Busing Solo to Baños

After a tearful goodbye to the Germains (including Leah, who is doing a temporary stint in Edmonton to attend a wedding), I boarded a bus for Baños, a small tourist destination located in the Ecuadorian foothills. Humming “Here I Go Again (On My Own)” to ward off the impending feeling of separation anxiety, I hugged my beloved travel companion goodbye and gave her a gentle reminder to return with homemade cookies and contact lens solution.

I then became a solo traveler. Me against Ecuador. Bring it on.

On the bus I gave myself a pep talk about the benefits of travelling alone: introspection, flexing my friend-making muscles, and finishing multiple books. Who wouldn’t be excited? It would be a unique experience where I could discover a new perspective on South America after 6 months of exploring the continent. Leah and I describe moments like these with one word – Adventure!

I had a seat by the window from which I could enjoy the Ecuadorian countryside, watch that my bag wasn’t stolen from under the bus, and adjust the window to achieve a desired temperature. AND no one was sitting beside me. I thought I had been blessed by the bus seat assignment gods.

I settled in to listening to This American Life podcasts on Leah’s iPod (which she graciously left me), while watching the beachy landscape of the coast turn into jungly foothills and then snow-capped mountains. As I learned about prison inmates putting on Shakespearian productions, the glory of American prom, and the secrecy of the Coca-Cola recipe, Ecuadorians moved on and off the bus around me.

Like the Bolivian bus system, the bus stops for anyone who needs a ride regardless of whether or not there are enough seats. Merchants carrying everything from mandarins to bags of cooked corn and beans to live chickens board the bus at every stop selling their wares. The similarity to the Bolivian bus culture made the experience familiar and oddly comforting.

The only difference is the forwardness of the Ecuadorian men. Various male suitors constantly cycled through the empty seat beside me. Not one but two separate men asked me if I was married. “Yes of course”, I answered deceptively, quickly twisting my school ring to make it look like a wedding band. They responded with a dejected look, like I had just killed their hopes of becoming my future husband. Another young man practiced his English on me with a staccato “You…love…me?”. Unfortunately, I responded, I do not. This produced yet another pained look and a dream squashed. For some reason when each man asked me my name, I told them it was Maria – as if their knowing my name would lead to my demise. I was suspicious of everything and everyone, which I have come to know as a negative byproduct of solo travel.

As the journey continued, the drama of this eventful bus ride distracted me from my eventual goal of reaching Baños. One hour from my destination, I looked up from reading The Lost World (Jurassic Park 2), and realized that I was the only person left on the bus. It was me, the ticket man, and the bus driver. Thank goodness it wasn’t dark. I decided the gory suspense of The Lost World was doing nothing for my nerves so I put it down and started paying attention to what was going on around me. Half an hour later the bus driver told me to get off the bus at a T-intersection in the middle of the Ecuadorian countryside.

Really?

Nervously I disembarked, trying to retain my faith in the honesty of the Ecuadorian bus system. The driver pointed behind the bus and handed me my backpack. That’s when I saw it – another bus! I just might make it.

And I did. The second bus delivered me safely to downtown Banos before dark. The whole experience became just another story to add to my South American adventures.

The beautiful scenery of Banos

Where the journey has brought us so far