October 21-22, 2006
This morning I decided that I'd make may way up the coast of Ecuador starting with Puerto Lopez. I began my journey by taking a city bus to the bus station. The bus had no shocks, so I was thrown all around real good. When I got to the bus station, I found out that it was under construction. It was a very chaotic scene with people going every which way with lots of luggage around construction barriers and through a massive market full of shouting merchants. Eventually I was able to negotiate the madness and purchase a ticket to my destination.
Like most Latin American cities, Guayaquil has a very small barrier that keeps thieves away from your luggage at the bus station in the form of an exit tax. In this case, you have to pay ten cents to leave the public area of the station and enter the area where the buses are loaded, but the problem is that nobody verifies that you actually have a ticket when you enter that area. Amazingly, it seems to work. The chaos gives way to a small semblance of order as soon as you drop your dime into the turnstile.
That ten-cent barrier must not apply to merchants. As soon as I got on the bus, people were trying to sell me and everyone else on the bus stuff to make our trip more enjoyable. Some people sold useful items like food and water, but others had bootleg CD's and DVD's, dolls, and necklaces for sale. At one point, a kid stood in front of the bus and gave his spiel about how you should buy his gum. Suddenly, some other guy boarded the bus and started selling homemade sandwiches right in front of him. The poor kid couldn't overpower the grown man with his voice, so he just shrugged his shoulders and spun off his gum as a way to freshen your breath after eating one of the man's sandwiches. I'm used to people trying to sell stuff on buses in South America, but here a new salesman emerged every ten seconds and we hadn't even left the bus station yet! The vendors weren't aggressive, but their sheer numbers made the situation really annoying.
The bus was only half full when it left. I thanked my lucky stars and stretched my legs straight across the aisle to the seats on the other side and got ready for a nice, comfortable ride. I should have known better. After we left the bus station, we started driving around the city really slowly, occasionally picking up a new passenger. Sometimes the bus's assistant would get out and yell our destination to all passers-by, just in case any of them suddenly wanted to join us for some reason. There were constantly vendors shouting into the bus from the street and a few would actually make it on board to try and hawk whatever it was they had for sale. After an eternity the bus was full and we were on our way.
Just as I thought I would try to pass the time before the circulation ran out in my squashed legs by napping, a large man with a loud voice jumped on the bus and started shouting about astrology and saying how he would bring us all good luck. He walked all the way to the back of the bus, asking everyone their sign. He would then pull out a special jewel made just for that sign (although my psychic powers tell me it was just a piece of glass, and it was chosen at random) and hand it to the lucky patron along with a necklace to put the jewel onto. He then walked around the bus again and took $1 from anyone who wanted to improve his/her luck today. I declined and handed back the necklace.
For everyone who travels abroad, there is usually one cultural difference that stands out as being harder to adjust to than anything else. In my travels through South America, that's always been the noise. Between the constant music blasting out of every car and bus stereo, the people choosing to shout at each other rather than to walk across the street and talk at a reasonable volume, and the constant verbal advertisement for every product imaginable, I'm surprised I haven't suffered a brain anyerism yet.
At least my bus was only an hour late today, which is five hours better than the Greyhound in Miami, and I didn't even feel like my life was in danger to boot.