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.
|Photo courtesy of Costa Rica Bill - http://www.flickr.com/photos/leicamini/|
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|
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|