A Memorable Place In Ecuador, the view from the bus By...

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

April 14, 2002|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

In Ecuador, the view from the bus

By Adam Kelley

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's funny how hindsight can turn the worst parts of a vacation into the best memories. During a recent trip to Ecuador, my friend Jennifer and I climbed a volcano, fished for piranhas in a tributary of the Amazon and ate lemon-flavored ants straight from the nest. But now that we're back in Maryland, there's just one thing that really stands out in our minds: the bus ride from hell.

We were on our way to the nation's capital, Quito, from the city of Riobamba, and the bus was pretty much our only travel option. As it pulled into the Riobamba station, we were reminded of the buses you see in B-movies set in Central America. It was old and battered and covered in mud. Two sheep were riding on the roof, tethered to a railing.

We climbed aboard -- and so did about a thousand other people. After all the seats were taken, people continued to crowd into the aisle. Everybody seemed to be carrying something, whether it was a child or a crate full of chickens. One person brought a goat on a leash.

We all sat there, packed in and sweating under the equatorial sun, waiting for the driver to turn the key. Finally, after about 45 minutes, the engine revved, the bus lurched forward, and we were off.

Jennifer had a window seat. Alas, while the scenery outside -- a rolling patchwork of brown, green and yellow crops, interspersed with so many waterfalls that we started taking them for granted -- was breathtaking, looking through the glass could be vertiginous, as the bus seemed to be tracing a path along the edge of steep cliffs.

The trip, which was supposed to last three hours, turned into six. The smell of diesel fumes and cigarette smoke permeated what little air there was. Every so often, the bus would stop in some small hamlet and young kids dressed traditionally, in colorful felt ponchos, would climb on board to hawk cheese sandwiches and boiled eggs.

The sensory overload continued all the way to Quito. By the time we disembarked, Jennifer and I vowed to never again disparage the Baltimore public transportation system. Our heads were pounding. We were queasy. But less than a day later, we had started to view the ride not so much as a nightmare but as a reflection of all the chaos and color that everyday life in Ecuador entails. Now, we laugh every time we look back on it. I don't think either of us would want to do it again, but we're sure glad we did it once.

Adam Kelley lives in Baltimore.

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