There were long periods of silence; punctuated by “Are you sure that this is the right way?”
We drove on and on, stopping to ask if we were, indeed, on the road to where we wanted to go. Hour passed, and the confirmations continued West from Otavalo to Apuela, a small town in the Intag region of Ecuador.
The road was mostly pot holes with gravel in between. Large dump trucks characterized virtually all the other traffic.
I didn’t recognize anything from my previous trip on which I was a passenger, travelling at night in fog; but I knew something wasn’t right.
Eventually, we entered Apuela; but from the West, not the East as anticipated ! I learned that there were two roads to Apuela, the short one, and the long one used by Lafarge cement trucks. I had missed a turn and suffered for it.
The next day, Sunday, was market day, and we decided to travel like the locals from the mountains. We stood at the side of the road and, as is the custom, a passing truck stopped to pick us up. We climbed into the back with all the other travellers, the bags of grain, etc, they were taking to sell, and, sometimes, a live pig or other farm animal. This time, there were no farm animals. The truck bounced along and everyone hung onto whatever, and whoever they could to prevent falling; smiling all the way. There was a comradery born of coming from the same area and sharing the experience. At the market, we jumped off, paid the driver 25 cents and went on our way. The return trip was the same. We found a truck leaving the market and climbed aboard.
Later in the day, my lady had to leave for Quito and I took a bus to Otavalo to stay the night and do some photography on the Monday morning.
I stood along the roadside with the expectation of a bus within a half hour before or after the scheduled time. On arrival, they squeezed me, a small suitcase and my camera/ computer bag into the standing room only space. I didn’t think that I’d fit; but, somehow, they packed another dozen, standing, people with me as the bus moved on through the mountains. I learned that very small ladies had massive push capabilities when they wanted room. I envied the roominess of a sardine can.
How often does one hear of an overloaded, overweight bus going over a cliff in some South American country? Far too often is the answer. Bouncing along rough roads, struggling up mountains and braking on the downward slopes, in mountain fog, steep precipices always close to the side; I thought of those fatal bus accidents.
Miracle upon miracle, we made it out of the mountains safely; but, the bus driver refused to enter the boundaries of the intended destination, Otavalo, for fear, he said, that the police would stop him for overloading. He dumped Otavalo bound passenger on a street corner and headed to the next town, Cotacatchi. I took a taxi to the hostel.
Getting from Otavalo to the main North Quito, Carcelen, bus station is easy as buses leave about every 15 minutes and travel the main highway, though sometimes at excessive speed, passing where they shouldn’t.
My plan, on arrival at the Carcelen station, was to take a taxi to a shopping centre, Quicentro, where my lady would meet me. She is an Ecuadorian of partial Italian ancestry and easily passes for a Gringa, until she speaks. On a previous occasion, we got into one of the taxis found within the confines of the station and headed to Quicentro. A short while later, I noticed that the fare meter was not working. The taxi driver said that it was broken and that the charge would be $ 7, not much from the perspective of North American charges. This time, I asked the taxi supervisor for a taxi that did not have a broken meter. – Note that all 8 of the taxis present were registered with the city as metered taxis. - He approached every one, and each refused to take a passenger when they had to use their meter.
I stepped onto the street and waived down a passing metered taxi. The fare to Quicentro, $ 3.85.
My experience tells me that the taxi service at Carcelena exploits travellers. I don’t know about the taxi service at the South, Quitumbe station. However, I encourage all my readers to avoid, what I would call theft, and hail a taxi on the street when you pass through these bus stations.
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