Paul Theroux did not see much of the coastline on his trip, but I felt as though I had been in the mountains for too long and was craving a glimpse of the sea, some warmth and a respite from the altitude. It was time to head south across the border and into Peru, first though I had to survive the inevitable nail-biting road journey…
The ticket collector on my bus stumbled around as we pulled out of Guayaquil bus station at brake-neck speed, he then closed the window at the front of the bus, getting his tie caught in the process and spent a good ten minutes trying to stay upright whilst extricating his tie from the stubborn window. This I then realised had comprised the buses safety as part of his job involved being a human indicator, who hung out of the side of the bus shouting and waving whenever we needed to pull over. His shouts were often drowned out by those of other passengers who seemed a little unnerved at the human indicator teamed with the fast, erratic driving style of his crazy amigo. The fact the normally unfazed locals were concerned worried me, a lady with copious amounts of purple eye-shadow and a super-tight hot pink lycra top seemed the most upset and at regular intervals stood up and screamed at the ticket collector for the bus to slow down or stop overtaking.
The situation reached a peak when the driver decided to race another bus, they were neck and neck, passengers and drivers screaming and shouting. But much to our bus drivers jubilation the other coach had to drop back to avoid a head on collision.
I had been looking forward to reading a good chunk of my Andes book on this bus ride, but I realised that gripping my seat and breathing deeply would be the best occupation of my time on this particular journey.
After seven roller-coaster hours and a surprisingly easy border crossing I arrived in Tumbes and took an auto-rickshaw across town to pick-up a bus to the coastal town of Mancora, where I was looking forward to some sunshine.
I became bemused when boarding the bus as the ticket collector took my finger-print. I then became rather nervous when a chap got on the bus and took pictures of all the seat numbers and the people in them. My imagination started to run wild, was this so they had photos of us and our fingerprints if the bus crashed? Did they know something I didn’t? I had managed to calm myself down by focusing on reading my book (this bus was smooth and comfortable, thank God) when the bus pulled over on the side of the road and both the drivers got out and walked over to a fabulously kitsch catholic shrine. It was a picturesque moment as the shrine was on the seafront, but as the drivers lit candles, said prayers and crossed themselves my earlier fears returned; Was this normal? Do all the drivers do this? Was there some horrific problem with this road and they themselves were terrified and had to pray to keep calm?
Just as my whirring brain reached fever pitch the television on the bus flickered into life and I was saved. Well sort of, Mel Gibson’s Edge of Darkness. This was the third time this trip I had been subjected to this film, which consisted of many close-ups of Mel’s haggard face, but it managed to stop my mind from worrying and as the usual shooting and fighting, that is prerequisite on all Latin American bus films, started. I sank back into my seat and tried for the thousandth time that day not to worry.