Cumbayá by bus
Each day, I walk up the road outside my homestay and arrive at the little hooded bus stop at the top of the hill. I see the big green bus coming from above and I stick my arm out so it knows to pick me up. It barely comes to a full stop and the bus attendant waves at me to hop on quickly. Fighting for balance, I grip the rails as the bus takes off down the highway. Speeding down the winding road, I catch views of the city lying beneath the hills and of Volcán Cotopaxi if I’m lucky. After only five minutes, I arrive at the busy bus stop outside the grocery store, where I slither through the crowds as people line up to get on the buses. I admire the street vendors selling candies, juicy chicken, and delicious looking cheese tortillas that one day I will be brave enough to try. For now, I make my way down the dirt path and cross the busy streets into the university.
Quito by Uber
I walk up the hill outside my homestay again to meet my Uber by the bus stop. It’s too complicated to have the driver pass through the gates of the development, so I time it just right and leave as he’s three minutes away. Those three minutes often turn to eight, since my homestay is off a busy highway that won’t allow cars to cross over. I eventually get in the car and the driver tells me how the app made him turn around a bunch of times, which I had watched as the icon moved around on the map. This time around he surprises me by bypassing the thick white lines that keep us from the other side and takes off up the road. We move up along the winding hilltop highway and I watch the dull evening light shine through the clouds and hit the mountains that wrap around the city. As we stop and go through traffic, the constant changing of gears reminds me of the steep hill I went up in another Uber, where we nearly fell backwards in the split second the driver shifted the stick.
It was a long ride through traffic and the driver started to ask me a series of questions: where I’m from, what I’m doing in Ecuador, how I learned Spanish. I ask him if he knows any other languages and he says no, but says that he wants to learn English and asks me about the best ways to start. He asks if he has to speak it to move to the U.S. and what kind of jobs immigrants can get with or without papers. It was a choppy conversation, his quiet curiosity leaving long moments of silence between each answer. He dropped me at the bus station and we each continued on to our series of journeys that evening. The Galapagos by plane
Our plane took off in the morning and for the first time I saw Quito from high up in the daylight. For a moment the plane stayed close to the mountains where they looked bigger than expected. There were mines and farms and winding roads even on the highest of points. The city expanded far into the valley, but seeing it all in one glance made it look small. We moved high into the sea of clouds, but the volcanoes still managed to peek through. Coming closer and closer was Cotopaxi, covered in the black ash that had recently closed the national park. The others, whose names I didn’t know, had peaks covered in snow that almost blended in with the clouds. The snow soon turned to sea as we landed in the Galapagos and descended into the arresting heat.
The Central Highlands by bus
On a bus heading south to Ambato after dark, the lights turn on and off as various vendors get on at each stop. One of them is dressed as a clown and his hair is wet since it’s raining outside. He puts candies in the hands of each passenger that will let him in an attempt to make a couple bucks. The lights turn off at the next stop but I stay awake as the big screen at the front plays an Indian movie at full volume.
On a bus to Guaranda we pass through green hills with cows and colorful shacks. It’s Carnaval, and the bus soon fills with people standing in every open space. We move up and over the mountain and then down into the small town where I try to catch a glimpse of the crowds celebrating in the streets. The bus driver asks how to get to the station so we get off and figure we’ll have better luck walking into town.
San Miguel by pickup truck
We immediately make friends in Guaranda and they offer to take us to our hostel in the bed of their pickup truck. We wait in the back until there is space to get out of the crowded lot, dodging the foam that is being sprayed at Carnval-goers on every block of the town. Of course, we weren’t spared but laugh about it anyway. We eventually make it out of the lot and speed down the highway with the wind in our face, sharing travel stories and laughing at our friend throwing peace signs at us from inside the truck.
Chimbarazo by taxi
We get up early with plans to take a bus to Volcán Chimborazo, the highest peak in Ecuador. They tell us there are no buses going there due to Carnaval complications, so we place our bets on a taxi. We find the line of taxis outside the bus station but it takes a few tries, since some offer to bring us there for quadruple what we end up settling on. For $30, we pile into the taxi and ride up the pot-hole lined road up to the volcano. The broken road turns to dirt as we cross the park entrance and move up the bumpy road to the trailhead. We are fully surrounded by clouds, which soon turn to snow, making me question whether this is really a good idea. But we’re here anyway and we make it to the trailhead where our taxi waits for us to make the short hike up to the mountain hut, the highest point we can hike without a guide. After our snowy, taxing hike we pile back into the taxi and immediately fall asleep as we move down the bumpy road. Back in town, we head to the crowded bus station for another journey through the highlands and up to Quito.
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My name is Elise Fuente and I'm a senior at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. I'm studying International Affairs with a concentration in International Development, and I have a keen interest in Latin America. I'm studying in Quito after a semester in Buenos Aires, and I hope to keep exploring the region as much as possible! I have passion for sustainability, service, languages, and the outdoors, but sometimes I still dream about being a chef. :)