Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bogota to Quito

Arrived in Quito, Ecuador yesterday afternoon after 30 hours on two buses. My whole body hurt. Head pounding from the altitude and little nourishment and no coffee, and the latest video: two hours of Rambo killing and blowing things up and blood spurting in slow motion, broadcast at full volume on a distorted sound system. Knees, shoulders, neck – I stumbled out into Quito’s chaotic central terminal in a cold, driving rain, somewhat in a fog. But I was better than the guy across the aisle: he and his buddy had polished off a whole bottle of Suiza gold Tequila in four hours and he couldn’t get up at all. His buddy was shaking him and slapping him and he wouldn’t open his eyes.

Regarding bus safety, the government of Colombia was progressive: since 2004 it required bus companies to post safety statistics in every ticket window. At first the stats for my bus didn’t seem too bad – only 18 accidents, eight injuries and six deaths. But that was only for the first two months of 2008. And no one seemed to have died on other lines. Oh well, I bought a ticket and settled in. My seatmate was a young woman so shy she could barely speak – she literally hid from me behind a lamppost when we made an afternoon pit stop – and she had a complicated name I couldn’t pronounce. I didn’t envy her. She’d traveled 28 hours by bus to Bogotá for two days work (what that work was, I couldn’t understand), and now was heading back – another 28 hours.

We’d rolled out of Bogotá in the morning, and just rolled and bumped and rolled on and on and on, through never ending mountains of green and clouds and rain and fog and switchbacks – straight through Colombian army patrols and checkpoints. Every once in a while soldiers boarded the bus and checked a few IDs; once I had to get off and let them go through my luggage. The dude in cammos seemed most flummoxed by my guidebook to Africa, which he studied, but then shrugged and moved on to someone else.

Avoid traveling at night, the guidebook warned. Somewhere out there were FARC guerillas, but no one seemed too worried – and it was hard to imagine anyone any one out in the dark and rain and cold doing anything but hunkering down.

I was happiest when the guy who had been masturbating across the aisle while staring at me got off the bus – that was just as dawn was breaking.

Right now rain is the big threat; it’s been raining incessantly for months. Once, early in the morning we had to detour around a landslide that covered the road. All of Ecuador has been declared a disaster area, but particularly the southern coast. Roads and bridges are out, thousands homeless. But this journey is all about plunging in so I’ve decided to take the southern coastal route to Peru.