by PCV Alex Albanese…
You won’t find a slow bus driver on the coast. Whoever assumes buses are too large, have too much weight, and are too bulky to go fast has it all wrong. They haven’t felt the force of first gear and grappling onto any stationary object. They haven’t shot into a pack of passengers like a bowling ball after being caught off guard. They haven’t seen a bus pass taxis. They haven’t seen buses race.
Although I liken these vehicular drivers to Ricky Bobby, Jeff Gordan, or your crazy 17-year-old cousin who just got his license, there is a rhyme and reason for the accelerated lifestyle. One reason lies in the music culture. Almost every bus has the “accel- erated” thump of techno, salsa, reggeaton, and bachata. The rhythm fuels the need for speed hence the fast pace.
Surprisingly enough, the locals remain calm throughout this adventure. Me on the other hand, I am on edge, expecting the un- expected, and jiving to the music. So, if you are ready to make the leap physically and metaphorically to coastal public transportation, here is a comprehensive 8 step guide to success.
Each bus runs at about a 15 minute interval. Once you have identi- fied the desired bus, you must flag it down within one block, which is enough notice for the driver. The wave: stick hand out with palm down, wag hand furiously.
- Run and jump or hold your ground
Running to catch a bus grants you not only the good graces of the driver but also the accreditation of being a local. Many people of the Peninsula of Santa Elena walk slowly in the heat of the sun, yet, when they see the bus, they turn their Latino jets on. They waggle towards the bus, grab the outer bar, and swing in.
The second choice is waiting for the bus to stop because you are not ready for the local run down. In order to wait for buses, you must know the bus stop marked by a blue sign “parada.” If there is no bus stop sign, you must wait after a street light.
Once you are successfully in the door, beware! First gear will punish those who don’t prepare. People have fumbled branches of bananas. Passengers have been knocked to the ground banging into bus bars, armrests, or even elbowing seated passengers.
You must spread your legs decently while boarding the bus steps, and make sure one arm is always on a bar. If you lose your footing and know you’re about to lift off, turn your back, cross arms, and ping pong off of the closest person standing in the crowd.
- Prepare payment
Exact change of 25 cents is always recommended. If you are ahead of the game, use the Tarjeta de Re- carga with the new scanner ma- chines across Santa Elena.
- Buy a Helmet?
“Precaución de la cabeza!” Quite often, the height of the aisle hand- rail only serves for the average Ecuadorian height. Don’t be distracted by the driving, music, or crowds, because TVs, bars, and overhead storage provide possible hazards for the cranium.
- Proceed to desired open seat or area
The first two seats are always reserved for the elderly, pregnant women, the handicapped, and kids.
Proceed to desired seat and feel free to brush others to arrive at destination with polite remarks such as “con permiso,” and “perdón.” When passengers bulk up in the front, there is a higher chance of obtaining a seat if you move towards the back.
If no seat is found, lean against a seat and spread your legs for lower center of gravity.
- “Pare! Esquina! Gracias! Se queda!”
This is the fun part. Once you have reached your landmark, approach the driver one block before your stop and say, “Gracias, dé- jame aquí.” But, in the case you can’t make it to the front in time, warn the driver at an audible level to stop. “Se queda!” “Pare!” “La esquina!”
It’s a 50/50 chance of jumping or walking off the bus. Be ready to jump and aim for a flat surface. Upon landing, you have successfully ridden coastal transport.
Each ride presents new discoveries of coastal Ecuador. After three months, I progressively find faster lines, new restaurants, or more stabilizing postures while riding. At first, I always allotted myself taxi fare as a Plan B, but I learned the lines as time passed. Local transport opened up the small comunidades between cit- ies, and that brings me closer to living like a common costeña. I struggled to integrate in some ways, but yelling “STOP” in a full bus gives me a rush of adrenaline and the confidence to live among