Peace Corps Volunteers in Ecuador are not allowed to drive a car or a motorcycle.  So, I spend a lot of time walking or riding a bus.  In this post, I thought I’d share a little of that experience with you.

A bus is like a little moving community.  We all come aboard with the silent agreement, a trust in the driver to actually get us to our destination safely.  As we jiggle and cajole our way from the door to a hanging handle, a pole or railing –anything to grab- we come face to face with others, their armpits, and their oversized bags.  A quick contact of our eyes, a head nod, and often a sliver of a smile confirms that we’re in it together, and we’ll try to help each other stay upright, because, well, the alternative is a trampling.  With feet planted as if you’re on a boat, knees bent, and arms taught, we ride the curves and anticipate the acceleration and sudden stops along the journey.  If you’re lucky enough, the person you’re leaning over has to get off the bus before you, and you can steal a coveted moment in a seat, to stare out the steamed up windows and watch the street scenes fly by.  But don’t be lulled into thinking that riding in a seat is much easier.  Some buses have plastic seats and you have to use your feet to brake for the sudden stops, or else you’ll slide right out of your seat and flop onto the floor.  I know this from experience, again and again. 

You can buy ANYTHING on a bus…candy bars, chocolate balls, bags of peanuts, homemade pan de yucca that melts in your mouth, gum, mints, bags of oranges, cherries, CD’s, DVD’s, watches, jewelry, face lotion, cell phone cases.  Vendors get on at a stop, stand at the front and make a pitch about the benefits of their product or the poorness of their family, and then they walk from seat to seat trying to pass out their wares and hoping you’ll fork over the price.  Once, a woman came on the bus with an amplifier and she sang her heart out.  I donated to her cause.  During another bus ride, a man challenged the riders with quiz questions about Ecuador.  For every correct answer, you received a bead. At the end of the game, he passed out necklace rope to make your own necklace from the beads you had earned.  Of course, then you felt compelled to buy the necklace that you just made. Brilliant!  Bus rides are always entertaining!

Many farmers use the bus to carry large bags of produce to market.  That’s normal to see.  This head had a price tag on it too.  It’s definitely the most interesting thing I’ve seen on a bus so far! 
Every bus has a Bus Driver and an Assistant. The Assistant’s job is very important.  At each stop, his job is to jump off, stand on the sidewalk and call out loudly the names of all the upcoming stops.  He strongly encourages you to board his bus by yelling “Sube! Sube! Sube!” or “Sigua! Sigua! Sigua!” which generally means “Get on the Bus!”  Then he squeezes between all the people to collect your 25 -30 cents, and somehow miraculously gets back to the door in time to jump off at the next stop and start screaming again.  Bus drivers and their assistants make a lot of money each day, and this job is primarily held by men.  I’m always pleased to see a husband and wife team working the stops and try to take their buses instead.

A bus driver is very talented.  He can maneuver between lanes, other cars, and around curves at top speed, all the while beeping his horn in rhythmic responses to the other cars sounding their horns as well.  A horn can mean any of the following:

–I’m coming into your lane
–Watch out, I’m coming through this intersection
–Get out of my way
A word of warning however, is that since bus drivers are always in a hurry to get to their next destination, they don’t always feel obliged to come to a complete stop.  Learning how to get on or off of a moving bus is always a good skill to have!

In Ecuador, local bus stations are very efficient. You pay one price to enter the station and then you line up on the platform in a location that is designated for your destination. When the bus pulls up, the people who are disembarking get off the bus out the front door, while everyone entering the bus gets on through the back door at the same time.  Many people can board quickly and efficiently, because they’ve already paid for the ride.

A final note to round out your virtual bus riding experience…. the blaring Ecuadorian music! Sometimes that’s how you know the bus is coming, you hear the music first.  Someday my Spanish will be good enough and I’ll be able to sing along like so many of the other riders.  Like I said, bus rides are always entertaining!