to the original plan. If she'd told me she was going straight to Quito I'd have told her not to.

Being on both sides of this kind of incident now, I have a better appreciation for it. As a victim in something like a bus hijacking, you are the sole focus. You are there when it happens and when it's over, you are alone with your thoughts until other people start to hear about it. But the worst of it is behind you, and even though you might have some emotional things to deal with after, the guns can't touch you later on. As a friend though, I find myself just feeling awful about it, and it's a feeling that is lingering. Knowing exactly what it's like, I hate that she had to go through that. And I hate that there's nothing I can do, at least right now, while I'm still out of contact with her. It's the kind of feeling that tells you you really care for someone, and not being able to see them immediately only makes it worse. This is the kind of pain my family and friends must have been going through back home when it happened to me.

Jamie actually has a family here, and she was on her way to Quito to pick up her little sister who will be visiting for a month. So she'll have support that I didn't have. Also, she's been here almost 7 months and knows a lot of people in the community, as well as more about the culture and society. In my case, I'd just arrived in the country and other than the volunteers in my program at orientation, didn't really know anyone. So I'm hopeful that she'll be able to move on from this pretty quickly. And as bad as it sounds, she knew from my experience what it was like and what to expect, so she probably didn't have the same thoughts I'd had. Thoughts of whether or not we were being kidnapped by rebels or would we be killed, etc. The kind of thoughts that enter your head when your world's just been rocked.

So again, I can't stress this enough. Do not take the night buses in the country. It's just not worth it. You might have to kill a day traveling once in a while, or spend a little extra and fly, but at the end of the day you arrive in one piece with all of your things, and you don't have to have a story to scare people. And I just hope that my friend can feel the same way too.

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