or- Mr Google lets me down!
31.05.2017 - 03.06.2017 66 °F
I have several entries to post, but now that I have completed my days in Quito and am headed to the Galapagos, I thought I would first share the joys and challenges of travelling around Quito by bus. To preface this entry, I have made it a practice to use public transportation (busses/subways/hoofing it instead of taxis, for example) and I have had good success almost everywhere I have been. I had did well in Santiago and Valparaiso Chile as well as Japan, Korea, Greece, France, etc. However, my global sample size is relatively small.
Nonetheless, I can, with some confidence, state that riding the bus in Quito is cray cray! There are a zillion buses, all going as fast or faster than possible to grab fares before the next guy (I only saw male bus drivers, although I did see a single female taxi driver in Quito). The windows are full of destination signs, which should be helpful, right? Not. The one thing the windows almost never feature is an indication of a route number.
So how do I know these buses even have route numbers? Well, as many of you know I am pretty deep into the Android/Google universe, surrendering substantial bits of privacy for the convenience of telling me I am late for my plane or whatever. So as is my usual practice in a new city, I let Mr. Google know where I was and where I wanted to get by bus. Boopity boop and one or more routes were identified by name and number. Small problem. Neither the routes, the route names or the route numbers bore any resembance to the blue behemoths flying by. Worse, if I took Mr. Google's data and in pitiful Spanish (6 weeks of Duolingo is helpful, but it sure ain't fluency) asked any one of a number of individuals to point out where this bus might be, I got nothing. In one early case I had a route to go to the Terminal Carcalen (the main Northern bus terminal in Quito) from the Quicentro, the largest mall in Quito (never fear, you can get your Tiffany fix there). Easy, eh? I asked Mr Google, two people wearing transit system uniforms, at least half a dozen bus drivers, another guy who was offering tourist advice adjacent to my putative bus stop, some guy waiting for a bus, the info guy at the mall and a cop or two and every single one of them had a different take - I was offered all 4 cardinal directions as the answer to my dilemma.
In this case, I ended up using a desperation strategy. Mr Google at least gave an indication of the route. So I hopped first bus that came by pointed in the same general direction, hopped on and monitored my route. When predicted and actual routes began to diverge, I hopped off and looked for another bus going in the desired general direction. And so on. With a liberal addition of shoe leather, I made my first successful cross town trip.
Now, this may seem like kind of a spendy way to get around, but it aint. Buses in Ecuador are ludicrously cheap. I paid as much a $3 US for a two hour ride in a comfy bus going to Otavalo (more later) and as little as 12 cents when I boarded a city bus and the ticket person decided I needed the senior discount from the ruinous regular price of 25 cents.
It got pretty silly at times. On one trip, Mr. Google said to take the route 140 bus from the stop where I was standing. Lo and behold, this stop had a list of buses that stopped there and sure enough there was a Route 140 bus listed! It also had the same route names as Mr. Google said! Mr. Google said one came by every 7 minutes. Mr. Google was full of it - after 45 minutes, I bailed and hailed a taxi.
A brief (brief? Me?) rant about taxis. There are perfectly honest taxi drivers in Quito, there are some who are willing to monkey around with not using the meter, and a very small percentage will kidnap you for your ATM card. Never one to abandon a non-working approach, I turned to tech for taxis. I got an app called Fast Taxi apparently popular in South America. I hooked up my credit card, Uber-like and took a stab. I figured there were less likely to be rogues tied into this system and this may be the case - but I never got it to work. Putatively, you type in your destination and it pops up the location, then you can say that you want the taxi at your current location. Slick, eh? Riiiight. After doing all that, and getting down to the request a ride button, and after hitting it you are informed that you have to enter the numeric street address for both your location and your destination - even if your destination is super famous like the aforementioned mall and was filled in by the app. Ever tried finding a street number in any big city? No. can. do. So I abandoned the app and grabbed some guy who, true to form, set a price and skipped the meter. At least he got me to my destination, so all's well that etc. And yes, the $10 fare was probably twice the meter rate, but on the other hand a $10 fare for a 45 minute taxi ride through a major city does not seem like robbery to my USA eyes.
To be fair, there are multiple bus sytems in Quito, includng some quite modern ones in dedicated bus lanes. As Quito is laid out pretty much North-South, using of these tram/bus options can get you pretty close. I am referring to the E3 route, my one gloriously redundant success. I was coming back from Cotapaxi (more later - fabulous!) and was at the Quitumbe terminal. Mr Google said I needed to take the E3 bus. As a quite modern terminal, there was an info office and when I asked there, they said the same thing. I even found a platform labeled E3. And a bus labeled E3 pulled up and it went where I thought it should! Of course, this was my very last bus trip in Quito, so my bus-fu was never tested again.
On the horizon (Quito says 2019, I say 2022) a massive Metro subway system is going in that will run the length of the city. It will be great for those who can afford what will undoubtedly be a fare well north of a quarter. Whether the gleeful chaos aboveground with its cheap fares will survive is a matter of concern to those of limited resources, I am sure.
Oh, did I mention that as far as I can tell, there is neither hide nor hair of anything resembling a bus route map for Quito on line? Sigh.
So, for the possible benefit of future travelers to quito, I present photos of signs I encountered at random that appear to actually be bus route maps. May they serve you well in your own Quito bus adventures!