Arriving at a seemingly random corner in Otavalo, I said goodbye to the other Global Citizen Year fellows in my region, and stepped onto the street. Nervously placing my backpack on the sidewalk, I looked around. A large yellow bus pulled up, and a family of four came out with flowers, balloons, and pineapple upside-down cake. When I found out these people were going to be my host family, I was psyched. We all ate our pineapple cake, and I boarded the bus, and we occupied five of the thirty available seats. From this day on, bus trips have become some of my fondest memories here in Ecuador. On the weekends, we often take the bus up to Quichinche, a local indigenous community to get ice cream, or we simply drive home from Grandma’s house in the bus. We have watched a variety of classic films on the bus, from Home Alone to Fast and the Furious (Los Rapidos y Furiosos). We very rarely occupy more than ten seats, so Dylan, my 7 year old host brother often passes the time running up and down the aisle, screaming things on the loud speaker, and collecting fake bus fare from all of our family members.
On a day trip to Ibarra (the capital of Imbabura) on the bus, we pulled over on the side of the road to pick up some people waiting on the side of the street. Dylan charged them real fares, and I silently wondered if what we were doing was legal. After the bus was full, my suspicion was confirmed when we were pulled over by the police and forced to reimburse everyone that we charged. My host dad, who is a bus driver by profession, called a couple friends and we got off with just a warning.
On one of my first days in Otavalo, I got food poisoning and that night, we all got in the bus. We pulled up at a hamburger restaurant, and they told me that we were going to eat hamburgers for dinner tonight so I would get better, because of course, all Americans eat are hamburgers. Needless to say the food poisoning persisted.
When my family from the US came to visit me, we spent a great deal of time showing them Otavalo in the bus. On christmas eve, instead of going to a church service like most Ecuadorians, we stopped in on all of the churches in Otavalo, and caught a couple minutes of each service. We would do all kinds of sightseeing, leaving the bus as little as possible.
Despite the slight impracticality of using the bus instead of a car (ie parking, changing lanes etc), you do feel pretty cool when riding in a thirty-seater with just five people. When I walked onto the bus for the first time, I felt welcome into the Vega family, but then I hit my head while disembarking (which I never fail to do when exiting the bus).