Long Way Home

Stephanie Dunning - Ecuador


March 28, 2012

March 20, 2012

There´s a law in Ecuador that buses are only allowed to transport passengers who are sitting down.  I don’t know how long it´s actually been a law, but they have really been keeping track of it since Carnival when a bus got into an accident on the way to Espejo and over 30 people died.   Buses can´t leave the terminal with passengers standing up, and they will leave you if you are standing at a stop and they don´t have space.

Somehow, though, the 6:00 bus going to Yambiro made it over a month without being stopped for having half the town standing on the way home.  We thought it was just the city over-looking the two towns up the mountain that practically no one knows about anyway (there´s another town farther up, Larcacunga, that depends on the same bus as we do to get home).  Apparently they just hadn´t gotten around to us yet.

Thursday was like any other afternoon; I went to teach English for an hour to the owner of a hotel in Otavalo. After, I met up with Nancy and Elvis and we grabbed an ice cream while we waited for the bus.  Nothing was different about the race to get on the bus as soon as it pulled up, and nothing was amiss with the atmosphere once everyone was on- everyone laughing and complaining that there wasn´t room to squish more people into our sardine can-like situation.  There were of course a few people who yelled “Vamos! Ya quiero ir a la casa,” (Let´s go! I want to go home!) .  However, when the bus pulled out at 5:54, the same people who were telling the bus driver to go were the ones saying, “Esperen! Falta todavia!”(Wait! We´re still missing people!).

Personally, I was a little confused that we left so early (six minutes is a long time here in Ecuador), but I wasn´t worried- everyone in my family who had left the house was sitting near me, all accounted for.  Plus, leaving early just meant getting home and eating sooner.  The bus driver pulled to the side of the road for about a minute to wait for any stragglers, but promptly started moving again once the last person stepped on the bus.  People still complaining that family members and friends were being left behind, we pulled out across the highway to start our way up to Yambiro.  Almost as soon as we got on the other side of the road, the cries changed from, “Dejemos el Julian!” to “Policia!”.

The bus stopped once again as the sound of sirens drew nearer.  I looked out the window over my brother and saw two police trucks stop next to the bus.   I recognized the voices of two more prominent women in my community telling the police that they had to let all of us go because there wasn’t another bus and reprehending the younger people who were making jokes.

There was confusion as the police told everyone who was standing to get off- especially when my dad got out of his seat to leave as well.  The youngest of my siblings on the bus, Elvis, was sitting next to my dad, and looked back to Kiko (my other brother) and me to see if we were following, too.  Nancy told us to wait, dad got off for kicks, and she didn’t want to walk home.  I looked back to ask my brother-in-law, David, what he was going to do.  “Go if you want,” he said, “but I´m not walking all the way home.”  Good point, I thought.  As long as no one is standing, they´ll take us, plus, it was going to get dark soon and Yambiro is pretty far up the mountain.  Everyone that was standing eventually either got out or sat on someone´s lap; we could finally see the officer standing at the front.  I honestly wasn’t paying attention to what he said, but my sister was keeping me updated on the major points anyway.  Finally, she tapped my arm across the aisle and got up “Haku” was all she said- let´s go.  I grabbed Kiko and looked back at my brother-in-law, who was also getting up.  The four of us filed out and stood with my dad and Elvis just outside the door.

As soon as I turned to look back at the officer on the bus, I saw Kiko jump back on, and then realized that David wasn´t behind me.  Elvis wrapped his arms around me with fear as the doors closed and my brothers waved at us though the window, the bus pulling away.  Nancy and I laughed at our misfortune of getting off right before those who were sitting went home.  Our thoughts turned to whether or not we would get in the back of my uncle´s truck or whether we should just hail a taxi, all the while watching the bus pull away.  Our minds hadn´t yet been made when the bus turned down a street to the left instead of going straight up the mountain to Yambiro.

My dad´s phone rang, it was David.  Nancy talked for a few seconds in Kichwa, all I understood was “Juja! Maipi?!” – “You´re kidding! Where?!”,   then she hung up, told my dad and the other people standing near that everyone that stayed on the bus was heading to jail, and turned to me to say it in Spanish.

Again we laughed, this time that our brothers were senseless enough to ignore what the officer was saying.  The four of us waited around a little longer to see how other people were handling the situation-  many called friends with trucks or hailed any taxi that came near, others waited along with us, talking about the best way to go about getting home.  The woman who lives in the house where we stopped had been standing outside with us; as soon as the bus and the police turned the corner she spoke up.

“It´s not right what they did to you all, you only have one bus, and how else are you supposed to get home?”

There was a grumbled response from some; one of the women who was talking to the police spoke up above everyone else:

“You´re right, it´s not fair.  And we didn´t even have everyone on the bus! They need to send us two buses, we don´t all fit on one anyway!”

“If a group of you want to get together,” the woman said, “I´ll get my truck out right now and we´ll go to the city to get you another bus.”

Off they went.  About fifteen, I suspect the rest of us standing there didn’t want to get into any trouble.  My dad finally hailed a taxi and we made our way home.  David kept calling with updates, the very last being that Kiko was crying, which my dad thought was hilarious, but totally got me worried.  We started dinner around 7, keeping an eye out the window, waiting for the bus.  At about 7:30, Kiko and David were dropped off at our door.

Stephanie Dunning