Today we started in Mindo and ended in Chugchilan. We took the bus back to Quito then a taxi to Latacunga then a bus to Chugchilan. As we arrived at Latacunga bus station a man yelled at us from across the station to find out where we were going. I said “uhh Chuch-something” and he directed us to the bus that was immediately pulling out of the station.
As we were getting onto the bus I realized it might be a good idea to make sure something wasn’t lost in translation. I looked at the bus driver and said “Vamos Chugchilan!” He responded “Chugchilan no aqui!” So we got off the bus and were directed to the next bus over. I have no clue where that first bus was going but I’m glad we didn’t end up there.
As we were on the 3 hour bus to Chugchilan I realized this was going to be both the best and scariest bus ride of our life.
It was the best bus ride because it was literally Christina, I and 60 indigenous Ecuadorians (with only probably 40 seats on the bus). A true cultural immersion. As the bus elevated into the Andes every time a new villager got on the bus they looked at us in shock (like what the hell are you doing here?) Quickly followed by a polite smile, followed by 3 hours of confused stares.
It was the scariest bus ride because we were riding on the edge of a dirt road the whole way that unforgivingly rose and quickly spun around the Andes. The random holes in the rode made the bus violently shake as we sped over them. There was not a drop less than 300 feet out our window the entire ride up.
Half-way through the journey I turned to Christina and realized she was nervous. I wanted to calm her down so I said “Hey it’s ok. At least it isn’t raining and the bus driver has great visibility.” Ironically, no less than 5 minutes later the rain and the fog moved in. At this point I thought well at least this can’t get any worse. I looked up at the bus driver and to my surprise he had opened a book and started reading (no joke). For some reason the only thing I could do was laugh at how he one-handedly operated the scariest bus ride of our life, only giving a quarter of his attention to the road. Christina didn’t notice this at first and I knew I had to tell her. I thought she would find this as ridiculously funny as I did. She did not.
Later on we talked to a western girl who jumped on the bus the village before our final stop. She told us she rode buses and bikes down the most dangerous road in the world in Bolivia (http://www.oddee.com/item_96660.aspx). She said it wasn’t close to as scary as this ride.
When we got off the bus it was a short walk to the only 2 hostels in town. We chose the Cloud Forest Hostel because they had hammocks overlooking the forest.
The next day we decided to go on a horseback ride through the Andes. As I recall every time we were doing something Christina would say “you know what would make this better…. If we were horseback riding”. So finally the little princess got her wish.
As we got prepped for the ride our guide distributed the horses. I was getting stoked knowing that I would probably get the biggest, fiercest horse being that I was the only guy on this trip. As he distributed the horses to the ladies I saw the final horse was a huge white stallion. His name was Blanco (White), but I decided to call him Relámpago Blanco (White Lightning). As I started to mount Relámpago Blanco the guide patted me on the shoulder and said “tu tiene Segundo, Blanco es mio” (you have Segundo, Blanco is mine). To my dismay Segundo was a tiny 18 year old burro.
I reluctantly adapted and made one with Segundo. As we started trotting out of the village Christina’s horse tried to show her who was boss. Her horse spun and shook and galloped away in the opposite direction. We caught up to her and slowed them down. Christina looked at me and said “that’s it, I’m done… I’m freaking done!”. I internally had a good laugh at how quickly Calamity Jane (Christina) wanted off.
Anyways, we talked her into giving it another try and had an amazing ride through the Andes. To our surprise we rode the horses’ full gallop most of the day (this is on the same type of roads the bus maneuvered the previous day). Also, to my surprise Segundo was quick and stayed in the lead the entire journey.
- We met an Ecuadorian lawyer who was staying at the same hostel as us and had dinner with him. He was a criminal prosecutor in Latacunga and he claimed to have to wear a bullet proof vest to work for months at a time. We talked politics all night.
- I have decided that people talk about politics more freely outside the US. If I try to strike up a political conversation in the US most people will either do everything they can to change the subject (usually to football), or they will be quick to the offensive.
- We had a polite conversation where we both found agreement and disagreement on many issues. I was shocked, we left the conversation with mutual respect and understanding (did I mention this guy was a lawyer).
- The term Gringo comes from both the Mexican-American and Vietnam wars where American troops who notoriously wore green army uniforms were constantly told “Green-Go!” (like get out of here) by the locals. But over the years it has become a friendly term and is not meant to be malicious in any way.