Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sweating Bananas and a big Riskcision

After a 14 hour night bus ride across Argentina, a 7 hour bus ride twisting through the Andes, a flight from Santiago to Lima, another 14 hour night bus ride up the Pan-American highway, a 4 hour bus ride through the desert of northern Peru, and a 5 hour bus ride through some lush tropical vegetation (all within 5 days), we finally arrived at the Ecuadorian border.

Although many of the South American border crossings are a bit shady with corrupt police and sketchy characters, this particular one has the reputation for being the worst one on the continent. We survived the Peruvian side without much problem other than a strange man grabbing Joo's arm for awhile. On the Ecuadorian side, Joo gave the officer her passport and he began making odd faces and banging on the window. He was pointing to a paper which, as far as we could tell, was blank. Finally, his accomplice came out and showed us another paper which said that citizens of the "Democratic Korea" could not enter Ecuador without special permission. I explained that she was not from "Democratic Korea,"(North Korea) but "Republic of Korea" (South Korea). He looked very disappointed as he stamped her passport, as I think he was craving a juicy bribe, and just muttered something about "there's too many Koreas in this world."

So, we crossed in and rode another five hours to the largest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil. At this point, we were caught in one of the most difficult places a budget traveler can be in... a Riskcision. A Riskcision is a decision where both (or all) options involve some degree of risk and a choice of priorities that can be very tough.

In this case, our Riskcision was whether to catch a night bus onward to our final destination on the Ecuadorian coast, or to go into the city, find a hotel, and then come back to the bus station the next day for an all-day bus to the coast. The onward bus option was incredibly attractive - it would save us about $45 (an enormous amount for budget traveling), and we would wake up on the coast with all day to work on a translation assignment with an imminent deadline. Plus, Guayaquil was a fairly rough city and we wouldn't have to go searching for a hotel late at night. However, the bus company people seemed quite unimpressive - not the kind of people you'd want to trust your life with to demonize the dark roads in their bus. Furthermore, we were quite tired and had just spent the past week on buses. The Riskcision was intensified by our hunger, the weight of our bags, and our insomnolent state. Neither decision was appealing, but after standing there for awhile, we just went ahead and bought the bus tickets.

We then went upstairs to do some internet and I did some more risk analysis. Both the US and UK government websites had travel warnings strongly cautioning against taking night buses in Ecuador PARTICULARLY on the exact route we were travelling, as there had been an increase of armed attacks and sexual assaults by guerrillas along the way. This fear was worsened as I read the blog of an American couple who had been travelling along happily through South America until 2 weeks ago in Ecuador when they were attacked, the woman violated, and the man stabbed 24 times and left for dead. Even though I knew these things could happen anywhere (and granted, this attack had nothing to do with a night bus), I was getting increasingly uneasy.

But, the Riskcision was now heavily weighted towards travelling onwards since we had already purchased our non-refundable tickets, and it was almost midnight, which would mean heading into Guayaquil wasn't the safest option either. Visions of Mom popped into my head saying, "Daniel, please be safe." Joo was still quite keen on moving onwards, thus making the decision even harder. Eventually, I made an executive decision, tore up the tickets, and we went into the city where we found a hotel room (which I was hoping would be nice and clean to show Joo how it had all worked out well... but unfortunately it was quite a dirty hotel with the clicking of prostitutes' high heels on the stone floor all night long).

We eventually fell asleep though, got up the next morning, bought a new ticket for the coast and arrived in Bahía, where we quickly poured ourself into translation for two days and finished just before the deadline. Everything worked out well in the end, and we're now enjoying the very relaxed atmosphere here in this self-proclaimed eco-city.

Joo and I have loved the Ecuadorian cuisine so far. We've had some great fish as well as my personal breakfast favorite (pictured below), encebollada, which is an onion soup with banana chips and cilantro. The Doritos and rice were Joo's creative way of handling her lukewarm attitude toward encebollada, although she has enjoyed our other meals here.

Here in Bahía, we found a nice and very green hotel to stay in for a couple days while we finished the translation job and prepare for our 3 day adventure on a nearby organic farm.

By the way, do you remember all those Sacajawea (or was it Pocohantas?) gold dollar coins that came out several years back? Did you ever wonder what happened to them? Well, rack thy brains no more... they're all in Ecuador, albeit quite a bit worn out after the long travels down here. Several years ago, the Ecuadorian president (right before getting impeached) made American currency the standard for Ecuador and so now, the ONLY paper currency used here is American bills and the coins are an assortment of American and Ecuadorian ones.

So, be wise with your own Riskcisions and stay tuned for our next update after we return from our adventures on the organic farm!


  1. Daniel - I'm so glad you paid attention to the visions of your mom in your head! - Mary

  2. Yeah, as it turns out, she's almost always right... took me a long time to realize that! Daniel