I really enjoy travel days when everything is new. It is exhilarating, exhausting and nerve-wracking!
Well, it all started about 3:15 in the morning. My bunk-mate, who doesn’t seem to have stayed in enough hostels by the way she didn’t follow the unspoken rules, must have heard me roll over and so thought it appropriate to ask me what time it was. It was 3:15! And then at 4:00 when the wake up knock (pound may be more accurate) sounded, she gets up and turns on the lights! Ok the rules are thus: if it is too early to go to sleep – read before 11:00 pm- it is ok to turn on lights. If it is too early to get up – read before 8 am- it is NOT ok to turn on the lights. Pack a clock and a flashlight before your next trip Missy!
My alarm was set for 5 anyway. I make to the airport in time but it didn’t matter! My flight was cancelled due to weather. And I am told to stand in line but this line scarcely moved. Immediately, I push the button in my brain that kicks into ‘go with it travel mode’ and I start saying ‘it’s ok, whatever happens it will be fine’. It works for over an hour. But try as I might to ignore that 4 people are serving the elite line and 2 are serving the main line, one of which has been with the same customer for over 40 mins. Typing and clicking away- NO IDEA what could possibly require that many buttons. So finally my NYer came out! I went to the person who told me about my flight and politely pointed out that it was 4 to 2 up there. He literally told me that it wasn’t true. It was comical. And that is why I don’t usually get let my mind think of efficiency when traveling. It will only drive you mad.
Good news though! They are able to get me on a flight to Guayaquil that doesn’t even stop in Panama! Woo hoo. Every single airline employee I spoke to told me a different arrival time due to varying reports of a layover in Quito. To the point that when I landed in Quito for what I thought was a 2 hour layover they told us to stay on the plane which is when I asked when we were leaving he said “oh…. When everyone gets on…maybe 20 mins. So I asked when we would arrive in Guayaquil and he said “well, it is about a 30 min flight from whenever we take off.”. Perhaps I learned why no one could tell me the arrival time: there isn’t one!
It isn’t until I am filling out my immigration forms and it asks what kind if visa I am traveling on that it occurs to me I don’t know if there is a visa requirement! I assumed not because it would have come up at some point so I think I’m safe but still just a tad nervous. Actually, I’m always just slightly nervous anytime I go thru immigration. What if they say no?
I also realize that I have researched the specific place I’m going but almost no research on Ecuador itself. Not it usually helps in terms of knowing what to expect. It’s almost impossible to. But when I go up to the ATM and realize I don’t even know the currency or conversion and don’t know how much money to get that I really understand how little research I have done. Oh well, I proceed hoping it becomes clear! The choices are 10,20,30 etc to 100. I choose and when my money comes out, it’s dollars?!? I can’t tell if I pushed a wrong button or if this South American country uses our money and if so how didn’t I know that? I feel like a detective as I walk into the pharmacy to check price tags. Yep dollars!
Ok I work out taking a taxi to the bus station and without meaning to I have a preconceived notion of what it will be like. I could never have imagined this!
About the size of a football field or two and three stories high! Billeteria after billeteria. Finding the one I need out of about 200 felt daunting. I wandered awhile when I noticed a few people looking at me strangely so I look around and notice for the first time I am the ONLY gringo in A station as big as Penn Station! I chuckle and feel both uncomfortable and excited!
When I find my ticket counter I do my best Spanish and pantomime and get my ticket from a very indifferent woman. I ask her “Que puerta” which I hope means which gate but she only mumbles an answer. Mind you, she is behind plexiglass and everyone else in the crowded place is almost yelling. I ask her 4 times without her leaning forward or speaking up once. OK! On my own, I guess! It’s cool. I work it out.
Grab some tasty patty of maybe potatoes and chickpeas, hard to say and get on the bus. Once I sit down and notice that it has a bathroom, something I am not use to from any other foreign travels I immediately jump out and grab a bottle of water because I have previously adopted a no drinking rule on ground transportation days. So happy about water AND a movie?!? I wonder if I have the wrong idea about Ecuador… Until we start rolling. Nope!
Not the wrong idea. Lots of poverty and tin houses or cinderblock houses decaying so much that there are holes thru the walls. And I didn’t realize it was going to be so brown. A desert! (of course there is plenty of wealth and nice areas too but these are the towns near the city right off the main highway).
I watch some Russell Crowe movie where he breaks his wife out of jail in Spanish and realize how unimportant it is to speak the language in such a movie. Think I got it even with my limited Spanish.
So, three hours later, the bus starts to make stops but never announces the stops. I assume that it is local people who know where they are going. But regardless, this is the part that is nerve-wracking…how much to trust and how much to ask. Well, 30 more minutes go by and I am one of very few people left on the train, when I use my busted Spanish to ask. Indeed, it is still further and I am ok. But I am so glad I asked because as we get closer to my stop the driver starts asking me questions that I can’t figure out. Finally, I think he might be asking about where I am going in this town, so I say I am going to Ayampe. That I need a taxi to Ayampe. SO GLAD I told them that. As we get into the town I am to get out at there is almost nothing and certainly no taxi stand. The bus doesn’t stop but it starts honking and flashing its lights at a car that is apparently a taxi. Seriously?!?!
Holy cow. So, as I get in the car and confirm the price and the music is blaring and there are NO street lights on this windy mountain road and this car seems like the engine might drop out, once again – nerve-wracking and exhilarating all at the same time! We drive much further than I expected which actually comforts me because I figure if he wasn’t really a cab and was going to attack and rob me he would have done it anywhere along this dark deserted road! But really I think THANK GOD those bus drivers put me in this cab so I can believe it is a cab.
So, we get to this tinier still town and in the dark manage to find my cabinas. As the car pulls up a woman comes rushing out of her kitchen saying “Abril?!” and gives me a huge hug and kiss. OK, I think I might like Ecuador! It is too dark to see anything but I can hear the ocean, I am safe and I have a hammock outside my door! All is good!
(PS- oh man! When I woke the next morning and started walking around I see how remote this is…parts of it look like a town from the 3 Amigos! But that is for the next blog. Oh and it turns out that when the sun came up I was no longer in the desert! )