Over the month of August, I spent my time backpacking through the country of Ecuador on a research grant from the University of Richmond. While the subject of the research was not a cycling story, the scenes from the road were on their own, little nuggets of intrigue. Here is the first!
The absurdity of Guayaquil, Ecuador is hard to understate. In the dense neighborhood and enclaves, the worlds of many fuse into a convoluted web of urbanization. As I wheeled to a halt at the sudden terminus of a bike path on the outskirts of the city, that chaos was inescapably and suddenly present.
In front of me, in a rapidly dimming twilight, sat eight lanes of mismatched traffic and an interchange feeding the homes of the millions of residents of the city. After my day of 115 miles of desolate dusty roads from the small coastal town of Ayampe this impenetrable wall of barbarian traffic seemed impossibly dangerous. With the relative safety of the humble bike path now removed (and with the hotel on the wrong side of the interchange) the time had come for me to admit defeat and find my way on one of the many buses, emblematic of Latin American travel.
Before long a shuttering blue and white bus, creaking under years of service and blackened by the grit of the city’s discharge, pulled up as my traveling companion Ramiro and I flagged it down. After a masterful display of elementary Spanish and a slight cajoling of the bouncer to allow my bike a seat, I was bound for the center of the city.
The bus made a left, and another left, then a right, and as we crossed over a bridge we descended into a place where the chaos of the surroundings outweighed any semblance of control. Each stop, the bus filled. Men and women of different ages and different states climbed onto the bus, as the conductor blasted music that was simultaneously psychotic and cheerful, as we careened through trash laden streets of the cities periphery.
And through it all I sat, bike clothes on, dirt splattered all and blank glaze over my eyes; an object of foreign foolishness and naïveté for all to see. Yet, through the fog and confusion I saw people living life, satisfied with their choices, grateful for the bus, and seeking the comforts of home. While almost every element of our situations were divergent and foreign, those sentiments were one in the same.