Sunday – Travels from Vilcabamba to Quito
I woke before the alarm, laid in bed and tried to determine if I was going to miss this place. I started to believe I would. Didn’t even shower (had enough showers yesterday to last a week!), just grabbed my bags and headed to the reception/restaurant area where I finished up Friday’s blog, had breakfast with a number of well-wishing friends, called the taxi and was delivered to the Vilcabamba bus station.
I was 30 minutes early for my bus, so I started exploring and discovered that the Sunday market was under way on the other side of the bus station! It was like a normal Farmer’s Market in the states, and I enjoyed walking around. All of a sudden behind me someone was saying “I knew if I waited a little longer you’d show up!” It was Daya! What a wonderful surprise. We started gabbing and then a friend of hers walked by and she introduced me to her – Kim Evans. Kim and I started talking and Daya said good-bye, she had to go, and Kim and I kept on babbling and I quickly learned that she is one of the Citizen Journalists for Mike Adams! Small world even here in Vilcabamba! So she started telling me how she got into it, etc. – most interesting and gives me renewed confidence that it just might be possible to earn a living at writing. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, of course, but then I never was about getting rich.
Finally I was worried I’d miss the bus, so said my good-byes and scurried around the bus terminal – my bus was in dock and the young bus assistant put my luggage in the hold. Pretty soon we all boarded and I luckily grabbed a window seat. The ride was beautiful and seemed to go by pretty fast. It was lovely seeing the incredible green valleys again on the way to Loja.
At the Loja terminal, there was a full hour before my next bus to Cuenca, so I wandered the shops inside the terminal and bought a couple apples and some Queso (cheese), pronounced ”kay-so”. Everything else in the shops looks like junk food.
Went out to where the busses dock and sat in a seat alongside the building with hoards of other folks waiting for their busses. Giant mesh bags of tubers, onions, and other vegetables, and immense bags of rice, were the luggage of some of the travelers. There were at least 5 different bus companies using this Terminal, if not more. It was very busy, and amazing to see how they all orchestrated their maneuverings so as not to hit each other as they pulled in and out of the rather small Terminal. It was like watching ballet, almost. Or Cirque de Soleil. It’s a dance. When I used to do archaeology I was mesmerized many times watching 3 or 4 gargantuan backhoes working side by side excavating a singular trench, and thinking they were all in such coordination and “knowing’ of exactly where each other was at each precise moment – it was like ballet, or living art. The Loja Bus Terminal reminded me of that.
Finally the bus to Cuenca arrived and the very handsome young bus assistant (reminded me of Matt Damon) put my luggage in the hold. I was one of the first to board, so I had my pick of seats, and as I wandered down the aisle I spied a window seat that looked just perfect for me. I plopped down, stowed my heavy carry-on under the seat in front, and watched the other passengers board. It was then that I noticed they were checking seat numbers against their ticket, and I suddenly realized I hadn’t looked at my ticket for a seat number – I’d just sat down in what looked like the best seat in the bus for me. I quickly grabbed out my ticket and checked the seat number – it was 19. Then I stood up and looked to see what number was listed on the luggage stow above me. This is where it gets weird….I was sitting in seat number 19!!! How bizarre! But how perfect! Once again, one of the strange little wonderments that seem to happen when you travel sometimes.
The trip to Cuenca was supposed to be 4.5 hours – and I fell asleep pretty soon after we started. The countryside is beautiful but after awhile you just have to nap. Somewhere in the first hour of the trip I was awoken by the most noxious chemical smell…I looked to the rear of the bus and it appeared that a mom with a baby may have had a diaper, or sans diaper, accident, and the bus attendant was back there helping her. I think the smell was a disinfectant, which these Latin American countries seem to use liberally and with no concern. I was almost unable to breathe, and I had not been able to slide my window open when I’d tried earlier, so I put a napkin close over my nose and held it there with both hands, feeling like I wasn’t getting enough air, but unable to breathe any other way than through the napkin. Within about 10 minutes of the problem, the young “Matt Damon” saw my problem and quickly opened my window for me – what a relief!! Of course I gave him a hearty “Muchas Gracious” (Many Thanks, or Thank you Very Much). I kept my nose out the window and breathed deep breaths of fresh air, trying to clean out my system. Meanwhile, there were other babies and all the rest of the full busload of folks who were all breathing it and behaving as though nothing had happened! I was the only gringo, so I guess that makes the difference – they’re used to these smells, and I am not.
The ride was long, but the country was appealing. Lush and green, major valleys and major mountains everywhere. Sprawled landscape of farms and towns – big sky country. Just stupendous to look at. We finally arrived at Cuenca, and I caught a quick taxi to the airport which was very close by, and amazingly it was only 4 p.m. at the airport! The bus had managed to make up the half hour it lost at a construction area just outside of Loja! I knew they were driving like idiots, but I hadn’t known they’d be able to make up that much time.
The airport was at sleep – no one but a couple of information folks were there. They told me that everything wakes back up at 5 p.m., but that there was a food court upstairs. I went upstairs, and they also had free wi-fi (I’m really liking these free wi-fi airports), so I had a ensalada pollo (chicken salad) and caught up my Saturday log. When I finally went downstairs again, the place was packed!!!
What a transformation! People everywhere! Got my ticket and went through security (you don’t have to take your shoes off, unpack your computer, or even take your coat off down here!), and then into the waiting area where I met a wonderful family from Connecticut. They had done the Galapagos already and gave me lots of great leads for my trip there. Finally we all boarded the Tame flight, which ended up departing 30 minutes late. The pilots deftly avoided a lightning storm somewhere to the west (I saw several large sky light-ups out my window) and we landed in Quito at 8 p.m.
As soon as I exited the terminal a man came rushing up to me and asked if I needed a taxi. I said yes and asked if he knew the Chicago Hostel. He said yes and loaded my stuff into his cab quicker than you could say lightning! The police were standing near his car and not too happy he was parked there, and then I noticed he didn’t have a meter, nor a taxi sign on the roof, and his car was black, not yellow like the other taxis, and I started wondering if I had made a big boo-boo. We had already settled on the price of $7.00 for the trip before I entered the taxi, and now I wondered if he really knew where Chicago Hostel was. I gave him the address, and then he said it’s a long way, it would be $10.00. I was very firm in my response that he had agreed to $7.00, so he acquiesced and still remained friendly – what a relief. We exchanged a little info and it turns out he’s from Columbia! There seem to be a lot of people working in Ecuador from Columbia. He finally found the Hostel, though it was a little different way than I was used to going, which caused me a little concern at first, but he seemed sure he knew where he was going once he saw the address, so I calmed myself and did not panic. Once there, I tipped him a dollar so he didn’t feel like he’d lost too much, and the Chicago Hostel let me in. Yippee! I finally made it! It was so great to finally plop my bags down and relax in my room!
What a long day of travel! But it was good, and now I just finished a cervesa and am going to bed! Tomorrow I hope to book passage to the Galapagos! It will be fantastic to be where Darwin and the Beagle were…I’ve been hearing incredible stories of people swimming with the sea lions and turtles and everything else on these tours…can’t wait to snorkel amongst the wild sea animals.