Posted by: Deanna | February 18, 2009

My wayward adventure to Puerto Lopez

Well, this past weekend was crazy. Where to begin? I guess I’ll start with the plan. The plan was to leave Friday evening to head to Puerto Lopez, a mid-coastal city with snorkeling and scuba diving and, of course, lots of coastline. The bus ride was supposed to be between 10 and 12 hours each way, so that would put us there sometime early morning Saturday. We would then spend all day Saturday and Sunday morning there, leave Sunday afternoon, and finally arrive back in Quito Sunday evening. I think the way I prefaced this makes it obvious that things did NOT go according to plan.

To kill time after my one class, I met up with Lacy afterwards and we hung out and I experienced lunch at her household, which was a really nice change of pace. The lunch consisted of sweet instant tea, soup (we think it had lettuce and carrots only, but it also tasted a little cabbage-y), then a pasta of chopped up spaghetti noodles, parmesan, and some type of meat. I think it may have been turkey, but Lacy insists it was chicken. Apparently I don’t know one meat from another now that I have been vegetarian for so long. Anyway, I was excited to finally have soup, because it is one of those Ecuador things, all of the delicious types of soups and that fact that they are served with most meals. I have not once had soup at my house however. I don’t know if that’s because my host family doesn’t like it or because they don’t think I will like it. No sé.

Anyway, the time finally arrived to depart for the bus station. So with our bags packed and with a whole sack of snacks for the bus ride, we flagged down a taxi and headed to far south Quito (not exactly the safest place to be after night falls, by the way, so weren’t hesitant to take a taxi rather than take a bus) to catch the 7pm bus. Lacy and I had planned on meeting the other two girls (Tricia and Kelsey) at 6:30, but heavy traffic and rain imposed on our plans a bit. We were late arriving at the gigantic and slightly dank and dodgy Terminal Terrestre, but not nearly as late as Tricia and Kelsey. In fact, after spending some time finding the correct bus company’s terminal, we still waited. And waited. Finally, it got to be 7:15 and the bus personnel asked for once again where our friends were, and I told them once again that they were stuck in traffic on a taxi. They told me they would wait five more minutes before leaving without us, but luckily five really meant ten minutes, and that’s when Tricia and Kelsey finally arrived, at about 7:30. We literally ran onto the bus, and it took off. We barely made it. Phew. This was only a taste of what was to come, however.

So, the journey began. And oh what a journey it would be. We learned about an hour after departure that there was some nebulous problem with the road ahead. I had no idea what was going on, the driver and other bus people didn’t ever leave the cabin to tell the passengers anything. Thankfully, there was a nice and apparently slightly nosy Chilean couple sitting behind the four of us, and they investigated and passed on their information to us. The man informed us in a mixture of broken English and almost unintelligible Spanish (Chilean’s have famously heavy dialects) that “no había paso” (meaning the road was impassable) and we would have to wait until morning for the road to open back up. Wait, what?! But okay. So, at some point about two hours into our journey we pulled over and spent the night in the bus. Ideally, that would have included mostly sleep, but no such luck. I probably slept a couple of hours, but I’m not sure. It wasn’t a restful sleep anyway. When morning finally came, and daylight crept into the bus, we discovered just how much of a predicament we were in…

When morning broke, we discovered that we were parked amid a line of busses, passenger cars, and work trucks, a few hundred meters behind a gigantic cascade of muddy water which had completely flooded the road. We couldn’t see all of this from the bus, so we descended to explore the area. It was undeniably gorgeous at 8:20am in the morning, when we initially stepped out. We were surrounded by misty mountains and dark green valleys on one side, and lush vegetation and waterfalls with a steep incline on the other side. Unfortunately, one of those waterfalls was not supposed to be there, and it had collapsed the road. Most people had left their vehicles by this point to see the damage, but I don’t think anyone even after seeing it was aware how long we would have to wait there. There were a few rumors floating around about when the road would be fixed, and I heard from several people that we should be able to leave around 11am. Well, 11am turned into 1pm, 1pm turned into 2pm, 2pm turned into 4pm.

The view from right outside the bus, which was about two hours outside of Quito

The view from right outside the bus, which was about two hours outside of Quito

There is a road under all that rubble!

There is a road under all that rubble!

In the meantime, Lacy alternated between napping and reading a few pages of Macbeth for her Shakespeare class at USFQ and I tried to entertain myself with my trusty Sudoku book and mp3 player. Every so often, the bus’ stagnant air and smell of urine (the bathroom in the back of the bus lacked a flushing mechanism, toilet paper, and anything with which to sanitize, and the results after several people had used said bathroom were, as you can imagine, quite unpleasant), would become overwhelming. So, we would leave the bus, look around, contemplate our predicament, then begrudgingly head back to the bus. Our trips outside were much more interesting than the hours we spent inside. I was intrigued by several things, including the mass crowd of people hovering over the mudslide area, the haphazard use of dynamite without the slightest warning to the hundreds of Ecuadorians standing right there (by the way, I’m pretty sure the four of us were the only white people out of the whole bunch), and people’s eating habits after several hours without a real meal. At certain points, people from the neighboring village would drive up into the crowd of onlookers and emerge from their vehicles carrying baskets of chicken, rice, snacks, water, and colas. That’s when the crowds swarmed. It was crazy. Those were some hungry, hungry people, and I’m fairly certain the road closure was a godsend to those vendors who suddenly had hundreds of paying patrons. At some point our sustenance of manjar de leche (delicious caramel-like stuff) and crackers ran out, so we had to buy our share from the food vendors as well.

Lots of Ecuadorians stood around, watching the workers in their battle with nature

Lots of Ecuadorians stood around, watching the workers in their battle with nature

After all that, and after a rather unfortunate experience in the single dirtiest bathroom I have ever been in (it was in the back of a restaurant in a town about a mile away from the bus), it finally got to be 5pm, and we finally began inching forward. I wasn’t really convinced that the road was safe yet, but I also REALLY did not want to spend any more time parked, so I was glad to be moving. Traversing across that precarious stretch of sunken road was one of my scariest Ecuador experiences so far, and all of us Americans amused ourselves with the thought how none of this would be allowed in the States. I’m alive, though, so obviously we made it out okay. Sadly, though, we were only two hours outside of Quito when all of this ensued, so even getting past that mudslide we still had 12 hours of driving left. It would have been far fewer hours if we had just gone straight through to Puerto Lopez, but the bus seemed to stop at every single town along the way. It got to be pretty repetitive, stopping at a town’s terminal terrestre, waiting for a few people to get on/off, and getting hounded by vendors that would come onto the bus selling any kind of food or drink imaginable. This included bread of all shapes, sizes, and fillings, empanadas, fritadas, candies, peanuts, habitas, chifles, helados, slushies, water and colas. And it all smelled and or looked delicious.

After approximately 33 hours, we finally arrived at Puerto Lopez at about 5:30am. It was, of course, completely deserted when we got there, and we said goodbye to our fellow travelers who we had grown rather fond of after all this time, namely the aforementioned Chilean couple and an Ecuadorian middle school English teacher. Then we arrived at our hostel, Lacy and I took showers (the water wasn’t hot, but the shower still felt great), and got all of about an hour of sleep. All of this was in fast motion, after being in slow motion on a bus for 33 hours, and that felt odd.

We got all of about an hour of sleep before we woke up to Lacy’s alarm at 6:30 (which was, by the way, after a hour of cawing from a couple of unrelenting roosters outside our hostel). We woke up early to get at least a few hours’ enjoyment of the beach before our afternoon departure. We got up, put our bathing suits on, and first thing headed to the bus terminal to see when we would catch a bus back. Sadly, our choices were just 9am and 7pm, and because I really needed to get back and so did Lacy, we picked 9am, which would give us a maximum of thirty minutes at the beach. After getting breakfast, we finally arrived at the beach, which was overcast, full of litter, and already teeming with hundreds of natives.

Puerto Lopez - at 8am it was already this busy!

Puerto Lopez - at 8am it was already this busy!

We did the whole feet in the ocean thing, and had just enough time to snap a few pictures before it was time, once again, to head to the dreaded bus. The bus personnel were the same as the day previous, so they must have thought the two of us were nuts for heading back to Quito so soon. We bought Nutella and cookies for the road, and said farewell to our still oh so under-explored city of Puerto Lopez.

Our bus ride back wasn’t as smooth as we hoped either. There were many, many stops, and a road ahead had collapsed again as well. Luckily, this time they had created a detour, so instead of idling in one place for 20 hours we mixed it up and just moved at a snail’s pace for several hours. After what seemed like forever, and after polishing off the Nutella and cookies (all we ate besides breakfast all day, btw) we FINALLY arrived back in Quito at about 3am. If you’re keeping track, that brings the total number of hours in the bus to…wait for it…51. A whopping 51. And that was my weekend at the beach people. I expected more along the lines of a sunburn and stories of sipping Pilsener in a lounge chair, but nothing seems to happen like you think it will. That is what Ecuador has taught me above it all, I would say.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: