Wednesday, April 9, 2014

On the Buses: Part Two

Buses in Ecuador... haven't I already covered this topic? That's right, in some length with this rather amusing, little piece. 

I don't want to be a bus, blog bore but my last bus trip from Manta to Puerto Lopez was a corker.

The buses in Ecuador work in two-man teams - one drives, one collects the money and helps guide the driver out of tight spots (remember this second duty - it might appear again later).

There is no timetable in Ecuador, all buses are private so there's no schedule to keep. You sit on a bus until it is sufficiently full to make the trip worth their while. It took about 40 minutes to fill our bus before passenger protest forced our departure, but I could sense the driver was greedy for more.

On the motorway out of Manta, at about the spot where the raw sewage is dumped into the river, our co-driver thought he spotted some potential passengers. By the time he had warned the driver we were already two miles down the motorway. In Ecuador there are no bus stops, you simply hail a bus as though it were a taxi. The bus driver performed an emergency stop on the hard-shoulder and they debated whether to return for the passengers. It was decided they would.

The co-driver returned to the back of the bus where he was collecting fares and the driver casually performed a U-turn on the six-lane coastal highway. Unfortunately he had misjudged the turning circle of the bus and drove into a concrete barrier with a jarring crunch and the sound of shattering glass.

The co-driver came running to the front of the bus and began a heated argument with the driver over who was responsible for the damage. The driver caused the accident but the co-driver is supposed to guide the driver. 'Why didn't the driver call for assistance?' the co-driver wondered. 'Why did the co-driver not recognise the danger?' the driver questioned. 'Why was the driver always such a prick?' the co-driver snorted. Because 'your mum is the mother of all whores!' the driver quipped, as though he had been possessed by the spirit of Wilde.

The punchline is by the time we had traveled a mile back to the next roundabout and returned the passengers had decided to walk instead... or at least that would be the punchline if our two-man team hadn't attempted to rewrite the DaVinci Code.

The damage to the bus didn't look too bad to me. The safety-glass window of the door had shattered so the bus was littered with tiny crystals which the co-driver eventually swept away with the head of a broken broom. They carry few tools on board - a broom, a hatchet, a collection of plastic bags for vomit (because South Americans can't be on moving vehicles without throwing up their last meal, which was - incidentally - only two minutes earlier and bought and consumed on the bus, because South Americans also think the main meal of the day is best enjoyed on the rolling, sick-wagon).

A quick digression. In Peru there are signs on the buses that say: "Don't be ignorant and leave your litter on the bus, throw it out of the window." We were taking a night bus from Chachapoyas back to Chiclayo and were served an evening meal - like on an aeroplane, in the 1970s, if you were flying from Tashkent to Ulaanbaatar. I declined mine but the Indian man next to me tapped me on the shoulder and said: "If you didn't want it, I'd have eaten it." He then tried to jam his rubbish through the narrow crack in the window. Lucy prevented him, but he looked wounded and confused.

Back on the road from Manta to Puerto Lopez and our driver and co-driver have a problem. Specifically, how to account for the broken window? Their female boss was a dragon, we learnt, and she would make them pay for any damage they had caused. The co-driver attempted to get the passengers "to collaborate" and help pay for a new window, but we weren't biting. The only solution was to invent a story so plausible and water-tight that they would be exonerated. Unfortunately this pair weren't exactly up to Moriarty's high-standards... more like Norman Wisdom and Frank Spencer.

So the co-driver phones his boss (the dragon). Here's what he came up with: "There was a borracho (piss-head) on the bus who was causing trouble. We tried to remove him but he became angry. When we tried to throw him off the bus he hit the window with his bottle of beer. He ran away but we gave chase in the bus. We had nearly caught him but he jumped into a taxi. Again we gave chase but lost them in the traffic."

There was a silence at the other end of the line and our co-driver was sweating. Presumably the boss was giving him the opportunity to retract the bollocks and confess. But he didn't. She hung up.

"She sounded angry," the co-driver said in a conspiratorial whisper to the driver.

I heard the whole thing because I was sat at the very front of the bus, right behind the driver, and I had Lucy to translate.

We were making steady progress to Puerto Lopez and the breeze from the broken window was refreshing. The driver and the co-driver's spirits were returning and they had even supposed that taping a black bin bag over the window would do the trick. "It will look all right," the co-driver mused.

The phone rang. The co-driver's face dropped. It was their boss again. She had more questions and their loosely constructed story was proving less than water-tight, it had more holes than a teabag. He stammered and stuttered, babbled and became tongue-tied. Eventually he managed to spit out: "It was a Club Verde bottle."

So they had a murder weapon. A Club Verde bottle. At one stage it was considered stopping at a local tienda and buying a Club Verde to smash and leave the distinctive green shards and sticky beer on the bus... but this would have been embarrassing.

The pair had another problem, the window was in two sections (top and bottom). The impact had broken both. How had the borracho managed to smash both with one swing of a bottle? There was lots of theorising and consideration but eventually the riddle became too enormous, too convoluted.

The sun was shining, the turquoise waters of the Pacific were glittering, and soon the broken window was forgotten. Most Latin people like to live for the next five minutes. The bus wasn't due back in Manta for another three hours, so they had two hours and 55 minutes of chilling before they needed to find that Holy Grail answer to save them the price of a new window (about £50).

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