Making My Way Downtown

Valerie Hurst - Ecuador


October 10, 2013

The dogs outside are barking again, noisily chorusing amongst themselves. There’s a man from one of the surrounding apartments spitting rapid Spanish to what could only be a scorned lover. My neighborhood has woken up far before me, and from under my covers I silently plead with the buses, taxis and especially motorbikes to give me a moment of silence. But to no avail. Quito can never be silenced. The key is to work with the chaos, become part of it, and relish it.

The same dogs howling through the night are encountered in the street on my morning walk to the bus stop. Rule of thumb: go around the dog, don’t make any intimidating movements and refrain from petting. Nod a couple of “buenos dias’s” to passersby’s before encountering one of many street crossings that resemble a dangerous game of Frogger more than a routine pedestrian exercise.

Driving in Ecuador is fast paced and an adjustment from what I would normally consider safe. Lanes are blurred, with compact, mainly stick shift cars weaving through waves of traffic. It’s up to the pedestrian to throw caution to the wind, even if multiple vehicles are bearing down.

After skirting across, slapping down 25 cents at the teller window and throwing away the flimsy paper ticket (so as not to look too gringo since everyone who uses public transportation in Quito never saves theirs) the stage is set for a blue or yellow bus billowing black smoke to appear.

Which can take a while.

But no matter, this country works on Ecuatime.

My day starts and ends with this 13-stop bus ride. I leave from Cotocollao far north of Quito and arrive at San Gabriel a few blocks of walking away from Spanish class. Most of the time I’m stuck standing up, fending for handrail space while guarding the backpack hanging on my chest. I watch familiar landmarks flash by; the old airport, a DJ school, fried chicken shop, soccer field and a second floor clothing store with exaggeratedly posed mannequins. Businessmen wearing elongated, square toed leather shoes push to exit through hissing doors alongside uniform clad students. A woman nudges and shuffles down the center walkway, chanting about the hanging candy packets she carries for twenty-five cents.

I don’t find the almost 30 minute ride tedious. It’s a window into Ecuadorian daily life I’m privileged enough to see, even though it’s apparent from stares a tall white girl doesn’t quite fit in here. I enjoy possessing an air of independence from the knowledge that I can traverse a city I so recently came to inhabit; solely relying on transportation other than a personal car, like in the US. The process is a little more labor intensive, since I force myself to observe street names and relative location on the off chance I get lost. There’s no GPS or phone to tell me where to go, just a paper map and my basic Spanish skills.

But even as people from all sides jostle me in the bus, and I suck my stomach in to let others pass until there’s no breath, I’m experiencing a new found freedom.

Valerie Hurst