Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Smooth Operators

Having crossed the border into Peru about 10 days ago, it's time that we wrapped up our series of blog entries on Ecuador with one final post on this tiny (in relation to its Latin American neighbours) country.

Ecuador wowed us with it's gaily-dressed indigenous community, charming cities, colourful artisan and animal markets, dreamy landscapes, shiny hummingbirds, comical seabirds and majestic whales.

Another thing that made our stay in Ecuador so enjoyable was its transport system. Having spent the preceding 5 weeks in Colombia, we thought that our less-than-pleasant encounters with the bus operators there had pretty much set the note for bus travel throughout Latin America. We were prepared to be worn down by haphazard bus terminals; vendors swooping down upon us, yelling fares and destinations in our direction; vendors getting upset when we ignore them (we can't attend to everyone at once); the tiresome repeat practice of bargaining for lower fares with various operators; and so on. In Colombia, bus fares are not transparent and not consistent across similar routes. To add to the price confusion, fares rise for travel during weekends and festivals. It was our experience in Colombia that inspired Dan to set up a website calling all travelers to pool together information on bus fares across South America and beyond.

Ecuador surprised us by offering:

The Spiffiest Terminals

For one, we found the bus terminals incredibly neat and orderly. Operators are all assigned a booth or office space. Enquiries and the sale/purchase of tickets are carried out behind the counter. No mob of eager vendors to loom in on you the moment you step foot into the building. Nobody shouts. Nobody pressures or tries to sweet-talk you into following them to their counter, only to quote you the same price (or higher) than the other vendors.

The new North Terminal in Quito impressed the socks off us. It was big, clean, bright and the floors were practically waxed, buffed and shining. Vendors' booths were numbered and arranged in a clear and logical order, according to zones, which were further colour-coded for ease of reference: blue for the coastal region, green for the Amazon, etc. The South Terminal for southbound journeys was equally orderly and well-maintained.

Buying a ticket is a breeze at Quito's new North Terminal

The Clearest Pricing

Many of the vendors had their price lists clearly displayed at their counters. Not worried about competitors undercutting them? Possibly so. Because there aren't many operators competing for customers traveling the same routes in the first place. Different companies cover bus travel within different regions. For example, Company A runs services to/from/within the coastal region. Company B covers certain legs in the Amazonas. Company C offers buses north of Quito, while Company D ferries passengers in and around Cuenca in the south. Even if major routes overlap (e.g. Quito to Cuenca, or Cuenca to Guayaquil), the fares between companies for these routes do not differ much. In Guayaquil, one company even asked us to buy tickets from their competitor, as the latter had a bus leaving before theirs! All in all, it results in less energy and time being wasted in a long-drawn bargaining process. (But hey, if you know of any bargaining possibilities in Ecuador, please contribute to BeFareToTourists!)

The Most Entertaining Terminal

Waiting to board a bus in Colombia and in some of Ecuador's smaller towns is a brain-numbing affair. Well, you could read - 3 sentences at a time, interspersed with quick glances around you, to make sure that your bags don't walk away while you're not looking. Shopping is non-existent. Cookie-cutter stores at the terminal sell the same things - bread, sweets, peanuts, chips, bottled drinks. The exact same offerings in each and every stall, displayed in the exact same arrangement.

In Guayaquil, a big, bustling modern city near the Ecuadorian coast, we stepped into an air-conditioned bus terminal cum shopping mall and were entranced by the range of sporting goods, fastfood, freshly-brewed coffee, electronics and fashionwear on offer. It was too bad that we only had 15 minutes before boarding our next bus - just enough time to visit the loo and hop into line for some McNourishment.

Waiting impatiently in line for our 2 cheeseburgers and a McFiesta

The Nicest Bus

Compared to Colombia (and as we're currently discovering, Peru), the quality of buses in Ecuador leaves much to be desired: aircon vents produce nary a whiff of air, windows are stuck fast and cannot slide open/shut, floors and chairs are littered with crumbs and wrappers, and the interiors are overall rather grimy.

All except one amazingly clean and spiffy Librepesa bus. We enjoyed the ride so much, prompting Dan to exclaim to the driver, with a big thumbs-up to emphasize his point, "Me gusta su bus!" (I like your bus!) Origin of manufacture? The Chinese characters printed neatly on the windows answered back at us. The word "Shanghai" was proudly emblazoned on the LCD screens, which emitted crystal-clear images throughout the ride. Made in China? Me gusta!

Nicest bus in the whole of Ecuador

The Most Arm Exercise

Traveling on buses around Ecuador has made me very picky when it comes to choosing a seat - doesn't matter whether the ride is 40 minutes or 14 hours longs.

Like all normal human beings, I need to breathe when on a bus (and during every other second of my life when I'm not on one.) Apparently, Ecuadorians don't. On every single bus ride, I get involved in an "I Open, You Shut" tug-of-war with the local women over the shared window. Yeah, sure, it's a hot and dusty ride. But they would rather stew in an oxygen-less environment for hours than get dust in their faces or their hair mussed by the wind. They only time that they gladly opened the window was to toss garbage out into the streets - corn cobs, ice-cream wrappers, plastic bags, used tissues and big, soggy, used diapers... and wham, they slam it shut again after the deed is done.

Eventually, I learned that I had the most control over the flow of fresh air when I plonked myself into a seat like this one (see picture): where no one could reach over and close the window. Even if the person in front did, I still had my very own window to breathe through!

This window is mine, all mine!

The Most Scenic Route

The most scenic bus route within South America so far, handsdown, was the 4.30pm bus ride from Guayaquil to Cuenca. Traveling with the setting sun alongside, the long late-afternoon rays illuminated the waterways of Guayaquil, then cast a sheet of gold over miles of bright green padi fields, before stretching long dark shadows across the horizon and finally burning up the skies in fiery flames.

That's not your Singapore River Taxi, but a pretty scenic ride nonetheless

Chasing the setting sun...

... and leaving it far behind us

Just as we thought we had seen the last of Mr Sun for the day, he reappeared below us with a final wave, as the bus climbed high above layers of cloud and fog in the Cajas National Park. Here, the views were spectacular - the mountains seemed to reach down to meet a sea of clouds. And as night fell, though the clouds, we caught a glimpse of a city sparkling below the cottony ground - Cuenca. Do remember to sit on the right side of the bus for the best views!

We have been blessed with a smooth ride throughout our 3 weeks in Ecuador. We are grateful to this beautiful country and it's people for treating us well. So well, that we've already made the decision to return to Ecuador in the near future to explore the Galapagos Islands. All in favour of a trip to Ecuador in 3 to 5 years time say "Aye!" (and start saving up pronto!)


Anonymous said...

I totally relate to the bit on "The Most Arm Exercise"!! The bus ride from Manuel Antonio to La Fortuna was one of our more "memorable" experiences...


Yi Lin said...

Heh, so who won the tug-of-war eventually?

At first, not wanting to be the inconsiderate tourists who piss off the locals, we obliged with every single request to shut the window. Then we started refusing cos it was just SO stuffy and hot. And you know what... the locals sent the bus conductors to our seats to shut the windows! Argh!

Forever Living

Forever Living
Read about the products, then contact our wellness sponsor!
Related Posts with Thumbnails