Friday, March 20, 2015

Terrorism on the Bus – Protests in the Cities

I love this picture. We were waiting for the Quito bus when I happened to see these two. It is not clear whether the little girl is related to the shoeshine man or if she wanted to be supportive by giving over her allowance. It is a cross-generational piece that Norman Rockwell would have painted.

Our bus was super luxury with wide plush seats, darkened windows, and air conditioning. We did not need cooling off; the weather was taking care of that naturally. Once we were out of the station, the driver’s helper reached up and lowered a movie screen like the type on old airlines. Within minutes, we captives were blasted with a B movie of guns, violence, and extremely loud sound effects.

After the first movie ended and the second one began, a young man boarded the bus. Ron and I were in the second row from the front, absorbing more sound waves than humanly needed. This particular young man stops right next to my seat, but remains standing in the aisle. He has a backpack, which he sets on the floor. He reaches down, takes a large dark rectangular box from the backpack, and sets this on the floor in the middle of the aisle. The box is undistinguishable. My heart races. Is this a terrorist attack?

There is a large and clear sign on the bus door. No vendors allowed. This guy is young, rather grungy, and he starts yelling in Spanish to be heard at the back of the bus, but also to overpower the movie, which is still a loud competitor. Being at the front of the bus, I cannot gauge the reactions of others without an overt movement. If this is a terrorist, I do not want to draw attention. 

Finally, this guy reached into the backpack once more. He pulls out a stack of DVDs. Suddenly, this ominous box comes to life. It is a DVD player and it is spewing out Romantic Hits of the 80s in Spanish. The tunes I recognize, the words I do not. He hawks his wares for another 30 minutes, before he decides to leave the bus in peace once again.

Once in Quito, we try finding a taxi to the apartment we rented, which is supposedly right near Old Town. Three taxis refuse us outright. A fourth agrees after a lengthy discussion with his colleagues. This makes me nervous about the area. We negotiate a price ahead of time - $10. We drive for quite some time and the apartment owner did warn us that the ride could be upwards of $15. As we get close to the center of the city, there are roads closed with police barriers. The driver starts to curse.

We finally make it to the area. Ron and I recognize landmarks from two years prior. The driver goes round and round stopping every few blocks to ask strangers for
directions. He is getting more and more agitated. He is on his phone asking for directions. I show him the phone number of the person meeting us, suggesting he call them for guidance. I do this in Spanish; he makes a call. I think this is resolved. He called someone else. 

Finally, we were on one of the streets given in the directions. We stop again to ask another stranger for help. The man looks at me and asks in English if I speak the language. I explain I have the number for the person meeting us and have been trying to get the driver to call it. Without hesitation, the man takes the driver’s phone and calls himself. He gets directions and Wilson, our contact comes to meet us. We were on the corner of the building. The driver raises his rate to $15. It turns out, the address the owner provided was incorrect. She gave the cross street as the street the apartment was on, rather than the reverse. 

The apartment sits on the street that leads directly into Parque de Independencia, the main square of Old Town. Unfortunately, it is also close to the top of the hill on this street that has a slope of about 75 degrees. From the corner, we have to climb stairs to get up the street. When we leave the apartment, we can walk down the street, but getting back will definitely require the aid of a taxi or an ambulance later if we hoof it.

Settled in, we walk to the square for dinner. Police are everywhere in herds. They are all standing around talking, so we are unaware. Every corner we pass, there are 25-50 police. It is wonderful to see the ratio of women officers. The Parque de Independencia is plastered with police. People are taking down temporary tents. We still are clueless.

On the square is a restaurant we have enjoyed in the past. It sets back in a little courtyard with other restaurants and gift shops. Tonight it is dead. The waiter looks thrilled for the diversion. The television has the news showing. After ordering, Ron looks up to the TV and tells me to do the same. There was a massive protest in Quito earlier today involving an estimated 30,000 people. They were protesting the current president passing a bill changing the constitution to allow an end to term limitations. The current president is up for reelection in 2017. This bill would allow him to continue running for life. 

As the news continued, there were protests in Riobamba, Cuenca, and many other towns and cities we had left. Not all were about the changing of the law, but for oil drilling, indigenous rights, and workers fair wages. 

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Arpad Farkas said...

Politicians often seem to be prone to despotism. Unfortunately, Ecuador is not the only country where such ideology prevails.

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