Monday, November 19, 2012

Transportation in Ecuador

During my time in Ecuador, I have experienced many forms of transportation. In Quito alone, I have traveled by public city bus, trole/metro, and taxi. Visiting other towns, the methods have included camioneta (pick-up truck), large Greyhound-style bus, private car, and of course, walking. Each vehicle is different, and takes some getting-used-to.

Let’s start with buses. There are all kinds of public buses (commonly referred to as integrados) here in the city. Since Quito is very long, and the main streets run North-South, it’s fairly easy to find a bus going in that direction. However, it’s best to look at the sign in the front window of the bus to see exactly where it’s going. I usually am unfamiliar with the names of these areas, and I just now have figured out how to hop on the blue bus and get to my apartment from the nearby mall or park. Basically, you just have to go with someone who knows the system and learn the names of the stops. An interesting thing about these integrado buses is that you never know when to pay. They all cost 25 cents no matter where you get on or off. However, sometimes there is a conductor who collects the money when you get on, other times you pay the driver before you get off, and occasionally after exiting, the conductor jumps off to receive the payments. This one sure caught me off guard at first!


The second type of bus in the city is called the trole or metro, depending on which line it is. This is a bus that has its own lane in between regular traffic (where the normal buses go), which makes it much faster and efficient. The trole functions by electric wires that follow the tracks of the route, hung above the bus. This makes for a much smoother ride than the jump-start jerkiness of the regular bus. At each parada, or stop, people get on and off in a small station. The driver will encourage people to move quickly with his muffled Siga, por favor. It’s a very organized system. The trole bus runs on the road close to my apartment here, so I use it often. 


Taxis here are normally very cheap, but they can also be deceiving. I’ve learned how to recognize a legit taxi – not only yellow with the taxi sign on top; it also has to have yellow (orange) license plates. If not, the driver probably does not have a taximeter, which means he will want to charge you more than necessary. There are also unmarked taxis, which will pull over trying to get customers. Not a good idea, as they try to charge more as well. To call a taxi, you have to stand on the sidewalk and put your arm straight out, but don’t wave, and if a taxi is free he will flash his headlights as a signal and pull over. Typically, for a 10-minute ride in the city during the day it costs $1.50. At night when there is more traffic, it’s more. It’s always best to clarify a price before getting in the taxi, or verify that he has a taximeter. 


To travel outside of the city, the most common method is taking a big Greyhound bus. There are tons here, going to all the major cities in Ecuador. Every week when I go to teach English, I take one of these to Pastocalle. They cost from $1-3, depending on the destination. The ride is very comfortable, unless you have to stand. Often the conductor tries to pick up more passengers along the way, even when all the seats are taken. Interestingly, at the edge of the city, every bus I have been on has always stopped at a certain corner to beg for more passengers, especially if the bus is not very full. It is not uncommon to wait for 10-15 minutes here while more people get on (it can be very aggravating when you’re in a hurry!). Street vendors take advantage of this time to jump on the bus and try to sell their wares, mostly food items. Sometimes they even stay on the bus once it is moving, and give a little rant about why you should buy their product. And here’s the mind-boggling part: after the rant, the seller often hands a sample item to everyone on the bus, sin compromiso, meaning you don’t have to buy it. I guess it’s a way of generating more interest in the product. Later they come around to collect the items or money if you choose to buy. If you want to get off the bus before the final destination, just tell the conductor and the driver will stop for you. 


Finally, in more rural communities, many people get around by riding in the backs of pickup trucks. I’ve seen up to twenty-five people crowded in one, bumping along dirt roads. Usually these are not formal “taxis”, but people who are going in the same direction who asked for a ride i.e. hitchhiked. I had to do this once when I was with another missionary, because we were late for a program. What an adventure!

I’ve been fortunate to have been able to ride in a car many times to our different programs, which is much more comfortable and efficient than by bus. However, living in the city has definitely made me appreciate public transportation. I’ve never had to use it quite this much before, but you can get around pretty well without a car here. And many people do, every day. It’s great to be able to explore the city on foot or by bus. Even when a place seems far away, it might only be half an hour’s journey on bus. To be sure, along this journey you will experience many sights, sounds, and humorous moments. The journey is half the fun.

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