Tuesday, March 4

Spontaneity: noun: the state of occurring as a result of a sudden inner impulse or inclination and without premeditation.

This morning the dutiful volunteers all headed back to their hard manual labor at Lisan Yacu Station. Last night I debated – should I ask to join them as a pseudo-volunteer for another week, or bide my time in Tena, or head on to some new adventure?

Though I would have loved to see Lisan Yacu, I had not received an invitation to join the workers, and I didn’t want to intrude. I also knew that I would be out of internet contact in the jungle, and I wouldn’t be able to respond to any new information about my Galapagos visa situation. (I was hoping to be on the Islands four days ago, on March 1, but these paperwork processes often take longer than expected in Ecuador. I’m glad I took the chance to explore the Amazon and didn’t want around in Quito for the last week.)

When I woke up, I decided my time in Tena had come to a close. With that decision I packed my suitcase and headed downhill to the bus station. The place was hopping after Carnaval Weekend, and the man at the booth regretfully informed me that there were no more tickets on the bus to Quito.

Then he relented. “Are you traveling alone?” he asked. I said, “Yes,” and he offered me one of the non-ticketed seats on the bench behind the driver. I accepted happily – a forward-facing view out the windshield would help me avoid feeling carsick on the winding, mountainous road. Sometimes traveling alone comes in handy.

I had a couple hours to kill with my heavy backpack on, so I grabbed a brunch almuerzo and contemplated getting my haircut as a souvenir. I would have an Amazon haircut right now if I hadn’t run out of time!

The ride was wonderful. I sat up front and made fast friends with my neighbor, María Belén, a 21-year-old girl with two daughters. She shared my sense of humor and had an innate sense of how to speak slowly and clearly so I could understand all her Spanish. She explained lots of perplexing Ecuadorian phenomena, such as why the “full” bus had shut out a crowd of eager people at the station, but stopped to pick up a dozen people standing along the side of the road with their hands out.

“The people we’re picking up all have tickets already,” she explained. “They just didn’t want to walk all the way to the station this morning, so they’re catching the bus as it comes by.” That sounded like a risky option to me, and María Belén confessed that she had once missed the bus that way. “Now I always go to the station to catch the bus,” she told me.

As the hours passed and we neared Quito, the bus driver began picking up everyone he saw, packing the aisles and cab of the bus.

“Why didn’t he pack the bus this full before?” I asked María Belén.

“Because four hours is too long to ride uncomfortably,” she explained, as if the answer were obvious. “Plus, how would all these people get home if the bus were already full?”

I’m sure those bustling crowds in Tena would not have minded a standing-room-only ticket, but somehow the Ecuadorian system of chaos works out.

Suddenly, María Belén signaled to the driver and hopped out the bus door while we were still rolling down the highway. “This is my stop!” she hollered to me as we rolled away. “Stay in touch!”

When we arrived at Quito’s southern bus station, I took the public Trolebus all the way up to my go-to hostel in Old Town. Just as I arrived at the top-floor registration desk, Brian (my long-haired friend from before) greeted me with a hug.

“I’m going to the coast tonight on a night bus!” he informed me enthusiastically. His new traveling buddy, a blond Canadian named Aysha, would be joining him.

“Mind if I tag along?” I asked spontaneously. The coast was going to be my next destination anyway. I told the man at the registration desk “never mind” about the room. After dinner, I helped Bryan chop some wood, then took my packed suitcase back to the southern bus terminal for my favorite thing in the world (sarcasm), a night bus ride.

Spontaneity: noun: a way of life which leads to bus rides with panoramic-views, new friends, and sleeping in places you never imagined when you woke up that morning.