Buses are cheap in Ecuador, approximately $1 per hour of travel. It doesn’t mean you get as far as you might in the states– lots of slow, windy roads– but you can pretty much travel the entire length of the country for $25. In comparison, public transportation in the states is pitiful. I wouldn’t take a Grey Hound bus unless I was desperate. Here, buses are dependable and the primary mode of transportation. But . . . beware gringos, staying safe and protecting your possessions requires constant vigilance. A few tips I’ve learned:

1. Be aware of who is behind you, in the vicinity of your backpack, while standing in buses or in the station. I’m told zippers are no hindrance to a knife wielding thief.

2. Sit on the side of the bus where your luggage is stored. When you hear the compartments open, keep your eye out the window.

3. If you need to sleep, do so hugging your backpack.

4. Try not to travel at night. Solo travelers, especially, can be a target

5. Carry small change. I’ve had more than one bus driver stare at a $10 bill like it was an unmanageable ammount to deal with.

6. IMPORTANT: If you’re going on a long ride, don’t drink before you travel! The dehydration is difficult, but the option is to find yourself on a bus with no bathroom or one that is not working. I’ve gone nine hours without a drop on some trips. (My daughter will attest to this one!)

All said and done, I have felt very safe riding in Ecuadorian buses. It’s the taxis that are a pain. As soon as they see you’re a gringo, the price goes up. I had little time to learn much Spanish on this trip, but my minimal new repertoire includes a few cab driver retorts, i.e. “Esta mierda” (That’s shit), “Berguenza” (Shame), and “Eres un mal ejemplo para tu pais!” (You are a bad example for your country!) It’s saved me a few dollars here and there, but mostly alleviated that sense of helpless victimization. Last night, a cab driver demanded an extra dollar to wait 15 seconds while I rang the hostel bell to make sure the night man was up.

The bottom line is, they figure any one who can fly here and travel around for weeks has a lot of money, and it’s true relative to their income. The average Ecuadorian makes $300/month. I’m sure they feel easily vindicated when they rip a tourist off for a few extra bucks. A larger shadow over Ecuador are the foreign companies that are rapidly depleting their resources and devastating the environment in their wake. Exon is the largest, most successful company in Ecuador, and that export income certainly doesn’t filter down to improving the lives of the average citizen. The story is replayed in so many of these poor countries.