Cuenca Day 1, public transportation in Ecuador is pretty good

We enjoyed our last breakfast in Banos this morning, on the roof of Hostal Plantas y Blanco. As usual, it was delicious, fresh fruit salad, fresh juice, coffee, and pancakes. We will miss those breakfasts, but today it was raining, so our decision to move on from Banos seemed well-timed.

Yesterday we had dropped in at the bus station to check times for Cuenca, and it looked like we’d be able to get one direct. The very friendly woman at the hostal we had called in Cuenca said we could expect about 6 hours. This turned out not to be quite the case. In actuality, we needed to take a bus first to Riobamba and then to Cuenca. At least they were in the same direction! I’d read other travelers’ tales, and there are frequently situations where the only way to get where you’d like is by backtracking, sometimes hours, to a larger hub or road. It makes sense, since this IS the Andes, and roads are windy and hilly.

I am really impressed with the bus transportation in Ecuador. It is really easy and very cheap. There are many bus companies and the price varies to reflect quality and directness. For example, when we left Quito for Banos, the bus was extremely cheap, I think $3-4 per person. However, there was no toilet and we stopped in many villages and rural locations. The trip took around 4-5 hours. The seats were comfortable but the decor was a little kitschy. Instead of tinted windows, there were colorful curtains.

Today the bus trip of only about 2 hours to Riobamba cost about $4 each. Seats were assigned. There were full delicious-looking hot meals available for purchase and a movie playing. There may have been a toilet but I don’t remember. Many people were standing in the aisle, and there was some kind of argument involving a family who had only bought 3 seats for 5 people. The bus driver said it was not a problem for him, but rather for the police if we were stopped.

When we reached Riobamba we had about an hour and a half before the only available bus to Cuenca, so we circled the station looking for the best option for lunch. Many places were closed, probably due to Carnaval, so we ended up in a small cafe right across from the station’s main entrance. The same meal we’ve been enjoying in Banos was available, with slight variation. This time, instead of sausages, there was a seasoned filet of beef like what we’d eaten at the executive lunch in Quito on our first day. We ordered smoothies from the stand outside to drink with our meal.

The bus to Cuenca was the nicest we’ve been on, in terms of security and service. The baggage was checked under the bus, and we were given vouchers. We’ve been using the underneath storage already, but receiving claim vouchers just feels more secure. There was no movie but instead we were entertained for a while by a marionetteer. Unfortunately for such a long trip (6 hours), the bathroom was broken. Instead the driver announced a toilet stop. It was only shortly after we’d begun, however, and I didn’t need it yet. Matt got off along with a group of others.

On all of these buses, various vendors come and go, selling all sorts of snacks and food, as well as soft drinks and ice cream. It’s handy, but sometimes there are so many hawkers on at one time that it feels a bit claustrophobic.

Figuring out transportation by bus is also really easy. We simply walk into a bus station. Each bus company has a sales kiosk where you can buy tickets. As you look around for one offering the destination and time you want, you will be approached by various people shouting out destinations. These are mostly representatives of the bus lines, and typically leaving within minutes. If you say yes, you get rushed through the sales office and onto the bus. We’ve done it both ways, slower and faster. Both have gotten us safely to our destination.

Even with good, efficient bus service, it was a long day on the road. We got into our hostal around 20:00, exhausted and smelly. As we sped through the streets in a taxi, we had noticed that all the streets were empty, shutters and shops closed, and it was raining. When the proprietess told us that dinner was available in their restaurant, of course we jumped on it.

First, however, we needed showers. We were stinky, our clothes are ALL dirty, my scalp felt ready for a shampoo. I spent about 40 minutes under the beautiful brand-new shower. It was heavenly.

Matt said he was getting sick of Ecuadorian food, but surprise! The menu was pretty much the same, with a slight variation. This time, instead of potatoes in any form, there was hominy mixed with scrambled eggs. Otherwise, all was familiar: thin seasoned filets of chicken and beef, a couple of sausage links, avocado, beets, salad. It was good, but even I find myself craving pizza or hamburger or pasta or Indian curries, or anything.

Because of Carnaval, things are pretty full up. The only room left for us was a triple, so we pushed 2 of the beds together. Still, we’d love to have a nice bed, not too hard, not wrapped in plastic with smelly blankets, not small beds. Even on our Galapagos trip, we’ll be in a cabin with 2 small beds. Ah well, we certainly still sleep ever night!

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Location:Tarqui,Cuenca Canton,Ecuador