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Ecuador Culture Capsule: Driving, Busing and Walking in Ecuador !

After having taken my first night bus last week, and having enough bus time to dwell on the transportation habits and customs of this country, I decided I would share my learning about busing, driving, and walking in Ecuador with all of you folks for your education and amusement's sake.

- Speed limits and red lights seem to be merely suggestions for Ecuadorian drivers, particularly at night.

- There are almost no stop signs on smaller neighbourhood intersections... rather people drive towards the intersection at full speed and just before passing it, the drivers give their horn a little double beep to let others know they are coming. It is a wonder we haven't gotten into an accident with this yet !

- Pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way.... until they get hit.

- Ecuadorian drivers HATE driving behind another vehicle. Passing cars and buses are therefore a national passtime. They have no qualms about passing cars near blind corners, in the fog at night, or on a narrow road along a steep cliff. I have even seen once a double pass... that is a car passing a car that was passing another car!!

- The family plan of owning cars is in full swing here, as cars can be more expensive than at home, especially imports. So...you will often see a group of up to 10 people on the open air back of a pick up truck without seat belts or seats.... just in for a bumpy ride.

- Riding in a bus is one of the best experiences of travelling in Ecuador. Though I have not had a chicken on my lap yet, or even seen one in a bus for that matter, there are plenty of other things to keep you occupied. For example...

  • Music. Buses are always playing music (mostly latin salsa or merengue) and have speakers set up along the inside of the bus
  • Vendors. As many as four at a time can hop on the bus to sell their banana chips, water, homemade ice cream, hot fries with salsa, bibles, anything! Performers and singers also hop on to perform and cash in. Lastly, you will also sometimes see beggars who give a big speech and then go from seat to seat to ask for money.
  • Busboys. Every bus has two people working for them. 1, the driver, and 2, the busboy. The busboy's duty is to repeatedly yell the name of the destination outside of the bus so that people know what bus to get on. This means that the goal of the first half hour's busride is usually to fill the bus up with people, which means a very slow and dragging start. Once the bus is full and is very much on its way, the busboy comes along to collect money from everyone. They even give you change if you need it.
  • The views! Somebody famous once said, "Getting there is half the journey". Well in Ecuador, this is definitely true... I think almost all the roads in Ecuador were built along the edge of mountains and volcanos. Views of valleys, mountain ranges, the ever creeping clouds of Ecuador, make the ride an enjoyable experience.... if not a distraction from the crazy busdrivers.
  • Legroom. Although Ecuadorians (especially the indigenes) are on average shorter than North Americans, most buses have lots of legroom between the seats even for this 5 foot 10 gal.
  • The cost. Travel in Ecuador is unbelievably cheap... with a price at about US$1 per hour's drive. And with Ecuador being a tiny country, most trips cost me no more than a few bucks each way.
  • The adventure. In Canada, most buses wait until you have sat down before they take off after picking up new passengers. In Ecuador, the bus starts leaving as soon as you put you hand on the outside door handle.... so you have to run into the bus so that you don't have to run after the bus! (which happens!)

    However, for all of the fun that bus rides are, I am convinced that the buses in Ecuador are the country's worst polluters... as most of them are fueled by diesel gas and don't seem to have mufflers! I always have to hold my breath when a bus passes by... it is disgusting all the black smoke that is expelled from those machines!

    - CAR ORNAMENTATION: For a country that is located on the equator, I find it odd that so many cars like to put a pad of fake grey fur ontop of their dashboards, around the perimeter of their rearview mirrors, and around their driving wheel. There are also stuffed animals and religious pieces (I saw a gear stick with a picture of the Virgen Mary on the handle part).

    - STREETS: There are three kinds of Street Signs in Quito and most Ecuadorian towns... 1) Names of Famous People eg. "Calle Juan Leon Mera", 2) Locations eg. Avenida Amazonas, and the most interesting, 3) Famous Dates eg. 6 de Diciembre. The last one is the strangest to me and potentially the most confusing as this is a common address "45 6 de Diciembre".

    - SIDEWALKS: There's no "Don't look down" in Ecuador.... you have to keep your eye on the ground just to survive! In Ecuador, sidewalks are highly irregular, and curbs or a lack thereof can suddenly pop in front of you if you are not watching. Also... there tend to random big square holes in the sidewalks to watch out for... I believe that someone out there has a plan to fill them up, or at least cover them, one day but is not much in a rush to do so.

    So, walking, busing, and driving (have not driven yet in Ecuador) is certainly different from but it comes with a lot of benefits as well. And, "toco madera" (knock on wood), I have only seen one accident to date on the road... that is better than the rate of accidents at home!!

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