Our trip to Ecuador is likely to lead to several more serious blogs…but first a fun story!
I have heard stories of foreign travel from all my world traveling friends, but now I have my own story. A week of jumping in cabs and catching buses with 37 people seemed relatively normal for being in another country… with 37 other people. It was when Bill and I decided to take off on our own that we had issues. Maybe our courage was emboldened after a week of hearing Spanish spoken everywhere, or maybe we thought that since we had ridden public transportation with 37 friends it would be a piece of cake to ride with only two of us, or maybe it was the idea of having our own personal adventure that led us to the bus station. Whatever it was, we got there and found that we had learned fewer Spanish words than we thought over the course of the week, and we also realized that having 14 mostly fluent World Racers who had been speaking Spanish for 7 months as part of our 37 made it much easier for us than we knew.
On our own we went from window to window at the bus terminal asking for Mindo, the name of the town we were trying to get to. Each window told us things…only we didn’t understand any of them. Finally one woman stuck her arm out of her little ticket window so she could point to the place to buy our tickets. We smiled and said, “Gracias”…which is one of the only Spanish words we are actually sure of. The woman at the correct window told us the amount while I searched my brain for all those Sesame Street songs that taught how to count to ten. I found none of them in my memory banks at the moment I needed them most. Finally after a game of charades and holding up a variety of fingers, she wrote the amount down…$6.50…which seemed higher than what our contact told us it should be, but in the first 5 minutes of our journey, we were just happy to have found the right ticket window. Now to find the right bus…we tried to ask the woman how to get to the correct place in the terminal of 1,000 buses. She just shook her head, but then pointed to a little girl and said over and over, “Chico.” We took this to mean we were to follow the little girl who seemed anxious for us to trail her. As we wove through the station, the 5 year old seemed proud to be smarter than her followers. She dropped us off at a section of the terminal with 10 bus bays, promptly uttered several sentences and was gone. We tried to figure out the handwriting on our ticket and managed to figure out the time, and the bus number, but not the bay number. Thinking security guard might speak some English, Bill asked him which bay, and he uttered the same sentences as the girl and appeared to be pointing to bay 9. (I made note to write the producers of Sesame Street and complain that Ernie and Bert count too slowly.) So we thought that we were supposed to be at bay 9, though we couldn’t be sure since I couldn’t remember what number comes after siete. After watching buses come and go, and asking each driver if his bus was the correct one for us, we finally found our bus…in bay 9, just as every person we asked had told us. We gathered our things and got in the first seat so as to have room for my leg that doesn’t bend well. We knew if we were on the right bus, the ride would take close to two hours, so we settled in already exhausted from our first 30 minutes of “adventure.”
About half way, Bill looked down at our feet, where we had place our bags and his hat. (Except for the bag with the passports and money…it was attached to my body with my arms wrapped around it as if it was my only child.) His hat was missing, which was very odd. It was a Panama Hat (which are actually made in Ecuador btw) he had bought at the market, which kind of marked us as tourists. Thinking the hat had slid backwards under the seats as the bus climbed the mountains, Bill started looking behind us for it. Soon a woman notified the driver of the missing sombrero and he stopped the bus in the middle of the road to address the passengers. We had no idea what he was saying, but we did know that we were the subject of his talk. No one came forward with the hat, and so the ride continued. (We never got the hat back.)
We soon realized that one of the advantages to traveling for a week with 37 people is the ability to tell at which bus stop to get off. The leader yells, “Gringos off!” and we all knew to exit. When it was just two of us there was no one to tell us which stop was ours. Each town we went through we wondered, ‘Should we get off here? Have we missed our stop?’ There was no one to shout to us. At one point, the bus stopped and the boy who earlier took our ticket hurriedly said, “Mindo, Mindo.” We took this to mean it was time for us to exit the bus, so we gathered our things and got off. The bus pulled away leaving us standing in the middle of a road. Not a building in sight. Not a car in sight. Nothing in sight. Just the two of us and a foggy road wondering what in the world have we done, and where in the world are we, and what were we thinking, and what do we do now. A voice from out of the fog reached our ears, “Car coming!!” We couldn’t see any car because the fog was so thick, but the voice was insistent and so we ran to the side of the road just in time. We saw that it had not been the voice of God as we had imagined, but a local man who spoke just enough English to save us from becoming road kill. (Come to think of it maybe it was the voice of God after all.) Finally we saw a sign which directed us to Mindo…in 6 km.
Now I must tell you I am a planner. Before we ever left Quito I had looked up a map of Mindo…found the bus station, the visitor center next door to the bus station, and our Bed and Breakfast. I had a plan. Get off the bus at the station, go next door to get all the information we would need during our stay, and then go check into our room. Nowhere in my plan did I have a 6 km walk, on a foggy road in the cloud forest. I must say I was relieved, if only for a moment, that we were indeed in the right area meaning we had indeed ridden the correct bus. But reality increased my heart rate when I realized we were in for a hike, bags in tow down a deserted road in a foreign country. As we began to walk we heard the voice of God again, “Taxi?” What a sweet word that is. We looked at the man, who was smiling and pointing at a small beat up pick-up truck parked on the side of the road with no driver. Even as we said, “Si” he could see the confusion on our faces. He knocked on the window of the truck and a man who had been napping sat up, rolled down the window and said, “Uno.” As God opened the door for us to get into the backseat, we pulled out our money to pay for our ride. When we were driving away I thought to myself, “I have just done everything I have taught my children never to do. Don’t trust a stranger. Don’t get in a car with someone you do not know. Never get into an unmarked taxi.” I shook my head to find myself in this situation, but decided to see it not as a scary thing, but as an adventure. However, this new thought process did not help my heart rate to decrease one little bit. It was pulling into the town and seeing the Dragonfly Inn that finally calmed my anxious thoughts. You see I picked this inn because trip advisor said the owner spoke four languages, one of which was English. It also mentioned that he could tell us which tours to take and what to avoid. As we paid and thanked our taxi driver, I regained my confidence.
We made our way into the inn only to find that the owner was out of town, or at least that is what we gathered because the man at the desk spoke only Spanish. We pantomimed our way to a room, which was beautiful and overlooked a rushing river. That much at least, was perfect. We decided that in a tourist town that the visitor information center would surely be able to help us. Once again, no one at the center spoke English. We fumbled and pointed at pictures of humming birds and butterflies hoping to express our desire to see the beauty of the forest while we were in the town. The woman smiled and spoke in Spanish that was so fast I couldn’t even pick out uno word. Just then God showed up again…this time as a man from England. He translated for us and managed to get us a tour of the chocolate factory for that afternoon. While walking to the factory we stopped into what we thought was an art shop only to find that it was a restaurant which was not open for dinner yet. But God answered the door…this time as a woman from France who spoke English. She told us of all the bird tours, waterfall tours, zip lines, cable cars, butterfly houses, and about a secret garden that was not well known, right in town that had 250 species of birds. We tucked the knowledge away and continued on our way.
The chocolate tour was offered in Spanish and in English. Hurray for some English speaking people! Our tour guide used to live in Savannah, so we were finally able to be understood. The tour was fabulous…it was about chocolate so how could it not be? I mean it ended with a chocolate tasting and God showed up again! This time as two South African women. They were a year or so older than Hannah and were traveling all over South America for the summer. We had dinner together and by the end of the evening had spent 6 hours with them. After such an exciting day, once we were back in our room, sleep came quickly and easily.
In the morning we went to the secret garden for a couple of hours and were the only ones there…until God showed up…this time in the hundreds of humming birds buzzing like bees. It was an amazing place. We found a butterfly tour after that which took us to the butterfly house just outside of town. Once again, God showed up this time as our taxi-driver turned tour guide and showed us so many beautiful intricate butterflies. We saw at least three births, and fed many different types of these amazing creatures. In the process of our trip we found out that the buses from the Mindo bus station would not take us back to the bus terminal in Quito we needed. We were going to have to find one bus, then transfer to another bus, walk to where we had stored our bags in Quito, then call a cab to get us to the airport. After our adventurous bus ride on the previous day, we decided that there was way too much risk involved in trying to make that many connections. My greatest fear was getting on the wrong bus and missing our flight home. We went to our chocolate tour guide from the previous day and explained the situation. She arranged for us to get a taxi that could take us to pick up our bags and then carry us the rest of the way to the airport. It was much more than $6.50…but worth it to me for peace of mind.
Did I say peace of mind? Well, even though God showed up again…as the taxi driver who would take us to the airport…he had a sense of humor. This driver (turned out to be the same one who took us to the butterfly house) drove us for two hours, up out of a canyon on curvy narrow roads. When we came upon a bus or a truck he just went around. No passing lane needed. No visibility needed. Six slow vehicles in front of us? No problem. Just go around them all, at the same time, on a curve, in the mist, through the rain. Talk about adrenaline rush. I found it is best to close your eyes and pray and pretend you are sleeping. After 3 hours of travel God finally dropped us at the airport and we hugged his neck. He said, “Adios amigos” and we understood him perfectly.
Lesson of the story: God shows up, in many ways, in many forms and he always takes care of us.