I had been promised that bus rides in South America were quite an experience and not for those that value personal space so I was surprised on our first bus ride from Quito to Otovalo. We arrived just in time to purchase tickets and when we got on the bus, only one other person was on board! However, between when the bus left it’s parking place and when we actually started driving, we picked up 5-6 additional stragglers as well as a host of vendors selling everything from ice cream cones to newspapers. They’d come on the bus, try and pitch their wares and then get off a hundred yards later – it was quite entertaining.

Our second bus ride was absolutely nothing like our first. We were headed to Pucara with our friend Peter and as he lives in Pucara part of the time, he was bringing back some supplies for the house he is in the process of building. He was also traveling with his newly adopted dog, Princessa. So there we were, 3 gringos, two big packpacks, a dog and 4 large sheets of glass trying to get on this nearly-full bus. Luckily, Peter had purchased us seats ahead of time or we would have been standing the whole 2.5 hour bus ride to where we were going. As Peter and I finagled our way to our seats through passengers, vendors, kids, old women in their traditional dresses, etc., Ted was outside trying to store our backpacks and hold onto the dog. In hopes of helping him out, I was sandwiched between a large-breasted woman selling limonadas and the glass Peter purchased while taking Princessa’s leash from Ted and holding onto her while leaning out the window. It was absolutely overwhelming and hilarious at the same time. Eventually, Ted gets on the bus, as does Princessa, the vendors make their final sales and we’re off!

Once we were in Pucara, the bus system works a bit differently. There are no tickets and few actual bus stops. If you want to get on a bus, you simply wave it down. When you want to get off the bus, you just say so and they stop. Some buses are crowded and some are not. There are a few going each direction each day so you plan your trip around these times and you’re good to go. The bus driver has a helper who gets out to help people with bags store them under the bus. The helper also collects the bus fare from the passengers and is the point of contact if you need anything. The driver just drives.

On our way home from some hot springs that we visited on Sunday afternoon, we were waiting at one of the few bus stops for our 6-7 mile trip home with 20-30 other people. When the bus arrived is was already PACKED! I was sure there was no way we’d all fit but sure enough, we were packed in like sardines. In fact, the bus driver didn’t even close the door and two people stood on that bottom step about a foot above the road. At the next stop, I’m not kidding you, they managed to smoosh on even more people – apparently “the bus is full”, is not an option.

Lucky for us, we had a short trip home however, many people on that bus were headed over 2.5 hours back to Otavalo and were destined to be standing on the bumpy, windy road the whole time!

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