Sunday, June 17, 2012

Day 47: Bus Trip from Baños de Agua Santa via Ríobamba to Cuenca, Ecuador

We intended for this blog to be an update for our friends and family so y'all know we're alive and kickin'; but this time, we are writing in detail, the bus trip from Baños to Cuenca, as it is a common backpacker route.  We have appreciated the invaluable details provided by other blogs to help us prepare for these trips, so we want to pay-it-forward.  Our apologies in advance to our friends/family for the overkill, and here's to any future bus traveler from Baños to Cuenca.  

Our plan was to leave Baños de Agua Santa on Saturday, June 16th.

Friday morning: We walked to the main bus terminal in Baños and purchased our bus tickets to Cuenca.  It is advisable to buy tickets a day in advance, as the buses may be full.  There is only one ticketing window for Ríobamba-Cuenca operated by Transporte Ríobamba (orange bus), which made it easy.  We selected the 0715 bus departure.  The next ones were at 1100 and 1700, daily (including weekends).  We paid $18 ($9/pp) for a ticket to Cuenca with a bus transfer in Ríobamba (there is no direct bus).  We were assured that the bus operator on board would assist us with finding the correct transfer bus.

Saturday morning, 0700:  We arrived at the bus station, but our bus had not yet arrived, so we sat on the benches and waited.  The office lady told us that the bus would pull into its designated parking spot, and we should look for the orange bus with Ríobamba written all over it.  Okay, easy enough.  

0720: We still hadn't seen the 0715 bus pull into its spot at the bus station, when the Transportes office lady - while talking very fast on a cell phone - beckoned us to follow her across the street (Amazones Avenue) to a bus idling on the side of the road.  This bus was not orange, nor did it say Ríobamba on it, but she told us to get on this bus!  Well, we figured she had more information than we did, so we trusted her lead and got on this bus.  Due to our (one and only) positive bus experience from Quito, we expected another nice express bus.  This was not a nice bus.  It reeked of body odor, a little dirty, no bathroom, and hardly any legroom (where we were hoping to keep our backpacks stowed).  However, there were no chickens or dogs onboard or people piled on top of you - we should be thankful.  Not what we expected but tolerable for the next 1.5 hour bus ride to Ríobamba.  

0730: The bus ended up driving around the corner and pulls into its parking spot after all, for about a minute, where lots of people piled on.  Perhaps the lady wanted us to get seats before the crowd...who knows.  

0735: Yay!  We left the bus station, vowing not to drink anything so that we don't have to experience a restroom need.

0745:  We first headed west towards Ambato, then south toward Ríobamba.  As we looked back, we FINALLY saw Volcano Tungurahua, puffing away!

0830:  We started wondering how long we can keep our backpacks on our lap before our legs go numb.  We don't want to test out the theory, but most travel sites advise to never part from your belongings, including while on the bus, in a taxi, etc.  Nobody looked suspicious enough to rob our stuff, but there is a lot of on/off foot traffic with the bus stopping every few minutes (it seems) for the locals.  Best to keep our belongings close.

0845: The view of snow capped Mount Chimborazo was also stunning.

0910: We arrived in Ríobamba as the bus pulled into a legitimate bus terminal.  Sure enough, the bus operator told us to follow him, while he negotiated a deal with the bus operator going to Cuenca.  We could see that he paid the other guy $10 ($5/pp), and told us to get on the blue Cooperativa Transporte Patria bus.  We got on board and found a couple of seats, when another bus operator gave us a new ticket from Ríobamba to Cuenca and started talking frantically to us in Spanish.  Hmmmm.  Come to find out we had assigned seats on this much nicer bus, so we left our self-appointed seats for our assigned...and he looked much happier.  I figured I should go to the restroom while I had a chance, so I found one at the far end of the bus terminal, paid the attendant 10 cents, and did my business.  There's was no running water so the attendant flushed the toilet with a bucket of water after me, and scooped another bucket of water to wash my hands.  Not sure where she's getting the buckets of water but it was crystal clear.

0930: This bus was much nicer.  I think it had a restroom in the back, as well as more legroom so that we could put our backpacks on the floor in front of us.   The Cuenca bus started on the road.  A sign on the bus said 'no food' on board, and started wondering if indeed we would not have anything to eat until we got to Cuenca after 3pm.  We were counting on the food vendors that came on board like they did during our Quito to Baños bus trip, but we hadn't seen any thus far.

0935: This also happened on our trip from Quito to Baños.  People started playing their own music out loud.  Viewing the scenery, it feels like we should've been listening to traditional Andean music, but no.  Latin discoteque music with some Lady Gaga sprinkled in. "Mr. Saxobeat" was very popular also.  Not to mention how it was competing with the Latin Top 40 music streaming through the bus speakers...

1130:  Apparently, while I dozed off, I missed some amazing scenery; but it helped to pass the time because it was already 1130 and the bus was making a pit stop in Alausí.  Due to the huge Andes mountains, buses are the main public transportation system in Ecuador instead of trains.  Since these buses pass through so many villages, it also serves as a cargo bus.  We saw a lot of cargo being dropped off at a Transporte outpost station in Alausí.  This outpost also had a restroom.  The bus operator was trying to tell us that there was a bathroom, "baños, baños, baños."  We were like, "no, Cuenca!" (since we just came from Baños, the town).  It was a classic gringo moment.  

1230: We continued to climb, higher and higher, until we were riding in the clouds, literally.  The clouds were so thick, it was difficult to see anything...hoping the bus driver knew how to stay on the road.

1330: We were starting to get antsy with only an hour or so left of our trip.  We still hadn't eaten or had anything to drink...might as well wait until we got to Cuenca.  We stopped briefly in El Tambo, which looked like a bustling town with a nice plaza.

1345: We dropped people off at Cañar also.

1415:  We think the town was Biblian.  The bus driver stopped the bus for about 10 minutes next to a food stand while people piled off to buy lunch, and bring it on board to eat!  They really need to take the 'no food' sign down.  We probably would've gotten off and grabbed something, too, but had no idea how long we were stopped for.  In the past, we've seen people almost get left behind as the bus just pulled away.

1430: Azogues was right before Cuenca.  There is an actual bus terminal there where we dropped more people off.

1500: Finally, we arrived at the Terminal Terreste in Cuenca!  It is a nice bus station with restaurants and many taxis waiting to take you somewhere.  We decided to investigate our potential bus route to Peru before hopping in a taxi and paying the $3 to get to our hostel in historic Cuenca by 1530.  

That makes Saturday an 8.5 hour day, which went well without any major challenges.  The bus operators were very helpful, the long-haul bus was really nice and clean, and the drive through the Andes was incredible!

Stay tuned for our next bus ride to Máncora, Peru, where we will have the added adventure of a border crossing.