Riding the Bus: From Sloppy Gringo to Proud Commuter

October 21, 2013
The first day I got on a bus here, my host father took me. Thank god or I would have been more panicked than a mouse being chased by a tiger. We got on a busy red bus during rush hour. We could barely squeeze ourselves onto the thing, and I probably fell into five peoples’ laps during the five-minute ride.

Here’s the challenge: one hand must always remain on your bag, or a pickpocket could take advantage in a second – especially when you’re so squished onto the flying vehicle that you don’t know whose limbs are yours and whose are the strangers’.

So anyways – you’ve got one hand on your bag and one hand on whatever tiny space on the metal bar you can fight to grab, and you hold on for dear life as the (typically insane) bus driver takes off in an angry storm of pointless speed, only to come to a screeching halt in the terrible Quito traffic he knows so well. I looked at my father, confused. “Why do they drive like such jerks?” – is pretty much what my face said. He’s good at reading my expressions, and immediately laughed: “Es que están atrasados…”: Basically, all bus drivers are expected to make a certain amount of stops before the day ends. But due to the terrible traffic in Quito, the number of stops expected of them is far more than they could ever accomplish. For this reason, they drive like maniacs.

Needless to say, after that first ride with dad, I kind of wanted to cry. It was hot, people pushed, I kept falling onto people (while the rest of the passengers kept their balance effortlessly even with all the crazy breaking), I was worried about getting robbed, I didn’t know where we were getting off, I kept getting pushed further and further away from my host father…But when we got off I just took a deep breath and laughed: “Welp, that was quite the experience,” I told him. He just chuckled.

While I don’t ride the crazy red buses at rush hour very often (because thankfully, they’re not the ones that take me to school), I have gotten very good at riding the tame green bus. Even so, it’s not ALWAYS tame, and on the days that I come home late, I must pride myself in my improved balance and extreme strength in my right hand, which always holds tightly and dearly onto the bar. Sure, I feel as though my arm has been severed from the rest of my body by the time I get off, but it at least FEELS like I’ve been working so hard that it’s sprouted to twice the size. So I think of it as a little arm work out, for arms that don’t get much exercise anyway.

After all this complaining, I must say that the bus system here is world class compared to what we have in the states. I’ve never waited more than 2 minutes for a bus. And they have such a wonderful system that I puzzle over every morning in total amazement. The driver and the money-collector are an absolute team. My guess is that most of them have been paired together for years, because they’ve got the whole system down to a science, so that buses can keep moving in the most efficient manner possible.

As the bus pulls in to the stop, the money-collector hops off while the vehicle is still in motion and shouts/sings the stops that the bus will make: “Cumbayá, Tumbaco, Quinche, suba suba suba!” I love hearing them every morning! These guys get me pumped for the day. Sometimes they’ll even shout, “vacío!” signaling that they’ve got lots of empty seats, and I always hop on those ones eagerly.

Then they glide down the aisles effortlessly, as if the bus weren’t weaving and winding around mountains at all (this is the convoluted road to Cumbayá, where my University is). And when it comes to paying, they’re prepared to give you whatever change you challenge them with within seconds. The trip is costs 25 cents but I’ve seen people give 10 dollar bills. But they’re not fazed by anything, these guys.

The easy-going spirit of so many of these money-collectors absolutely makes my morning. They appear to be light on their feet and content with what they have, though their job seems so endlessly repetitive. Yet there they are, singing and boogying to the merengue music they typically play on the buses, and even making the serious bus drivers laugh! They make me thankful for the life I’ve got.

Over all, I try my best to embrace my bus experience, as it’s something I have to do twice a day for 15 or 20 minutes – so why not try to enjoy it? After all, there are delightful guys collecting a few cents from me and a gorgeous Cotopaxi to look at every morning. Who could complain about that?

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  • November 3 2013 at 4:19 pm
    Hannah Harms

    Hi Abby!

    I love reading your posts about studying abroad..?  I mean...that's what it sounds like to me, the limited-knowledge high school student lol.

    My name is Hannah; I am a prospective student.  (So basically, I just want to say thank you for taking the time to post.  I feel like I know you guys...which is a really cool thing for me!  Even though I haven't officially 'met' any of you.)

    That being said, I have a couple of questions for you:

    How easy was it for you to become involved in studying abroad/taking a semester overseas, etc.?  And, how long are you there for lol?

    (It sounds like you're having a fantastic time!  And hey, if I could go to Luther and have opportunities like that to expand my horizons, (and my limited Spanish-speaking skills), then it'd totally be work it!)

    Thank you for taking the time to post! :)


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