Grant McWilliams

To Cuenca

Five-thirty came early like it always does. Mo and I talked about our plans for quite a while and our thoughts about the trip and the next thing we knew it was too late to get our tickets so we decided to just take a bus to Cuenca and day trip Alausi and the train down the devils nose. This allowed us to eat a proper breakfast which was included in our stay. Breakfast was huevos tortillas (omelette's) with juice and some sort of bread. We paid and took a taxi to the bus terminal. We erroneously assumed that since Cuenca was the third largest city in Ecuador and we were on the Panamerican highway that there'd be many buses going there, we were wrong. The next bus wasn't for 2 hours and there was only one company serving Cuenca from Riobamba. We decided to kill the 2 hours on the internet and took a taxi back downtown. When I told him I wanted to find an abierto internet he looked at the other driver and said “They want internet” in Spanish and made a funny face. It seems silly to take a taxi to find internet but it only cost one dollar and the internet for Mo and I both cost another dollar. We won't exactly go broke at that rate.


I still have had no luck finding internet with Skype so I can't call Piper which really is missing me. Maybe I'll be able to call when we get to Cuenca. We returned to the bus station 45 minutes early to get a good seat on the bus. We put our luggage on and sat on the same side so we could make sure nobody stole our bags. A few minutes later someone else got on an bumped us because they had reservations. Curious I asked to see his ticket because I didn't know you could have reservations and wanted to know how much it cost. To communicate this I showed him my ticket and he pointed to it and said “uno, dos, tres, cuatro” and motioned to the front. I've seen this on our tickets before but it was always the same seats so I figured it was just a filler. Apparently we're always the first ones to buy tickets so we always have seats one through four reserved. So we decided to move to our seats so we don't get bumped and there is an indigenous couple with a baby sitting in our seats so I move the father and he sat on the floor on his bag and let the mother stay but that only gave us three seats so Jade squeezed in with Mo and Natalya. We started out with about 46 people on a 46 person bus and before the trip was over had picked up many more people. The indigenous couple didn't have a seat reservation yet they were standing outside the bus for at least 45 minutes before it left. As a matter of fact none of the indigenous people had seat reservations and I don't know why. Maybe there's prejudice here like we had years ago? Maybe indigenous people can't make reservations.

So I sat next to an indigenous lady with a baby while her husband sat on the floor at her feet for 6 hours. I figured the ride wouldn't be a problem because we're driving down the famous Pan American Highway but I was to find out later that they should rename it to Pan American pothole filled dirt road as it would be more descriptive. Everytime we got to any small village (and sometimes in between) there would be indigenous people standing beside the road with their hand out flagging down the bus. Before we left the station there was standing room only and we filled the bus until there wasn't room for anyone to sit, stand or lay down anywhere. We had several animals (dogs) and about 65-70 people on the bus. We had people sitting on the dash, on the stairs to the door, on the engine cover and all up and down the aisle. I've learned that in Ecuador you have two choices – lean on someone hard or have them lean on you. The former lets you control your space. If you move away for any reason they will just move closer and lean on you more. Your personal space doesn't exist here so it's best if you stop whining about it before you get on the bus. There were people who stood the whole 6 hours.

I'd also like to say right now that I've always been treated well by the indigenous people and they've never tried to rip me off but boy do they stink! They smell like a cross between leather, cows and horse sweat all mixed together. The also look drastically different than the Mestizos. The lady sitting next to me had very Japanese looking eyes and a nose that seemed to start half way up her forehead and bent upward until it reached its summit about halfway to the end then pointed down again. Imagine someone that has had their nose broken in the middle and it wasn't fixed right. Most but not all had noses like this. They also have many skin problems with marks and sores. I don't think they have very good lives and I feel for them because they are the decedents of a great race and they live in humiliation. The entire journey we saw indigenous people hearding goats, sheep, cows and donkeys along the road. Some of the girls wore bright skirts and cute bowler hats with bows on them, others wore simple wool like clothes. I wish I could speak the language so I could ask the about their lives. One group got on the bus and I thought it was the mother, older son, daughter and younger son. As I watched the two oldest kids I noticed they didn't touch each other like siblings but more like a couple. The girl was probably 13 and the boy 17 or so. The mother I believe was the mother of the girl and the little boy as I could see a family resemblance. That was real strange because even though I know various cultures do this it was strange to see this little girl that was half Natalya's size and probably a year younger married. In some countries (like ours) someone would go to jail for this.

The bus passed Alausi but I didn't see the train station so I don't know exactly how to get there. Soon after the bus started to climb and ran into the clouds. Sitting in the front seat gave me the vantage point of the driver which was a bit unnerving at first. I think visibility was about 30 feet and the Pan American Highway had turned to dirt and got really narrow. Normally people here drive in the middle of the road but because the driver couldn't see oncoming cars far enough ahead he drove on the right. Normally this wouldn't be a problem but as we climbed the mountain the drop off next to the road got bigger. These roads have no shoulders and no guard rails. Thanks to the driver's apparent belief in life after death we still made good time. I kept telling myself that he knew this road like the back of his hand but them my twisted mind pictured him looking at the back of his hand and saying “What's that?”. Eventually I had to just trust the guy because there wasn't anything else I could do anyway. If we got of the bus and caught the next one it wouldn't be any better. Every time he barreled into a turn he miscalculated and started turning sharper and sharper and the edge got closer and closer. On one curve I thought Mo was going to have a heart attack because another foot and the wheel she was sitting over would have been freewheeling.

img_0777We did make it though and when we started to come into the basin that Cuenca is in we knew we were going to like it because it was very pretty and clean. The houses looked nicer and newer and I got the impression that there was money here. Money doesn't make nicer people but it does make things more comfortable for the gringos because it's more like home. Thanks to the above mentioned religious beliefs of our driver we arrived in Cuenca 30 minutes early. We didn't have accomodations but I wanted to stay in the Let's Go recommended posada if they had room so we caught a taxi for 2 dollars. The gate to the Posada Todo Santos was closed but there was a doorbell so I rang it. I couldn't really hear her but I told her I wanted a room for 4 people and she let us in. She really didn't speak much English but more than the people we'd been dealing with for the last two weeks. She had two rooms that would hold us and she said later someone would be there that spoke English so we could finalize then.img_6813

The Hostel is beautiful and clean, the beds were great and the bathroom was modern. There was a central eating area that looked nice. I've come to believe if Lets Go gives a thumbs up to a place you should really make an effort to get in there. Key's in hand we head out for food again. Cuenca is much much cleaner than any other Latin American city we've been in. Most of the cities in Ecuador and Peru have been stink holes but for some reason they grow on you anyway especially if you've been to Latin America before. To a person used to Europe or the States it could be overwhelming. Anyway the city center has cobblestone streets and wide sidewalks which is a welcome change to Cusco. Let's Go recommended a New York pizza place and since we were starting to like normal bowel movements we headed there. It was about 10 blocks away so we got to see a bit of Cuenca along the way.

This is the most American/European of all Ecuadorian cities with clothing shops, electronics, eatieries etc.. The people dress very classy and it's clean. You do still see people on the streets with grills selling shish kebobs etc.. so you never forget where you are though. The pizza place was nice and we ordered one medium pizza, a calzone, an empanada and Mo got spaghetti and a milk shake. Little did we know that the portions were huge and we ended up with three meals worth of food. All was good though and we took the rest back to the hostel in boxes. When we got back the owners nephew was there and he spoke English and got us checked in. We'll be here for 5 nights and the total cost for all four of us is $29/night which is amazing for a place like this. We have filtered water, breakfast for $1 and four large beds with a private bath. Exhausted we all go to sleep. Tomorrow we just wander and get to know Cuenca.