By Rob Bell
The sign says “no soliciting,” but that doesn’t deter salesmen, and the occasional saleswoman, from taking advantage of a captive audience.
I’m talking about Ecuador’s long-distance buses, and the lengthy presentations various Ecuadorians, Venezuelans and the occasional Columbian make to seated passengers, mainly from the front of the bus but sometimes while walking down the aisle.
My Spanish isn’t good enough (yet!) to make out their entire pitches, but their soliloquy usually includes a story about not being able to find adequate work to support their families. The good natured response of the hostages to these solicitations always impresses me. Young or old, most Ecuadorians on bus rides take these pitches in stride, never interrupting, accepting without comment every handout of cheap candy, sugar coated peanuts or cane sticks the pitchmen hand them during the performance. They hold it in their hands as the recitation continues, often quite loudly, since the presenter wants to be heard above the rumbling of the bus’ motor and air brakes. If you happen to be seated anywhere near them, it’s pretty much impossible to have a private conversation with your traveling companions.
After fevered entreaties, these pitchmen walk down the aisle once more, making eye contact whenever possible, mostly collecting back their unwanted candy from outstretched hands, but occasionally receiving payment.
These “banned” solicitations (also banned according to the signs, and routinely ignored, are the consumption of food and drink on the bus) can be sad, entertaining, annoying and/or long winded.
Some highlights, or lowlights, depending on your mood, include a man on the Cuenca-Azogues bus who pulls his shirt up to expose large scars on his torso during his homily. Another, on the way to Gualaceo, cracks seemingly risqué jokes appreciated by younger passengers. Perhaps the most professional, and by far the longest presentations I’ve seen, are perpetrated by two young men on the Cuenca-Paute line. Their routine includes ending each other’s sentences and fake hitting each other with loud slaps of the palm, spaced out with laughing at their own jokes, verbally picking on passengers they make eye contact with (in a humorous way), and invariably collecting a fair amount of cash at the end of their schtick.
These salesmen presenters are inherently polite, thanking their audience even if they didn’t buy their candy to support their cause. And as mentioned, I’ve never seen their captive audience complain, perhaps because they can relate to the presenters desire to “earn” their money rather than simply beg for it.
More than once I’ve seen passengers make a donation and return the candy. Many Ecuadorians have big hearts and feel empathy for others.
In general, once finished with their solicitation, the salesmen head to the front of the bus, often handing a sample of whatever they’re selling to the driver in lieu of bus fare. Then they hop off and (I imagine) right onto the next one heading back in the other direction. The pattern is then often repeated, as another salesman climbs aboard to start the process anew.
These longwinded “sob story” pitchmen are in sharp contrast to the no nonsense food vendors who hop and off the buses on the quick, selling everything from hot, freshly baked yucca or pineapple biscuits for ten cents each, to sweet coco drinks complete with ice cubes for un dollarito. Other no nonsense hop-on-hop-off vendors sell banana bread, plantain chips, ice cream and chopped fruit. They move rapidly, working the aisle, calling out their wares, making change with one hand while delivering the purchase with the other while the bus bounces down the highway. Then they’re off at the next stop, thanking the driver with a friendly wave goodbye.
And as the bus continues to your destination, Jesus watches over it all, his image gracing the internal sliding door.
Rob Bell is a New Jersey expat and professional writer now living in Gualaceo. Please check out his website Experience-Ecuador.com for informational videos, articles and photos of beautiful Ecuador.