Clouds descended on the bus cutting visibility was down to 3 meters, to the left of the bus the earth dropped off into a 300 meter gorge. The road was littered with construction debree and I was approaching the 8th hour of intense driving.
When it comes to driving I have experience. I have crossed the lower 48 countless times in all sorts of vehicles and I have driven a car into the ground in New Zealand. These experiences are frail in comparison to driving a bus in Ecuador.
When we left Quito we expected to arrive on the coast in 2 days. At the time it seemed feasible.
Driving in Ecuador is hard.
Ecuadorian roads signs are non existent. If there is information posted on the side of the road there is no constancy. The signs will point you in the wrong direction, they maybe 200 meters before a turn or 2 meters after it. After 5 days on the road I´m beginning to believe that oil interests of Ecuador have sabotaged the road signs so you are forced to drive longer distances.
Asking for directions is a mute point. If you ask 5 different people for directions you will get 5 different responses. Our map is no better, it resembles a children's book with fairy tale roads.
It had been 3 days since we left Quito and we were still over 600 kilometers away from the coast. I was confident I could make the drive in one day. As the clouds descended on the Andean motorway I began to second guess my plan.
We were on the downward slope of the mountains, it took us 3 hours of arduous climbing to get to this point. The half constructed concrete road was soaking in a constant mist. Passing buses driving at reckless speeds forced me uncomfortably close to the cliff.
Driving had become a game of Russian rullet.
My personal favorite part of the road was the random construction that cut the road in half. In order to pass this obstacle you had to gamble. Its a quick decision, drive or wait? Is there going to be a car coming up hill driving without their lights on? After a few quick decisions I was beginning to figure this twisted game out.
The trick is to just go. The faster I passed the obstacles the sooner I was safely on my side of the road. As I approached the concrete or tress or buckets or all the above, I downshifted switched off the engine brake and punched the gas. The bus lurched into action. At the last moment I pulled into the lane narrowly missing the debris speeding past everything and sharply swerving back into my lane. I would repeat this process every 500 meters while fighting the limited visibility.
At 7am we left the jungle, we expected to take the road that is clearly listed in our maps from Banos to Riobamba. As we drove out of Banos it was becoming apparent that this road was nonexistent. 3 hours into our voyage we had backtracked to the roundabout we foolishly passed 2 days prior.
As we passed rural towns the topography drastically changed every hour. We drove the two lane roads through deserts, arid mountains, lush farmland, mountains, coast, marsh, cloud forest, jungle and rolling hills.
In one day of driving we went from the most eastern part of Ecuador to the western coast. We had seen the whole country in a day.
As we began to approach Guayaquil, I noticed some crazy person feverously waving his hands out the window of the bus ahead of us as it sped into the toll. I pointed him out to Zach. “Holly shit man that’s Andrew”, we had met Andrew in Quito a few weeks before he was just coming off a 4 mountain trek and was planning to meet us on the coast.
I quickly pulled into the toll paid the lady the two dollars and floored it out of the toll. Our small bus was no match for the larger overpowered bus but I pushed every horse to its limit. We reached a roundabout and Andrew’s bus pulled over. He came bounding out and sprinted towards us.
As he jumped on the bus we all laughed and gave high fives. I went back to driving and every one sat back and cracked a new round of beers while swapping stories.
Driving was beginning to wear on me. Beer bottles rolled around the back of the bus as our passengers cracked jokes and relaxed on the bed. I was the furthest thing from relaxed.
I had been at the helm for 10 hours. We were approaching Guayaquil, Ecuador´s largest city. After taking a 50 kilometer detour in hopes of bypassing the city I was driving through the dark into the heart of it. This was the last thing I wanted to do.
After countless stops for directions we finally pulled onto a 4 lane highway and were speeding to the coast.
As we pulled into the coastal town of Salinas I drove straight to the beach. We pulled into a dark ally and drove to the sea. I parked the bus and smiled. The bus had driven the best I could ask of it and we had survived a 14 hour day of driving.