Navigating foreign lands

So far 2014 hasn’t been much for blogging. I guess I’ve been busy planning a wedding and trying to sell/buy a house. Lucky for you, I’m not here to talk about any of that! Instead, I want to go back in time to last July when Trevor and I traveled to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. I never blogged about this, because I am lazy. But I’ve felt inspired to share some travel stories recently, so here’s one.

After going to the Galapagos, we visited several cities on mainland Ecuador. One was called Cuenca. We had about five days to spend there, so we decided to spend one of our days to head into the mountains to go hiking.

Step One was to get on the bus to go to Cajas National Park, the setting for our hike. We hopped in a taxi and asked our driver to take us to the bus station. Our cab driver, once he discovered we spoke Spanish, complained to us about chinese-made shoes and recommended several meaty Ecuadorian dishes for us try. Then let us out of the cab near a patch of dirt on the side of the road. We tried to explain that we wanted to go to the BUS station. He assured us that was it, and we hopped out.

Sure enough, buses did come and we saw people get on and off. But all the buses going to Cajas never stopped for us. We flagged, we chased, we thought maybe they were just stopping a ways down the road and tried to run down there. No luck. Finally, a street sweeper took pity on us and showed us where the actual bus terminal was (a real building where you could buy tickets and everything.) We got on a bus, and bought just a one-way ticket because on the way back we were supposed to just get on any bus that was heading back to town.

I had read it would be colder there as the elevation would be much higher. And I also read that the park closes at dark so people don’t get lost there and freeze to death. We arrived and the cold was a bit of a shock. We bundled as best as we could and decided to do a shorter hike.

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We pretty much just hiked around that lake, which was the shortest hike you could do. The scenery was pretty, but strange, like from another planet.

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As we hiked, we warmed up a bit. We took our time and enjoyed a few snacks as we were spending about a half a day on this little excursion.

After our hike, we used the bathrooms in the visitors center and headed out to the clearly marked bus stop to try our luck with catching a ride back to town.

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We waited for about 10 minutes, and we saw a bus coming! I was starting to get cold and was excited to be on the way back to our hostel. We jumped and waived and waited at the stop, and the bus did not slow down at all. It just kept going. Confused, we continued to wait.

I became an expert at spotting the buses far up the road so that we would be ready to flag them down when they came. There was a small clearing where you could see them for a split second, then they would disappear into the curves of the mountain and not reappear until a few hundred feet up the road.

Many buses drove past us, but none stopped. We were frustrated and getting colder by the minute, but had no where else to go and no other options. So we continued to wait. I was imagining which restaurant we would eat at that night and thinking about a warm beverage.

Eventually, more people came to wait for the bus. More English-speaking tourists (who probably had the same guidebook we had, and no clue what was going on, like us.) We made small talk with them, and watched about three more buses drive right past us without stopping. Everyone else seemed pretty laid back about it, but I was beginning to panic. What if no busses stopped? Would we end up freezing to death up here? I felt really helpless. We had no one to call (and no phones that were working). We had nothing except a guide book that told us where to catch a bus. But there was nothing about what to do if no buses will stop. There was no plan B or alternate route.

We began to consider trying to get a ride with someone who was going back to town in a car and offering them some money, but the cars leaving at this point were quite few since it was getting rather late in the day, and the few that were still leaving were already full.

As it got colder and colder, I took to walking laps back and forth near the bus stop to try to keep warm.

Finally, I decided we should risk missing another bus to walk back to the visitor’s center to speak to the park ranger dude (and warm up by the fire.)

We told him how we had been unsuccessful in catching a bus and had been at it for quite a while. He said that there was one coming in 15 more minutes and if we didn’t get on that one, he would drive us back himself (I’m telling you, being able to speak the language of the country you are visiting is invaluable.)

We went back out to wait, but in no time a jeep came out of the parking lot and waived at us. It was the park ranger. Smartly, we had not mentioned to our 6-8 other English-speaking friends that the park ranger had offered to drive us back himself. So when he pulled up, they didn’t know why he was waiving us over. We ran over to his car hurriedly, and one other couple followed us. He explained that sometimes on Saturday afternoons (as this was) it’s difficult to get on a bus because they are fuller than usual. He offered us a ride to the nearest town with a local bus going back to Cuenca, and we agreed.

His car was so warm and wonderful. I was hungry, tired and cold, but most of all relieved. He drove us about 35 minutes down, explaining he had to run errands anyway. We got into a really small town where there was a bus ready to go back to Cuenca. As we exited, park ranger dude asked us for a few dollars for his trouble. Gladly, we handed over about $10 (which was good money for a taxi by Ecuadorian standards.)

We were able to hop right on a bus from there and it took us within a few blocks of where we were staying. Success! We got to know the couple who rode back with us, and they invited us to a party that evening. Unfortunately, we had to get up super early to leave for another city, so we couldn’t go. That night we simply ate a nice dinner followed by a warm beverage, and got a good night’s sleep to prepare for our next adventure with public transit.

I still wonder sometimes what happened to those other people we left waiting at the bus stop.

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About juliemcg

Marketing, writing, editing, traveling, social media-ing woman from Colorado.
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One Response to Navigating foreign lands

  1. avaerewyck says:

    i was one of them! (i like your new blog design.)

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