What do you think riding the bus in Cuenca Ecuador is like?
Do you think the buses are reserved for the unfortunate folk who have to scrounge for $0.25 cents to ride the bus? Do you think the city bus is where hoodlums hangout and so it has lots of crime? Do you think the buses have rowdy and loud people who like to make a bunch of noise and bother people?
First of all, if you imagine riding the bus in Cuenca to be like any of the above you’re way off. Riding the city bus in Cuenca is nothing like what it’s like riding a city bus in North America. There is no segregation of any kind while riding the buses in Cuenca. Do you think the back of the bus is reserved for punks smoking and drinking?
There are Ecuadorians of all economic backgrounds that ride the bus system in Cuenca. We’ve seen business men with suits and indigenous women with a gunny sack full of chickens riding the bus and sitting down next to each other. There is no stigma or separation of the poor or wealthy Ecuadorians like there is in North America where only those less fortunate ride the bus, or where you have to be afraid to ride the bus because of hoodlums and crime. It’s not like that here.
The bus is for every one of every economic means and of all age groups. The bus is really just a way to get from point A to point B for a very reasonable price. The people you see walking around on the streets of Cuenca are the same people who get on the bus. They are the same people who own businesses or who work at banks. They are the same people who live downtown but work at the Mercado, Feria Libre.
There is no petty thievery on the buses during the day time hours here, at least none that we’ve seen. A few times we have seen some drunks get on the bus but never really bother anyone; just don’t look at him in the eye or he’ll start begging you for money. We have been told that when petty crime does happen it is after dark and some gringo gets their cell phone taken.
Amazingly, little children, by themselves get on the bus here! This is something never seen in North America, but here, it’s ok. No one bothers the children here.
Ecuadorian young adults respect the elderly (they are taught this in school) and if the bus is pretty full they will get up and let their elders sit down; it is the same with women who are holding or carrying small children and, or pregnant women; the men will give up their seat and let her sit down with her child or baby.
The buses are usually full on the weekends where you may have to stand up; hold on tight because some drivers stop suddenly and drive jerky. During the week day you’ll almost always find yourself a seat on the bus unless it’s rush hour. And some of the bus drivers like to play loud Latin music, which early in the morning seems even louder, but you get used to this.
On the weekends there is live entertainment and some panhandling. It works like this, if a panhandler wants to hand you something (candy, etc) just say, “No gracias” unless you want to pay for it, then accept it, and when he or she comes around for some money, usually a quarter or fifty cents, pay it. The live entertainment will also come around after they play their act and want you to donate some change; a dime, quarter, dollar; whatever you feel fit to donate.
So this is pretty much what it’s like riding the bus system in Cuenca. Curiously, we rarely, if ever, see a gringo riding the bus. They say there is about 2,500 gringo expats living in Cuenca full time; where are they? They aren’t taking the bus, that’s for sure. We take the bus all over the city of Cuenca on a daily basis and love it and so does our pocket book love it. Taxi travel does add up. And besides, the bus fare is fixed, there's no haggling, and that's great, especially on days you don't feel like it.
Many years ago, when I was more concerned with what people thought, I would not want to be seen shopping in a good will or thrift store. I know, it sounds crazy but the truth is some people are like this. It wasn’t until I met my husband and he talked sense into me, did I realize all that I was missing because of my own arrogance. Frank said to me, “Angie, if they see you shopping in good will then they are shopping here too, so you shouldn’t be uncomfortable about it".
And so I stopped worrying about what people thought of me shopping at thrift stores from that day forward; and I’m very glad that I did. I actually ended up being a thrift store junkie. So, why did I tell you about this story? Well, it could be the same riding the bus. Some people may have this notion that riding the bus makes them appear to be something that they themselves think they are not. Or maybe they are just fearful. There's nothing to fear but fear itself; you've heard that before. Get over it, and come on in, there's lots of room left.