Friday, January 10, 2014

On the Buses in Ecuador

I have a squawking chicken under my chair, the family behind me are tucking into their main meal of the day, I'm watching a brutal gang rape on the television and a heavily made-up Jesus is staring back at me. I can only be on an Ecuadorian bus.

The first time I saw a bus in Ecuador I couldn't quite believe it. They are bold, bright and have colour-schemes inspired by a Formula1 racing team. In fact it's quite common for the drivers to plaster their vehicles with the logos of their "sponsors". It really adds a glamorous and sporty touch to a knackered, 25-year-old, diesel-chugging coach.

Colorful Buses in Ecuador
Photo courtesy of Costa Rica Bill -
The buses are old and not very hygienic. Bizarrely, live chickens are welcomed but "mascotas" (meaning pets) are not. The chickens are generally well-behaved unless the bus goes around a corner, or slows down, or accelerates for that matter... oh, and they go bat-shit if the bus goes over a pot-hole or a speed-bump. So most of the time it's a squawking, thrashing, flapping talon-of-death with whom you share your ride.

On the coast, chickens are replaced by fish. In Puerto Lopez people shop in the market and bring their fresh catch on board and lay the unwrapped fish on the floor of the bus. Needless to say, it hums. For my part, I put the 5lb tuna I bought inside two plastic bags for the bus journey. This still wasn't enough to stop it dripping brine and blood over my fellow passengers when I got off the bus at Ayampe.

Bus-stops do not exist in Ecuador, so the buses stop to drop-off/pick-up whenever there's a potential passenger at the roadside. This is great when you want to catch a bus, not so good when you're the passenger and in a hurry to get somewhere.

Luckily, all the buses play the latest Hollywood films to stop their passengers getting bored. The most popular films are ones with car chases, explosions and killings. It doesn't matter what time of day or how many children are on board, the buses show the goriest action films the local pirate DVD seller has to offer.

For example, I watched the latest Rambo film on a night bus last month. In this film, Rambo shoots a man through the brain with an arrow, tears out the throat of an evil general and witnesses the gang rape of captured female prisoners by the Burmese Tatmadaw army. Most incredibly, the old Indian couple sat opposite me watched unblinking and engrossed as the orgy of death and sex unfolded before them.
Trust me when I say Rambo isn't giving this guy a lovely cuddle
Of course with every film you need food and luckily there's an army of vendors waiting to board and flog their delicious grub. You can buy everything from rice and chicken meals, pan de yuca, ice-creams, biscuits, tostado, roasted habas beans, and avena polaca (a sort of thick vanilla drink).

The sex and violence on TV is accompanied by a curious contradiction. The gentle face of Jesus Christ watching over the bus.

At the front, by the driver, there is always some veneration to the Catholic faith. Often, it's a favourite Virgin (Virgen de Merced and Guadaloupe are the most popular). Sometimes it's a prayer. Sometimes it's a bold declaration that "we are all good Catholics of the same true faith." But my favourite is always Jesus. He is portrayed in heavy make-up with lippie, rouge and eye-shadow. I suppose it makes him look more angelic, but to me he looks like a drag queen.

It's funny, as the bus you're travelling in overtakes a lorry on a blind bend with its tyres screeching and chickens squawking, it's a strange comfort to have Jesus watching over you (in drag or otherwise).

Jesus, looking good
There is no centralised public transport network in Ecuador so you are at the mercy of the local, private bus companies, but they're generally pretty fair with their pricing. A journey costs roughly 50 cents for half an hour's travel - this is affordable for most of the population. Children and the elderly pay half-fare without question or having to apply for travel cards. So I can't really complain.


  1. Jesus looks a bit like you did on my wedding day! (Joking)

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