I’ll tell you what: the sun in Ecuador is intense. We’re here in Cuenca at about 8,500 feet altitude, and the sun feels so close you could reach out and grab it. The temperature here is almost perfect. Today, on the winter solstice, the temperature here is about 70 degrees during the day, dropping into the 60’s at night; just cool enough to leave the windows open for easy sleeping under light covers.
Anyhow, hats and sunscreen and my little sun umbrella are the way to go here. Lots of people carry umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun; both men and women. And they aren’t gringos, either. In fact, I’m the only gringo I’ve seen carrying a colorful umbrella to protect my delicate skin from the intense UV of a sun that feels close enough you could pluck it from the sky like citrus fruit. Don’t gringos love their skin? What’s wrong with them, anyhow?
Speaking of sun, the sun-worshipping Incas invaded this area in the mid 1400’s from Peru and left their mark on both the culture and the landscape. The latter was in the form of enormous cities with temples and priests and housing for virgins-in-waiting (waiting on the priests, that is). In this area, it was the moon-worshiping Cañari tribe who tried to hold back the Inca invasion. Mike and I both enjoy a good ruin and decided no visit to Ecuador would be complete without a visit to Ingapirca, the largest and most complete Cañari/Incan ruin in the country. We sorely wanted to visit. But first, we had to get there.
We did our research and decided we would take a bus. Because understanding the bus system here has eluded us somewhat, we did what we always do: throw caution to the winds of fate and just show up hopeful things will work out. We took a taxi (CHEAP!) to the big bus terminal and promptly became confused by all the activity, noise, and visual over stimulation. How many bus ticket windows are there and why? And where are the busses? Good lord. Finally Mike pulled up Google Translate (highly recommended) and asked someone official looking where we could catch the bus to Ingapirca. Nodding and gesturing the man pointed us in a general direction and we went thataway.
At this point we were chirping ‘Ingapirca? Ingapirca?’ to whoever stood in our way. A man who looked as though he knew something pointed at a turnstile, beyond which we could see busses. Ah Ha!! The turnstile cost a dime and spit out a ticket. Having learned not to question the fates too closely, I paid the dime for each of us and handed Mike his ticket. He stood confused. A dime? We have a ticket for a dime? He could not have been more astounded, not to mention suspicious.Surely you do not get a ticket to Ingapirca for a dime. Whatever. I gestured him through the gate as we handed our tickets to a small child, apparently there for that purpose.
Once faced with a line of diesel-snorting busses we needed to find the correct one. Again the chirping, ‘Ingapirca? Ou et la autobus to Ingapirca?’ we said, multi-lingually. A man keyed on the one word we had actually spoken in Spanish: Ingapirca. He began shouting, ‘Ingapirca! Ingapirca!’ at the top of his lungs, waving his arms and gesturing wildly toward the curb as he ushered us to an empty bus slot. He pointed at the empty place and shrugged his shoulder, a look of chagrin on his face. Apparently the direct bus to Ingapirca had just left, or something like that. He thought for a minute, muttering something that could have been a spell under his breath, consulted with another man, then suddenly we were off again with the shouts of ‘Ingapirca!’ echoing like a call to war as he hurried us along to a different bus and almost shoved us aboard. He seemed certain and more than a little relieved to rid himself of us, so we decided what the hell. We’ll go with it. We found the last double seat available, at the back of the bus, and sat down. The bus pulled away from the curb. We had barely made it.
We had no idea how long this ride would take or whether there would be another bus to return that night. Who knows? We are riding the wave at this point. We don’t control the waves of life. We only ride them.
People on the bus in Ecuador are very polite. They sit quietly. If they talk, they talk quietly. They entertain their children. It’s almost pleasant to ride a bus with people so civilized. I compare, as gringos are want to do, to our busses at home which you have to practically pay me to ride. There will certainly be at least one loud cellphone conversation going on, and someone is bound to think I want to listen to their music. I don’t. I really don’t.
In Ecuador, at each stop new food vendors get on. This is a new experience for us and is pretty interesting. One guy was selling some kind of packaged cookie. He passed these things out to the people on the bus, then stood at the front giving his spiel about these cookies and why a person would want one. Meanwhile, people have taken the cookies for a test drive by fingering them and getting the chocolate coating nice and soft inside the cellophane wrapper. We didn’t understand a word he was saying but he spoke movingly about these cookies. After his patter, he went through and collected either the money for the treat, or his merchandise. Then he hopped off at the next stop, and another vendor got on.
This guy was selling candied peanuts and he knew just how to sell. He made one pass and sold a few, then he came by and gave out free samples. Costco ladies have nothing on this candied peanut man. He stood by our seat and held the package out over our hands, emptied a few peanuts in each palm, then gestured to us to eat them. Well, yeah, candied peanuts are pretty good. He sold us a couple of packages of them. At the end of that bus ride, we could have had an entire meal just from vendors making the most of a captive audience. The free market is alive and well in Ecuador.
Soon the mystery of ten cent ticket was solved. A bus employee came down the aisle collecting tickets or money. We paid $3.50 each to ride that bus.
By the time we had been on the bus for almost two hours we began to think maybe this bus would go all the way to Ingapirca. But it didn’t. We stopped in El Tambo and everyone but us got off the bus. We had pulled up next to another bus at a stop in town and people were milling around. Mike and I were beginning to get nervous when the bus driver came back aboard and yelled, ‘Ingapirca!’ back at us, gesturing to us to follow him. We scrambled to follow and he pulled us around to this other bus and shoved us on with more ‘Ingapirca’s for good measure. This man would make sure we got to Ingapirca.
This was a city bus and was filled with school children in their uniforms, going home for the day or maybe for lunch as it was a little past noon. They all lived between El Tambo and the town of Ingapirca. There was standing room only and we were standing at the front. This is where living on a sailboat comes in handy as we are both kind of used to hanging on for dear life as a vehicle rocks and rolls and jerks us around. Who needs a gym?
So here’s another gringo impression comparing school busses. This was a bus literally filled to bursting with kids of all ages up to about 12. They were laughing and talking and being kids, but not being disruptive or rowdy or even particularly loud. If they had a seat, they were seated in it. If they were holding on, they held on. They were, to a child, eating something sweet; either candy or ice cream on a stick or a baked good. And all of them used the trash receptacles provided at the end of each seat. When the bus approached their home, they shouted, ‘Gracias!’ and the driver would quickly stop, they would get off, and as soon as little feet were on the ground, the driver was off again. None of this stopping of traffic in both directions so kids can cross the street kind of thing you have in the U.S. These kids just know that busses are dangerous and they stay out of the way. Even the little ones. I’m not saying it’s a better system, although I’m not sure it’s a worse one either. I just see that people are really in charge of their own safety much more in this country than in mine and that starts at an early age.
Anyhow we were dropped off at a little place in the road that turned out to be Ingapirca. Thank goodness the ruins are easily seen from the road. Otherwise we might still be walking along some highway in Ecuador looking for ancient cities.
The ancient city of Ingapirca spread out before us, we went to buy our ticket. Now here is a classic example of traveling in both Mexico and here. There are different ticket prices based on whether you are a gringo or not. Locals pay 2$ to get into the ruins and have a guided tour, which you are required to have because they do not let you just run amok in these ruins. Ingapirca is a national treasure and it is protected by armed guard, who, by the way, are really friendly. Tourists pay 4$ to get in, still a terrific deal. We were charged 2$, the local price. Why? I have no idea. Maybe the lady just liked the cut of our jib that day. Or maybe it’s because we at least tried to speak Spanish to her when we bought the ticket. Maybe that little smile on her face was a smile of pity, or maybe she was feeling generous. We’ll never know. But we paid the 2$ each and waited about 15 minutes for our English speaking guide to show up. He was worth the wait.
Segundo, our guide, was passionate about his Cañari/Spanish roots. He is not a fan of the Incas and how they came and took over. (We did not get very far asking him why it was OK for the Spanish to come and take everything, but not the Incas and he only looked confused. Oh well, some things just don’t make sense. ) He brought this place to life for us. Segundo’s English was pretty good and he was proud of that. He had grown up in the shadow of the ruins and had felt an affinity for them since childhood. He told us he gave his first tour of the ruins at age 10. His father and mother, with their Cañari roots, still use the phases of the moon to guide them in planting and other activities, although they are all Catholic.
According to Segundo, the Cañaris were fierce warriors who resisted the take-over of their country. When the Incas could not take the land by force, they decided to try to get along with the Cañaris and try to take over using political maneuvering, marriages, and making concessions to the moon-worship customs of the Cañaris. Even now, he said, you will find no one in the area who will admit to Incan descent. You must go to the Quito area to find people who will admit this. Segundo’s disgust regarding the Inca’s was palpable.
The tour took about an hour and was excellent. It was well worth the effort to get there, and we got very lucky that we were in time to catch the 3:40 direct bus back to Cuenca, no shouting or shoving us aboard required. It picked us up right outside the gate to the ruins. If you go, ask for Segundo. You won’t be disappointed.