I wake up in my host sister’s room to the screeching sound of my phone’s alarm. She lives in Cuenca, so I get to sleep in her rosado-colored room under her lion-printed blanket across from her porcelain doll that watches me sleep. I used to sleep in my host brother’s room, but it sits on the highway as cars and tractor trucks scream past all through the night and the street light across flickers into the window and through the thin Victorian curtain that covers it. I much prefer my sister’s doll watching me sleep to being awoken at odd hours throughout the night. My host mom is just getting ready to leave after my host dad has, as I’m preparing to take a shower and get ready for the day. By the time I’m downstairs, the house is empty, aside from the breakfast my host mom makes me before she leaves, usually consisting of papaya, yogurt, juice or milk, and a piece of bread, waiting on the kitchen table.
After eating, I walk across the Panamericana and wait for a bus. There aren’t bus stops or a bus terminal in El Tambo, so as I see a bus coming, I need to stick my arm out to request the bus take its time to stop for a mere twenty-five cents. It’s an unsure thing when it is just me standing there, but it becomes much more sure when I am near others, turning the twenty-five cents into fifty cents or a dollar or even more for the bus. As the bus stops, or slows down, a man jumps off to let me and anyone else on, as he shouts the destination of the bus hoping to convince others standing nearby to hop on, and he proceeds to jump back on as the bus has already started leaving. The buses here are fast, which surprises me because in other aspects of life, things move a lot slower.
My apprenticeship doesn’t start at eight a.m. sharp, but some time within a half hour after. Sometimes I get to the office, and I look at the time to find it’s almost 8:30, and the gate is still locked. Fútbol practice doesn’t start at three p.m., although all of the kids get there around then, but at four when the coach arrives. Ecua-time. Punctuality and good time management are appreciated here, but it is a common understanding that sometimes things just run slower and that these times are necessary for all.
Just because the buses are fast doesn’t mean there isn’t time to take a moment for myself though. My trips to Cañar from El Tambo during the week last a good twenty minutes. In addition to that, I go to Cuenca, about seventy kilometers or roughly two hours away, on Wednesdays and Saturdays as well. On Wednesdays, I return to El Tambo the same night, and on the weekends, I return on Monday after Spanish classes in Cuenca. Although I mentioned before I came to Ecuador that I didn’t want to be placed somewhere where I would have to take the bus or be on the road for long hours frequently because I had taken buses all of my life, for hours a day when I was younger, it’s not exactly what I expected it to be like. The bus rides have gone from being what I feared most in my mind to perhaps the most important parts of my days.
My daily bus rides are my time to think and relax. I don’t listen to music or doze off during them, but instead take them as moments to disconnect from the people I talk to daily, the worries and anxieties running through my mind, the computer, and the world. I gaze out the window at the lush green terrain scattered with cows, horses, plants, thorny fences, and houses that soothes me as the bus winds down the Panamericana, much more so than my bus rides in Quito during my first few weeks in Ecuador. My bus rides there only lasted five to ten minutes, while the bus would swerve in and out of traffic on the busy city streets, and I stood trying to keep my grip, so that I wouldn’t fall into the herd of people squished against me. There wasn’t much time or comfort to enjoy my bus rides there, but these are different.
These bus rides are an integral part of my time here, and I feel like I get to know myself, those around me, and Ecuador better by taking this time to reflect and observe.