Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What, From Here On Out, Shall Be Called...The EcuaBus Incident

Having visitors in Ecuador has been an exciting venture for Dave and I.  Tosha and Brandon reminded us of what life was like before we adjusted to the daily occurrence of what we call EcuaExperiences.  From being a part of a taxi chase scene straight out of a Bruce Willis film to surviving the bus depot during carnival, the Bentz' witnessed many EcuaE's during their week-long visit.  

But none of the experiences throughout the week really compared to the EcuaBus incident.  An unexpected, panic-ensuing, adrenaline pumping, belly-laugh generating adventure that took place as we were all trying to leave Puerto Lopez on Monday night.  

We had been having a very enjoyable morning and afternoon in Puerto Lopez.  The rain had stopped, the sun was shining, and the people were still partying hard for Carnival.  We had a wonderful breakfast at the Whale Cafe that included banana pancakes and real coffee. Brandon and Dave had gone swimming in the ocean while Tosha and I shopped at the many jewelry booths along the streets, and we had even managed to squeeze in a delicious lunch of pantacones and shrimp before we had to catch the bus back to Guayaquil.  We were full, relaxed, and ready to hit the road back to Guayaquil before the crowds finished their celebrations.  

We had purchased our tickets earlier in the day, when the bus station was quiet and no lines were to be seen.  Sure, the girl at the desk didn't seem to be that aware of her surroundings that morning, but no worries, that is just part of the whole Ecuador Experience.  We made sure we had assigned seats since some bus companies will pack the bus to standing room only, and we wiled away the hours talking, laughing, eating, and resting before the bus was to depart at five o'clock that afternoon.  

We had decided that it might be smart to get to the bus at least 30 minutes early because it is near to impossible to get to your seat once people start boarding the bus.  Trying to maneuver around all the people, their kids, their luggage, sometimes their dogs, not to mention trying to get around those people who have paid to just stand in the aisle of the bus, is an olympic feat in and of itself.  We didn't think Tosha, who is five months pregnant, should have to run that gauntlet.  So we arrived early, loaded our luggage on the bus, and tried to make ourselves as comfortable as we could in the sardine can type seats.

The bus soon started to fill up with people carrying everything but the kitchen sink on with them.  It was a warm day and the dark interior of the bus seemed about 20 degrees warmer than outside.  I couldn't believe how many people seemed to be getting on the bus, each with a ticket in their hand and moving towards our seats.  A family of four stopped by our seats, looking a bit confused as to our presence.  This is nothing new; you don't see a lot of gringos in this part of Ecuador and we are used to looks of confusion and curiosity directed towards us.

This time, however, the looks were punctuated by the phrase, "Yo tengo asiento viente y nueve."  Uhmmm....not good.  They were telling me that they had seat twenty nine which was clearly my seat--it said so on the ticket I was holding.  This is when the small stirrings of panic began.  Now, I know that this wouldn't normally cause feelings of panic, but you would be amazed at what gets my anxiety pumping when I am living in a country where I don't really speak the language and get confused often and easily.  All I registered was that these people were claiming my seat, as well as the seats of Brandon, Tosha, and Dave, and that more people were getting on the bus.  I heard another traveller state that their seat numbers were twenty eight and thirty, also our seats.  A bit of a problem, yes?  

The bus seemed to get more and more crowded, not to mention hotter and hotter, by the second.  Before I knew it, Dave was following the bus driver and the other people claiming our seats, off of the bus.  He yelled back to me to stay on the bus with our things.  No problem, there was no way Tosha, Brandon, and I could make it off the bus with all our luggage against the onslaught of people who were packing the aisles.  We sat, trying to explain to people that we were in the correct seats even though their tickets showed the same numbers as ours.  The minutes ticked by, Dave was still absent, more people crowded around us.  Those little seeds of panic?  Full blown flowers now.

Then we felt the bus roar to life.  Before I could stop myself, I just started yelling, "Pare, pare!" trying to be heard over all of the people who were yelling at me to get out of their seats.  Tosha and Brandon took up the call, all of us worried that the bus would take off without Dave and not entirely sure how we were going to fight through all of the people.  A girl had jumped into the seat next to mine as soon as the bus started, not willing to even budge to let me get out.  Not that it would have mattered, there was not one inch of space between the people jammed into the aisle.  I saw Tosha grab a bag and start pushing (gentle Tosha, pushing!) people out of her way, yelling the whole time, "Pare, pare!  Lo siento, Pare!"  I still don't know how she made it to the front of the bus.  I could hear her voice, but I couldn't see her in the aisle.  Brandon, in the seat in front of me, opened the window and began going through it head first.  I'm still yelling for the bus to stop, it wasn't even moving just running, and trying to explain the situation to the people surrounding me.  

As soon as Brandon was out the window, people started to scramble for his vacated seat.  I quickly started throwing our luggage and bags out the open window before the new seat owners could get too comfortable.  I heard Tosha yell for me to just push my way through, but there was no way that was happening.  People had already started fighting over the seats the Bentz' had left and I was still trying to shove as much of our stuff out of the window to Brandon that I could.  My only choice to exit the bus was through the window, Brandon style.  

After I believed I grabbed all of our belongings, I headed out of the window.  Of a bus.  Brandon and Tosha were below me, trying to see if we had gotten everything.  Right before I was going to drop down, they told me more bags were left in the bus.  Now, can you picture this?  I'm hanging out the window, holding on to the top of the bus as well as around the window divider, and trying to explain in my very broken spanish that I needed more bags.  "Mochila verde!  Mochila verde!"  Tosha is yelling that the green bag is missing and that the people on the bus must have it.  I'm holding on with dear life, a bit surprised that I remembered the word for backpack, and listening as the bus travelers were telling me, "esta nada."  Oh boy.  I looked down at Tosha, who is holding said green bag, and decided that whatever was left on the bus obviously was going to a new home because I couldn't really hold on anymore, I still couldn't see Dave, and because oh. my. goodness. I was hanging off the side of a bus!

I dropped to the ground, earning a couple of nice sized bruises along my arms and legs, and was met by two men who were grabbing for my bags.  In my panic, I didn't realize at first that they were trying to be helpful and not take advantage of my vulnerable state, I lunged for the bags and just started yelling, "mi esposo, mi esposo!"  And who should appear?  Dave, looking refreshed and calm.  Of course he was calm, he didn't just jump out of a bus window.  Not only that, but he was completely oblivious to the experience Tosha, Brandon, and I had just had.  When he saw I was shaking and was sporting a couple new bruises and scrapes, he stopped asking questions and just directed us to our new bus. 

The bus we ended up on was larger, more comfortable, and we didn't have to exit through the windows once we reached Guayaquil.  Blissful.