A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the bus ride from Latacunga to Chugchilan in passing. Just got some photos from my friends Jason and Joanna that captured the event so I wanted to share on my blog. Thanks J´s for the photos and great memories. Check out their blog if you have the time as it is very well written. Kudos. http://dirtydawg.travellerspoint.com/
Our story begins innocently enough at the bus terminal in Latacunga. We pay our $2.50 for...a 3 hour tour (cue up the Gilligan´s Island theme) and board the bus. A regular Greyhound type bus, like in the USA only about 40+ years older. We are relegated to the seats farthest in the back by the co-pilot. Yes, buses in Ecuador have co-pilots just like airplanes but with different duties as you will learn if you stay with the story. I think we received the seats of dishonor in the back because my backpack wouldn´t fit in the overhead space. Managed to jam it above our seats but lived in fear that a sudden stop would launch my pack against the back of our heads.
The first couple of hours went by innocently enough. We continously picked up passengers along the roadside until the aisle was almost full of people standing. After we left Laguna Quilitoa, the once paved road quickly detoriorated into a muddy, one lane quagmire. We are now at about 12,000+ ft elevation, in the Andes, in a rain shower and riding in a passenger bus down the muddy road. The windows were consistently fogged up from all the humidity. Jason, Joanna and I all learned that an important duty of the co-pilot was to continously wipe the inside of the windshield with a dirty towel so the driver could see the road.
Now the real fun begins. Mountains straight up on one side of the muddy road, a steep dropoff on the other side of the muddy road. Hmm. Going around a sharp corner, the back of the bus fishtailed around and luckily hit the side of the mountain. Remember we were sitting in the very back, the part that obviously hit the mountain. Joanna was sitting right by the rearmost window. The Andean women all started to get nervous and muttering what I suppose were prayers. The three gringos in the back of the bus started to get very nervous. We fishtailed again a few moments later and luckily hit the mountain side once more and just kept on going. Afterwards we were thankful for the fogged up windows blocking our view.
We eventually reached the top of a crest and the bus headed down very slowly. All the locals stood up and tried to see out, like they knew what was potentially ahead of us. Thankfully we really couldn´t see from the back. A significant creek was running across the road. The bus driver tried several times to manuever across but in the end got stuck. The bus couldn´t move forward or backward.
Everyone got off the bus in the rain, which had thankfully turned into just a sprinkle at this point. We all found bushes to take a bio break since everyone just about had the you know what scared out of us by that point. I began to ponder my decision of traveling in South America (probably won't be the last time)
Jason, Joanna and I started weighing our options of walking the rest of the way to Chugchilan but we had now clue as to how far we still had to go. Everyone was standing around scratching their heads. An Andean woman, who had an infant strapped to her back with a knitted shawl, proceeded to climb a trail up the side of the creek/waterfall into the mountains. She disappeared from view a few moments later into the rain and fog. She was wearing low-heeled shoes and her infant couldn´t have been more than three or four months old. We guessed she knew exactly were she was in the world. We were the lost gringos.
We know learned that an additional duty of the bus co-pilot was to rally the men to help unstick the bus. Everyone started moving rocks, logs, etc under the wheels to get some traction. The co-pilot tied a rope to the back of the bus. The theory was that all the men pull backwards, while the driver guns the engine in reverse to free the bus.
That´s Jason at the end of the rope and me in the green jacket and brown pants. After several failed attempts the co-pilot realized that perhaps pulling a bus uphill worked against the laws of physics. While he tied the rope to the front of the bus, Jason and I noticed that the rear tires had absolutely no tread whatsoever. In fact, the steel belts were showing through in several places. We decided that was probably a contributing factor to our current predicament.
With the rope tied to the front of the bus, some of us pulled, others pushed from the back. After rocking back and forth several times we managed to get the bus free and back on the road. Everyone reboarded the bus and for some reason was in high spirits. Maybe to be out of the rain, maybe to be making postive progress down the road. We were still worried a little about what might lie ahead but we eventually made it to Chugchilan safe and sound.
Here is a photo of a section of the road I took the following day. Some smaller trucks got stuck trying to go up the section we drove/slide down in our passenger bus.
In South America, The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends...