Tales of a long-distance bus rider and his top five bus-riding annoyances

Sep 28, 2016 | 0 comments

Have you taken an Ecuadorian bus lately? I’m not talking the local 12 to the market in Cuenca, but an inter-provincial, long-distance bus that goes where the weather’s hot. As many things seem to go for me in Ecuador, I have fullychl-matthew-profile cycled through the emotional range of the bus usage experience, from rage, to annoyance, and finally to acceptance.

If you look closely you’ll notice that almost everything on the bus is a complete and total lie. Stickers that say WIFI, Air-conditioning, Facebook, Twitter cover the outsides of the buses in almost every bus terminal I have been in. Strangely though, I have never had a bus with any of those things in over five years of living here. Once, I did see a driver checking his Facebook while sipping a beer and taking a mountain-side curve in the other lane — I’m not sure that’s what they meant by Facebook.

chl-bus3Experiences on the bus with other passengers can be challenging but ultimately enjoyable. Last week, while traveling from Cuenca to the jungle, a woman and her husband literally climbed over me to close my window. I would open it less than an inch and they would come up from three seats behind and close it, reaching over me and my wife and pushing us aside. I suggested that since the bus was completely empty and there being over 10 rows empty behind me, that moving toward the back may perhaps be a better option. They returned to the seat three rows back, and I of course opened my window again. It’s notable at this point to elucidate on an important point. The temperature in the bus was over 90F and the air entering the bus was at about the speed and temperature of what I imagine a wind tunnel powered by elephant farts would be. To call it refreshing would be a massive overstatement and to say it put someone at risk of catching cold, idiotic.

So, after the fight continued for a few more rounds of open – close, open – close, I figured I would ask them why? Why can’t you endure the trickle of air only mildly cooler than the inferno of the bus?

It seems they were of the belief that the air would make them sick. I thought I would explain that being in a bus with no air conditioning with sick people in it would be more likely to make ME sick, but then thought better of it. I pulled my sweater out of my backpack and gave it to the woman for the duration of the trip and that, as they say, was that. Well at least from them.

The drivers were smoking and listening to music till 3 a.m. Typically taking turns at ridiculous speeds and making the cross on their chests every time we passed a church or shrine. I wondered if that is, in fact, how one invokes “Jesus is my co-pilot”? At any rate, it was obvious they were trusting in someone other than themselves to prevent the untimely death of the bus and its occupants.

If you’re like me you may have wondered, why don’t the Ecuadorians speak up about these things? Do the people on the bus really want to endure this kind of behavior and danger? I have come to understand that it all goes back to the colonialist mindset, Catholic schools, and a huge cultural and power distance between people who have businesses or titles and those who don’t.

Here are my Top Five Bus Annoyances and how to deal with them.

1. People will not let you open your window.

What you can do…

Respond to the person telling you to close it, “Voy a vomitar” (I’m going to barf) or “Soy alergico al Bus”, (I’m allergic to the Bus). This last one has added benefit as it will confuse most people and immediately end the conversation.

2. The bus drivers are drunk or drinking.

What you can do…

This one’s easy. Call the cops using 911. If you can’t speak Spanish, ask someone else to do it. Even though they do not initially want to do it, you can easily get someone else on the bus to do it. Optionally if the driver is drinking a spirit of your liking, ask for a sip and drink it all, simultaneously ensuring a pleasurable journey for yourself and removing the intoxicating substance from the driver. I have actually done it, and yes, it works.

3. The drivers are smoking, playing loud music, etc.

What you can do…

Tell them to turn it down or off and to snuff the smoke. I have had a 90% success rate by just asking. “No mas musica”. You can also carry a huge jam box with you, and load it with a disk by a band called “Scrapping Foetus off the Wheel”. You can probably find it on some pirate software site. I promise you, if you play just one song at full blast, they will get the hint.

4. There is a loud, high pitched sound coming from the bus speaker that makes you want to pull your eyes out and shove them in your ears. (Believe it or not, I have been in more than four buses where this has been the case). Perhaps a mechanic, electrical engineer or experienced torturer or Guantanamo inmate can enlighten me as to the causes of this?

What you can do…

Nothing. If you’re in a bus and you hear the noise before it begins its journey, run. It gets louder as the bus goes faster, louder as it goes uphill, and it will make you vacillate from being super annoyed to suicidal within a hour. Get out before the bus leaves the terminal and ask for your money back.

5. You don’t have enough room for your legs.

What you can do…

This is the easiest. Always ask for seats 1, 2 ,3, or 4. They will almost always have more leg room, and at the very least, there won’t be anyone in front of you. If you have not yet taken a bus, and you’re taller than 5′ 10”, take my advice and ask for a front-row seat.

Save this article to your phone or other smart device for reference. Then next time you’re on the bus, reading Facebook, looking at Tweets and connected to the WIFI with the AC on full blast, you may find this useful!


Matthew Crowder lives in Limon Indanza, Ecuador with his wife Lisbeth. He currently works in software development with the Aikenu project, an open source software initiative here in Ecuador. He is also a bat expert and has appeared on the David Letterman show and in various magazines and TV shows.


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