¨One hour, downhill¨ and other Ecuadorian untruths.
¨To tigua? At thát desk,¨ they had told us, and we had taken a deep breath before we had went to stand in line at the back of the row: half of the people in the overcrowded bus station of Latacunga seemed to queue upbefore the same desk. And although I knew my backpack was safe and well in the hands of my travel mates, this wasn´t the most relaxing situation that I could imagine. While I tried to find a good balance between my ¨I´m not bothered¨-look, my ¨I´m watching you¨-look and my ¨stay away from me¨-look, I stood there with my hands in my pockets (where my money was), trying to both keep my place in the queue and checking on where the man that was stuck on my back was putting his hands.
Or, well, my place in the ¨queue¨… a quarter ago everybody juststarted to join in at random places as close to the desk as possible. As a result, a kind of giant arrow developed in front of the little window, to the chagrin of the thirty people waiting in front of me and the forty people waiting behind me. When the tempers started to run high, the police had to intervene and decide who stood in line and who didn´t.
But until now I´ve been able to keep my place and about forty minutes after I went standing in the row, it´s my turn. And as far as I know, nothing has disappeared out of my pockets. ¨Six tickets to TIgua, por favor¨. The overheated lady behind the counter doesn´t seem to understand me: she waves vaguely in the direction of the other desks while she scrabbles something on a little paper. For a moment I presume that that must be our ticket (six-in-one handwritten tickets are not unusual here), but that turns out not to be the case. So I try again. ¨To Tigua, at the other desk they told us that we should get our tickets here.¨ She nods and mentions the name of another buscompany. We have to go to their desk. I´m more than ready to start my protest but her attention is already with the man that has been stuck to my back for the last half hour, who eagerly slides his money under window already and makes his order. It is five past eleven. Our bus left at eleven.
At the right desk (where we didn´t see anybody selling anything before, but it apparently just opened) we buy our tickets to Tigua in less than five minutes. Great. Departing time: in forty five minutes.
According to our travelbook, there should be a gallery of world famous paint art in Tigua. The bus drops us off at the side of the road next to a sign saying Tigua. We must look a bit lost when we´ve just gotten off, because the busdriver says: ¨Down there¨ and he points at a few little houses down in the valley. Those houses turn out to be Tigua, but there´s no gallery: that´s somewhere ¨back to where you come from¨ and then ¨one hour walking, downhill. Besides the main road.¨ That sounds pretty much the same as what our lonely planet book says, so after a common mandarin-moment we are ready for our way back.
After another half an hour walk up we start to ask ourselves if ¨downhill¨ may mean something else here in Ecuador than it does in our countries, and after an hour and a half we also start to speculate about the true meaning of ¨an hour¨. Luckily the sun hides regularly behind the clouds, so it doesn´t get to hot. And in the silence that surrounds everything we hear the ¨ciao ciao!¨ of the kids from the huts that we encounter still a quarter after we passed them. Besides, the views are so impressive that we´re actually glad that ¨one hour¨ isn´t really an hour.
But after two and a half hour of climbing we agree that we better get into something with wheels that can get us to the next village, Zumbahua. It´s a pity we won´t see the gallery, but it will be getting dark soon and we haven´t booked our beds for tonight yet. Luckily ¨bus stop¨ is a rather formal concept here: raise your hand and you are one. Within ten minutes the six of us stand in the middle of the passage in the hump-bump Volkswagen bus. We turn around the first corner and… the gallery flashes by at that very moment, not even a hundred meters from our improvised bus stop. And our Ecuadorian fellow passengers look at each other questioning when the six gringos in the passage burst out in laughter all at the same time.
Before we go to look the game of Ecuador and Uruguay in a Zambahuan restaurant-shop-bar combination, we´re going to look for a bed. Or six. A honking truck driver attracts our attention. ¨Hostal? Hot water. Private bath. Five dollars. Ok?¨ As if we all remember the ¨that desk¨, ¨one hour¨ and ¨downhill¨ at that very moment, we look at each other hesitating. Eeerm, do you mind if we come to have a look first? ¨Sure,¨ says the man and we climb into his truck.
The mattresses are still wrapped in plastic, there are no blankets on the beds yet and parts of the hostel are clearly still under construction, but all together it all looks rather decent. And if you can get a bed and a shower for five dollars…? Oh yeah, the shower. Hot water, huh? The man who introduced himself as Jaime nods firmly. Our experience has taught us that this is one of the most common untruths in Ecuador. ¨Is it ok if we check?¨ He leads us into the bathroom. One single button sticks out of the wall. I must have had a critical look upon my face, cause he says: ¨yes, yes, that is automatic hot water.¨ Uh-huh. One hour. Downhill. ¨Can you please show me?¨ He turns the button and… sure enough, thirty seconds later there´s hot water (or well, at least not cold, and that counts as hot here) coming out of the shower. Five dollars? Deal!
We put our stuff in the room and we´re at the point of leaving to search for a lunch with a game (after we friendly declined the offer of homemade guinea pig soup) when we find out that there´s no locks on the doors. And that a little string hangs out of the front door to open it. ¨No problem,¨ says the owner, ¨I´ll be here all the time.¨ Tell that to a few foreigners who´ve spent a couple of months living and working in Quito, and skeptic looks are guaranteed. Our host seems to be amused. ¨We´re not going to rob you or anything…¨. That desk. Downhill. Uh-huh. We can´t help it. But on the other hand… there really was hot water. We decide to take the chance, we say goodbye to Jaime and we´re strolling towards a place to eat with a television screen.
Ecuador qualifies for the world championships and when we come back at our hostel, the beds are made, the floor seems to be swept and our bags are still on the floor, just the way we left them. So it does exist. Although… what happened to the water? None of the toilets in the building can be flushed anymore and there´s no water in the shower. Time for a little chat with our friendly friend Jaime. ¨Oh yes, after four o´clock no one in the village has water anymore, because it hasn´t rained enough recently… but tomorrow morning at five it will work again. ¨Really?¨ Yes, yes, really. The hot water too? Yes, yes, hot water. At five o´clock. Sure. We wish the family and the living soup guinea pigs a good night and secretly we wonder if tomorrow there´ll be water coming out of the grief. And if it will be hot. Who knows… who knows…