Tag Archives: bus

…and search me again, military men…

It had barely been twenty minutes and we were stopped. The bus route did take us very close to the Colombian border and I should have been used to it by now, but this was a full on military operation.

We filed off of the bus, extranjeros directed one way, Ecuadorians the other, all checked before being allowed to progress to the ‘other side’. Us tourists got a more official interrogation, having to give details and sign official paperwork, and for the first time my photocopied passport wasn’t accepted. In fact, the guard was completely unamused by it, so I scrabbled about in my bag for the real one and then once I was given the nod, squeezed in among the Ecuadorians hugging the small strip of shade by the wall. The Israeli boys got a tough time but finally were let through what felt more and more like a border crossing.

The second stop came fifteen minutes later, with some guys in uniform sternly shouting everyone off as the others stood around stiffly, shortened M16 rifles slung across their chests. Males and females were split up and I got stuck behind three teenage girls who were given an intense, extended grilling. Maybe they are the most likely drug mules? I imagined being fifteen and flattered by an older guy, my moral compass not yet fully secure. It could seem exciting at that age, like the stuff of movies, and the potential repercussions would seem unimaginable, so unlikely to actually happen. Recently I read up on the women’s prison in Quito where many of the girls are in for drug trafficking. Many of them state being coerced into carrying huge stashes of drugs, putting themselves in a vulnerable situation, both legally and health-wise (think condoms crammed with coke stashed inside their bodies).

Back to the military stop and the hot sun on the road from Lago Agrio, and the girls were allowed back on to the bus. The men in uniform barely glanced at my passport this time around. It was nice to not feel suspected for once.

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Filed under culture, ecuador, south america

Search me, señorita

Esmeraldas is a dangerous province, so it is rumoured, but it is also supposedly a vibrant place with a cultural scene unique to the rest of Ecuador. Inhabited largely by a black community who brought their own style of music and dancing to Ecuador when they were shipped over from Africa to be slaves to the Spanish settlers, the people and places of Esmeraldas are said to exude friendliness and rhythm and a laid back attitude. I was all for it. And the dangers? Drugs and muggings and all that fun stuff.

Not realising that we could have taken a bus directly from the new town, me and my traveling companions ended up heading a half hour away to the south terminal – Quitumbe – only to discover that there were just two buses per day to our first destination, Atacames, and the next one was in over eight hours. We ended up going to Esmeraldas city instead ($7, 7hrs 30mins). It wasn’t the happiest prospect with all the guides and available information suggesting to avoid the place if at all possible.

Although the journey was increasingly hot and humid (not helped by a broken air conditioning system ), we were treated to the film Air Force 1 in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. Good practise. Stops were all too regular as people came on and off, more often than not to try and sell their wares, but also on two occasions the police came on board with video cameras and scanned the entire bus.

When we were pulled over a third time by the police I was starting to get tired and frustrated, but this time it was a full on roadside search and everyone had to disembark. Split into women and men, the police then chose a few people on each side to search. All of my travelling group were searched and questioned, very few Ecuadorians were. The guys got a full on pat down and groping, whereas I got off lightly with a much more civilised interrogation from a female officer: where was I from? Why was I in Ecuador? I had to show my ID and my bag was searched. It wasn’t the most pleasant event of my life, but it was okay. I guess it’s designed to catch drug traffickers and scare tourists from getting involved in those activities.

Talking to other travellers, roadside searches and videoing seems commonplace in Ecuador, especially near borders and en route to notoriously dodgy areas, such as Esmeraldas.

To be fair, we didn’t really give Esmeraldas a chance. I prefer to make my own mind up about a place, but arriving late at night meant we decided to just get on with it and move on to Atacames right away. Despite having gone midnight, the woman running the Chill Inn near Atacames beachfront was really welcoming and it was a matter of minutes before we had all taken cold showers and crashed out.

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Filed under culture, dancing, ecuador, music, south america, travel

Heading to Otavalo

Following an emotional send off from my Quito mama, Luz, and her family, I taxied with some Israeli travellers to the North Bus terminal in Quito, a good half hour drive away ($10). A few buses looked ready to go and we were quickly ushered onto a fairly empty one with window decorations and a soothing Spanish soundtrack (granted, a little sickly).

The first part of the journey was punctuated with stops that brought more sellers on board than there were passengers – make your choice from juice in a bag, crisps, cola, oranges, even almuerzo (a set meal usually consisting of rice and meat). One guy came on to preach and seemed pretty aggro. I had little idea what he was on about, other than that he mentioned his family and his corazon (heart). When we collectively didn’t pay up, he got angry and called us putas (purposefully no translation provided here). Nice. The policeman who came on board shortly afterwards to escort a guy off of the bus warned us to be careful. I was glad to be getting away from Quito, from the constant awareness needed to keep yourself safe.

The bus hurtled on round corners at stupid speeds along the Pan-American Highway, stopping only momentarily at a road block where two cars looked seriously smashed up but where thankfully drivers and passengers seemed to be okay. Within two hours we were dropped off on the roadside on the outskirts of Otavalo (we had picked the wrong bus, but it only meant a five minute hike to the hostel).

Otavalo, on first impressions seems to be a fairly tranquil, normal town (although bigger than anticipated) with people going about their business. There is a hint at tourism with hostels scattered about the place but overall the shops are your regular shops (although a coffin store isn’t something I’m completely used to seeing on the high street). Arriving on a Thursday possibly presents a more real account of Otavalo with few tourists present but I suspect that the hostels will fill tomorrow for the famous Saturday markets.

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Filed under ecuador, south america

Not so Megabus

Driving a bus all day isn’t everyone’s ideal career, but don’t take it out on the customer!

Having left Middlesbrough a little late, we still made it to Leeds in good time. Just as the leaving announcement blared out over the tannoy, a lady turned up at the door. ‘Is this the bus to Birmingham?’ she asked, ‘Yes, but you need to be here 15 minutes early, you could be refused entry on this bus, you know?’ he barked. She protested, he reiterated his point and wouldn’t let it go. Even as he loaded up her bags he repeatedly shouted at her, pitch rising each time he outlined the potential delay she had caused. Her child clutched a little rucksack and looked bewildered. On board people bristled and muttered, and a toddler started to cry. ‘Make sure you fasten your seat belts’, he pointedly instructed before booming it out again as the bus pulled away.

I tried to understand him, tried to imagine the annoyance of late comers, of having to drive all day, of the monotony. But something in his tone, in his manner seemed harsher with this woman than it had been with others and I couldn’t help but sense a bit of a racist undertone. Driver No.2 was perfectly cheery, and suggested that as Driver No. 1 was from Manchester, he would have of course been moody and short. Discrimination lives on.

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Filed under travel, uk