Sunday, January 29, 2012

250 Kilometer Thrill Ride

I am now over the traumatic experience of being on the scariest ride of my life. Cuenca is about 250 miles from Loja. By taxi it may take four hours some people say they have done it in three and a half hours—by bus five or more hours. It was late Sunday afternoon, and we thought it would be good to get home in less than five hours. So we choose to take a taxi bus. My idea of a taxi bus was a large van that would hold 15 or more people each person having their own seat. It would have seatbelts and barf bags. Maybe even a small TV in front when one didn't want to take in the views of the mountains.

We arrived at the taxi station and had a short wait for the van to arrive. Our names were called as well as all the other people who were going to their destinations. We followed our driver around the corner to our van. It was an ordinary everyday soccer mom van. We all climbed in to secure our seats. I jumped into the back seat as I wanted to go to sleep and wake up when we got into Loja. The van was made for 7 passengers we were pushing the limits with 10 already in seats. The driver left to go to the office. I was thinking he was going to tell the powers that be that he had too many people and that someone had to go. Nope, he came back with another rider. They called my name and asked if I was married to Terry. I said yes, and they moved me up to the front seat next to him.

I got the seat that folds down next to the driver. The driver told Terry to put on his seatbelt and then proceeds to put his on. By this time I feel like a smashed marshmallow and was hoping my meds would kick in. We get almost out of town and the taxi pulls over. Seems one of the passengers has a friend who wants a package taken back to Loja. The friend has chased down the taxi and called to say he had us in sight. We picked up the package and loaded it into an already packed trunk and headed off.

Our driver started weaving over lines before we were even out of town. It was not looking good. As we were leaving city limits we come upon slow traffic. Driver was not happy and hits horn and tried to go thru both lanes of traffic as if he were a motorcycle. Looking out of a side window we saw a wreck and two people lying on the side of the road. If we had the window down, we could have touched them. People were gathering all around them. Terry and I bowed in prayer and ask God to send help. Later, I noticed that police were stopping buses, and I remembered that I had no passport or censo on me. I pictured being taken out of taxi and off to jail. I said a short prayer telling God I would never leave without ID again if he would keep us from being stopped.

About an hour into our trip the driver started chewing gum, loading CDs into the player and taking phone calls all while passing trucks, cars and donkeys in the thickest fog I have ever seen. I am from California, and have seen some thick fog in my life. Sometimes trucks would be stopped in middle of the other lane of traffic and you wouldn't see them until you were a few feet from them. Which wouldn't have been a problem, except our driver was straddling the middle line. I felt like I was in a real life frogger game.

Out of nowhere, children, chickens, and dogs ran out into the road, crossing it in the fog. Then the winding roads began. Buses on three wheels careening around curves. I tried to go to sleep, because Becca said that drunks and people who sleep tend to do better in accidents. Terry was holding on to my knees. I had one foot under the seat thinking that would keep me from going out the front window.

Signs saying “dangeroso” and “peligroso”, huge boulders in the road from landslides. driver driving to miss said boulders, swerving to the other lane as oncoming traffic was trying to miss boulders on their side. As we were coming down the mountain, I saw Loja. All I could think of was thank God if we are in a wreck, we are near a hospital.

I think it would be a good law if donkeys, chickens, dogs, and people dressed in black wear reflectors in fog. We only saved a half hour taking the taxi. Next time we walk.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Last week Terry and I took a short trip to Cuenca. All but one of our students were out of town, so we made a last minute decision to go to Cuenca with Becca and her family. The Kings had to make a trip to Quito to get visas renewed again. It was cheaper to take a five hour bus to Cuenca and spend a few days there than fly to Quito from the airport nearest Loja.

The bus ride was uneventful. We all made sure to make the last bathroom stop for the next five hours. We paid our ten cents for several pieces of toilet paper and entry into the bathroom. On the bus there were a few people who had our assigned seats, but when the bus assistant asked them to show their seat numbers, they moved to other seats. Sometimes there are more passengers than seats. There were people standing in the aisles who had a long five hour trip ahead of them. Makes for an interesting trip when someone is standing over you. Terry rationed my meds out for me, so I didn't crash when we got to our destination. Country meets City

One high point of our trip was a visit to a Mall that had a food court. A taste of home. I headed straight to the Burger King in the food court. Thought I had died and gone to heaven. Only thing that would have made it better was if they had served Dr. Pepper. We went to a store that was like a huge Walmart only a Walmart that was made in heaven. The store had wide aisles, neat uncluttered shelves it sold everything from motorcycles to groceries. Becca was like a deer caught in headlights when we walked in. She was dazed. It was too much for her brain to take in.

Half hour after we finished eating I was able to locate one of several mall bathrooms. To our surprise the toilets had toilet seats on them. Well most of them did. Most public bathrooms here don't have toilet seats. You know how people like to take stop signs in the states. Here they take toilet seats. I was having a hard time picturing someone walking the mall with a toilet seat in their hands. During the hour or so we were at the mall, I was able to locate all the bathrooms. Burger King had not been kind to me. I felt like I had a game of hide and seek going on. Everytime I went into the bathroom a lady was cleaning. I just knew it was the same lady each time and she was wondering why this lady kept running into different bathrooms.

We also visited the place where the Panama Hat is made. It is Cuenca not Panama.

As Becca and I were walking in the historical part of Cuenca, I mentioned that I really wanted to take some pictures but didn't want to look like a tourist. I got to thinking about what people thought of us gringos with our cameras taking pictures of what was just normal life to them. I would not appreciate it if someone came up to me as I was mowing my grass, washing laundry, feeding my children, walking the dog, snapping pictures, all the while speaking in a strange language. I need to get a camera phone and learn to speak the language.

The trip back is a whole different blog. Lets just say when we got into Loja I wanted to kiss the ground.