One of the easiest ways to get around Ecuador has been by bus. Each city has at least one bus station and several bus offices over the town. There are many rewarding factors to taking the bus: price, convenience of snack, and the never-ending kung fu movies.
Buses cost about an hour for every hour you take them. From Quito to Tena, a beautiful drive crossing the Andes, is $6 for the approximate 6hours you are on the bus. Another bus from Tena to Agua Santa is $5 for the 5 hour trip and then you are only a short walk to base camp. The bus offers a large selection of high class seats. With no air-conditioning and sometimes functional windows, most seats recline back but normally to your disadvantage as the seat in front of you is practically in your lap. Aisle or window seat can always be a difficult decision. Aisle, you risk having a person who was unable to get a seat standing next to you for hours, at times practically sitting in your lap. Window, on the chance it rains, despite the window being closed, water will drip down from who-knows-where to splash on you with the turns of the bus. Luckily, I have mastered sleeping through the journeys despite the little bumps along the way, including the big bumps along the road.
Every bus station offers a variety of meals at the street side vendors that provide a small plastic stool for a nice sit down option. There are also snacks from fruit to ices in the stations. (I have even made short trips to the bus station just to eat some of the late night beef on a stick they grill and serve with mayonnaise.) But in case you decide to pass on all the food, there are vendors who board the buses for a couple minutes at a time throughout the journey who will yell everything they are selling at least three times before you realize they are speaking Spanish. One of my favourite vendors is the guy who is selling 10 oranges for a dollar. I’m always impressed by the speed he yells but more impressed by the buyer- what the hell are you going to do with 10 oranges that you spontaneously buy on a bus.
Almost every bus contains an old tv that has been put into the bus (threatening to fall from the ceiling at any time), in addition to the red fake velvet and virgin statues in honour of one of the travelling Saints. Ecuador might be one of the few places where people love Steven Segul films. And if it isn’t a Segul film that has been dubbed over in Spanish, its a Jet Lee kung fu movie- so you get to spend however many hours learning how to kick ass with only a plank of wood. When there is no movie, there is music- which has included a Michael Jackson CD on repeat for 5hrs, clearly trying to impress a bus full of gringos, a Spanish comedy radio station that wasn’t funny by any means, and a Spanish meringue CD that continuously skipped.
I have appreciated the buses and their helpfulness though. The buses do better off-roading than my 4x4 Jeep Grand Cherokee and cross bridges I wouldn’t dare jump on. The guy who collects peoples tickets/money has often told me when my destination town was getting close or has helped with the loading/unloading of my bag- and in one instance even pleased me by taking over driving for a bus driver that insisted on driving way too fast for the curves on the road. I am still amused that a guy gets paid not to just collect the tickets from people, but to hang out the door as the bus is speeding along, yelling the destination at pedestrians repeating the town name at least 10 times in 5 seconds. But in all honesty, travelling via bus has been one of the easiest things to figure out in Ecuador. And, if anyone ever wants to travel from Tena to Agua Santa, I know a guy who has offered to chauffer me anytime- now that’s networking!