Of the many things a backpacker learns to adjust to in adopting the traveling lifestyle, tolerating bus rides is one of the most essential. Traveling by bus is a frequent, necessary, central part of the experience and those who cannot accept this routine are not long for the road. Foreign bus travel has it’s difficulties - blaring music, either sweltering heat or inexplicably frigid air conditioning, unreliable travel times, frequent breakdowns, heart-stoppingly dangerous roads, fear of your precious few possessions being stolen, chatty neighbors, no bathrooms, a constant worry that you’ll miss your stop, far too many passengers - just to name a few of the inconveniences to be dealt with.
And yet, amidst the chaos, there is a saving grace. The view. The detached glimpse into the natural life of a community; humming along unbothered by the inevitable change brought on by tourism. The passing gaze of the places tucked between the ‘highlights’ designed for the mass appeal of a thousand other travelers. The view from the bus might be the most honest look you get at a country. These are the towns and landscapes and mountains deemed unworthy by guidebooks, travelers, and, by extension, you. And there’s undoubtedly an element of regret in passing them by; in only getting so brief a look at places that radiate such a raw kind of beauty.
In the highlands of Ecuador, the land you pass by demands your attention. Your window frame is full of earth: hilly, quilted, dotted by the occasional black and white cow or slow walking Indian in a bright red shawl. And then the bus races around the bend and it’s gone.
I never sleep on the buses here. I order coffees, look out the window, and hope we don’t get where we’re going anytime soon.