While I was on a date the other night, a guy asked me what the highlight of my trip to Ecuador was. Such an easy one: it was when I hailed a school bus to take me to the tourist district.
Allow me to set the stage: I had just arrived in Quito the night before and I decided over breakfast that I would walk the mile to the Centro Historico. The plan was foolproof really – I had found my hotel on a map and then outlined a route that made use of what appeared to be main roads all the way to the square. All I needed was for the receptionist to tell me if I should begin by taking a right or a left when I walked out the front door. He answered, “Left. But are you sure you don’t want me to call you a taxi, Miss?”
Nonsense! Who would want a taxi, when you could walk 20 minutes? Not me.
As a surprise to absolutely no one, I spent the next hour wandering the zig-zaging streets of Quito and stopping every so often to ask, “Donde es Centro Historico?” even though I rarely understood the answers. Once I realized that I wandered off the map entirely, I decided that walking was a bad idea – at least it was for someone with such a poor sense of direction that she once let herself into a friend’s pantry when she was trying to find the front door.
So I decided to take a taxi. Begrudgingly.
Lucky for me, taxis are everywhere in Quito and, as usual, if you look foreign and lost you should have no trouble finding one because cab drivers always love to charge the clueless double. In fact, it was so easy to catch one by New York standards that when the first one pulled over, I shooed it up the street to an Ecuadorian woman who was in a suit and clearly on her way to work. I was in sneakers and trying to find a place where I could eat empanadas before noon. I felt good about this on both levels.
Seconds later I saw a yellow van coming, so I flagged that too. The driver opened the passenger side door and leaned out. “Centrol Historico?” I asked him. And he motioned for me to get in. Quickly, his hands seemed to say.
So I did. And there was something familiar about the sound my shoes made when they clunked against the three big hollow steps as I hauled myself in. It made me think, “This is a bus.” And then I looked around and saw the seats and thought, “No. This is a school bus.”
The driver took me downtown and drove around the square. He pointed out where they would do the changing of the guard at noon and the direction of the cathedral. He told me where to get good ice cream and where to have a nice lunch overlooking the plaza. And then, he parked the bus a few blocks away. Sensing I was probably not going to be able to navigate back to the square, he walked me there. When I tried to pay him, he pushed the money back at me and said, “No No No. Something something amigos.”
And that was how I got downtown that first day. And it set the tone for the rest of the week. Ecuador was going to be the best – that man just proved it.
But you know, I didn’t tell the guy on the date about any of this. He seemed far too sophisticated to be able to appreciate the humor in hailing an on-duty school bus. And I know this for certain because a few minutes before I showed him a picture of a lobster claw that I was making as part of a Halloween costume and he didn’t seem amused at all. Quite frankly, if someone can’t see the humor in a giant felt claw glove, well then shit, he is not going to understand the mini-bus story – even if it’s really meant to illustrate how kind and helpful and over the top wonderful Ecuador and its people were.
So instead I told him that the highlight of the trip was a cable car ride to the top of Pichincha Volcano and a short hike thereafter. And that actually was really awesome, but again, I left out the best part about not having packed a poncho that morning and being forced to pull out a umbrella on the trail when it started to rain, thus becoming maybe the only person ever to try and walk up a volcano while holding a polka dot Tote mini.
Not like it matters anyway . I don’t think I’ll see him again regardless of whether or not I mentioned the school bus or the umbrella or the half-dozen other outlandish things I did earlier that week. But no big loss. Who wants to date someone who makes you leave out all the best parts?