The Grim Reaper

The bus to Santa Fe de Galán was the only Burma-style deathtrap I’ve taken so far in Latin America: Ecuador has spoiled me. For this one, I waited a couple of hours on a dingy street corner in Riobamba, next to a flock of chickens they were stuffed into a flour sack whenever they got nervous. Bus rumors floated: the ten o’clock was cancelled for Holy Week. They might run an extra at eleven, or they might cancel the midday service, too. Campesinos piled onto tiny trucks instead, but I stood grimly. Eventually the bus came back at eleven, having teased us by driving around the block at 10:30.

Because I never learn, I put my rucksack at my feet on the front seat. By 11:45, we still hadn’t moved and the bus was more packed than any I’d seen here. I felt guilty as people clambered over my bag, which was now wedged in and taking up the space of a person.

A granny with a hooded shawl and face older than time waved a rusty sickle with menace whenever anyone tried to open the window. A cheerful young woman shook her head in disbelief when I told her we had children late in my country. She was 22 and her eldest was eight next week, and that, she told me, was how it should be. A small family discussed my hiking plans and assured me, as usual, that it was much too far to walk.
   ´How many seasons are there in Ireland? How long does it take to fly there in a plane from Ecuador? How long does it take to fly to America?‘
Their kids were filthy, as usual, though cleaner once they’d wiped their hands on my knees. This bus was very friendly, and I began to feel I’d left the dour central sierra behind.
   ´!Vamos!´ someone shouted at the endless delay.
   ´!Vamos a morir!’ some wit added at the back. But we didn’t. We made it to Galán just fine, in our sputtering, overcrowded little bus.

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