Exploratory Trip to Ecuador May 2010 (Quito to Bahia de Caraquez)
The bus line is called Reina del Camino (Queen of the Road). There are 2 terminals in Quito (North and South). I boarded an Ejecutivo (Executive) bus at noon at the North terminal, just a few minutes after being robbed of my computer and passport. I was allowed on with a copy of my passport and was patted down for weapons (as are all the passengers). There are no "executives" on the bus; there is a person riding "shotgun" next to the driver.
What the hell am I doing here? My retired friend told me "You've got to come and check this out!".
The trip out of Quito requires a stop at the South terminal. There's a lot of opening-and-closing of the luggage door, but I only see stuff coming onboard, not off (whew). A very beautiful, young blond woman boards the bus. She says she's from Czechoslovakia and has been traveling from Argentina by bus. Wow! (why?) She's going all the way to the Pacific and then down to Chile. (okay) Oh, the bus is more than half empty. The fare is really high for locals. I guess that's the executive part. Also, I could have flown to Manta (south of Bahia) ($70) and then taken a cab north for a 1 1/2 hr drive. There are some stories about crime in Manta, as well as on the cab ride north. Pick your poison. I chose the bus.
The trip starts by snaking through the city showing how the population is spread in Quito. BTW, the altitude was not a problem. The exhaust from cars and buses is; it smells bad. Once out of the town, the road snakes its way down to Bahia de Caraquez. This is a very long ride. Lots of vegetation all the way down. Small towns here and there. Cinder block shacks on stilts everywhere. Everything is decorated in poverty and neglect. Corrugated tin panels for roofs, held down with old plastic chairs or rocks. Rebar rods protruding from roofs tell the taxman that these are unfinished buildings and therefore not taxable.
The bathroom on the bus is locked. The guy riding shotgun has to let you in, and he locks it up as soon as you are done. There is no way anyone is going to hijack this bus. He did, however, once open the bus door just a crack to throw out an empty water bottle, which joined the uninterrupted trash that litters both sides of the highway all the way to the coast.
There was one stop midway to the coast for food. The concession sells hot meals as well as snacks. The food is good. And, there are stationary toilets there. BTW, in Ecuador you don't flush toilet paper; after you wipe, you put the dirtied paper in a bin next to the toilet (dang). I'm afraid this is going to make me sound negative (what? I've been nothing but negative) but IF YOU DRINK THE WATER, IT WILL KILL YOU. Drink only bottled water, brush your teeth only with bottled water. Tap water is okay for flushing and for showering.
About six hours later, we arrive in Bahia. My luggage is still here (yea). The Czech lady and I take a ride into town (about 2 miles). The vehicle is a bicycle with a 2-wheeled bench up front, $2 for the trip. Bahia is touted as an eco-friendly city. So someone pedaling a bike-cart makes it eco-friendly, even though all the cars and buses stink to high heaven. We drop the lady off at a hostel she had previously arranged to stay at.
Now to make it across the bay in a ponga (motorized canoe for 20 people) before the sun sets. Sunrises and sunsets are very close to punctual here: 6am and 6pm. Ponga operators don't like to pilot in the dark because they can hit a sand bar and capsize. This has happened and most of the passengers drown, probably because the life jackets are worthless (but required!). The trip costs 30 cents. Oh, Ecuador uses US currency but they also have their own coins. Also, the time in Ecuador is the same as that on the US Eastern coast.
Once we have 20 people, the sandbar lookout (the man at the bow) shoves us off and we're on our way. About 5 minutes later, we're on the north side of the bay in a little town called San Vicente. Here, a motorized tricycle takes you to your final destination. Luckily, that is nearby for me, because the motor on this tricyle smells like it needs a valve job, a new set of rings, and a tuneup. (cough) Someone light up a cigarette so we can get some fresh air here. Also, the automobile windshield held by bungee cords is just pure genius, pure genius. 2 bucks.
I'm finally at my destination. It's just past 6pm and it is getting very dark.
More later ...