Sweet and Sour
There's at least one constant in travel (and life): You can't have the sweet without the sour.
I'm making my way out of Quito, transferring metro buses on the way to the bus terminal. The buses are packed beyond capacity, people are cramming themselves inside the vehicles like the town is evacuating. I wait and let two go by before I give up and become a human sardine in a can.
I'm vulnerable. I have all my belongings with me in an environment with no personal space. I'm on extreme alert for threats—my personal DEFCON 2. I'm constantly feeling my pockets and trying to keep an eye my backpack (hard to do when you can't see below your waist because of the all the people smashed in around you).
A few minutes into the ride, during one of my frequent pocket checks, I feel that one of the cargo buttons had been undone on my pants—my fingers felt someone else's (retreating). My camera was in this pocket.
Whose were they? I quickly evaluated and blamed a 20-something year old guy in a puffy jacket next to me. I was pissed. I flipped into aggressive alpha male mode, inches from him, yelling at his turned face. I checked my pockets, everything was still there.
Shortly thereafter we arrived at another terminal stop, and he began moving through the crowd to exit, never looking at me. It was at this point I realized that I was scolding him in English. Getting odd glances from the people around me, I switched into Spanish.
Yelling out that the guy in the yellow jacket was a thief, the crowd in the bus exploded. He was half way out the door, when people started yelling for the police. The bus conductor was out of his seat, trying to assess if he could close the doors to stop him.
I wasn't interesting in chasing after the pickpocket with my backpack in tow, and told the crowd that everything was alright and that he didn't get anything.
An Ecuadorian man standing near me apologized for the incident, and said that people see tourists as targets because they have nice things and tend not to put up a fight. He wondered where I was going and how long I was going to stay in the country, and hoped that the pickpocket didn't tarnish my opinion of Ecuador. I told him that it didn't, and what a lovely country he had, full of friendly and outgoing people.
As I bused to Riobamba, I spent a couple hours chatting on and off with the 40-something woman next to me (I had to break out the translation dictionary a few times for clarification). I cringed when the television in the bus started playing a Spanish-dubbed copy of a horrible, xenophobic movie from the U.S. called Not Without My Daughter. That movie's foul on so many levels.
Despite the bad movie (haven't seen a good one on a bus yet), the ride, the landscape, and conversation were pleasant. Margoth, the lady next to me, gave me her number and said that if I was in Riobamba this weekend I was welcome to join her and her family for some horseback riding not far out of the city.
I'm in this large, mountain city in the middle of the country, to catch a train. The trip isn't cheap, but supposedly it's a "spectacular" five hour ride culminating in a decent down a series of crazy switchbacks called the Nariz del Diablo (the Devil's Nose).
Apparently you can ride on the roof of the train for some amazing views, but I'm not sure what I'd do with my pack yet (or if my clothes will be warm enough for the experience). The next train leaves the day after tomorrow, so I suppose I'll just have to wait and see…