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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Our trip home and preventing theft

The bus ride from Quito to Bahia on Reina del Camino was exciting but thankfully uneventful. We caught an early morning bus from Otavalo to Quito where we bought our tickets back to Bahia on the 10:30 AM departure. We had a young driver who wore white plastic framed sunglasses and drove like he had a record to beat. He honked at just about everything; passed every vehicle on the road including other buses; played first a rave radio station and then salsa CDs at a good volume; let the cute single girls sit up in the driver's area; and all in all made it an amusing and fun ride. The conductor handed out sick bags to every row but I took a couple of antacids and was fine. After one very competitive passing incident with an Aray bus a woman walked up to the front of the bus to complain. We imagine she said something like, "I've got three kids on this bus and you can kill yourselves if you want, but you can't risk our lives along with yours!" Whatever she really said, it didn't make much of an impression and we continued to fly around the curves at top speed.

We happened to get front row seats on the right side of the bus which in this case gave us a great view and lots of legroom. We were in the sun the whole way but we could see the river gorges and hillsides covered in trees. It was amazing to go from a few fir trees at the higher elevations, down to palms, then banana fields, and finally to big stands of beautiful bamboo looking like feathery plume pens. It was a long day for us, but with the bus stopping for almost every arm held out at the side of the road, and vendors jumping on to sell everything from homemade music CDs, cold drinks, breads, Spanish/English dictionaries, popsicles, and coconut candies there was enough going on the whole time to keep us awake and interested.

So now that we are home safe and sound, I'd like to pass on a few tips for preventing theft. Just from talking to fellow cruisers and the travelers we met at hostals we figure that around 80% of people touring Central and South America had problems with theft. We carried all our cash on us at all times divided between our two money belts hidden under our clothing, with only pocket money for each day out. Neither of us carried a wallet. I kept my ready cash in a change purse in my fanny pack and John carried his in his front jeans pocket with a bandana stuffed on top of it. This way the thief has to get his hand past the bandana to get to the bills. I never carried a purse that I could unwittingly set down. I wore either my fanny pack or an across the chest style purse. We had jackets we could tie at our waists. We didn't keep anything valuable in my little day pack and we never let it out of our hands. Our two pieces of luggage were my regular school sized backpack and a large soft piece of luggage. We had small locks for each of these with which we could lock the zippers together. We stowed the big piece in the cargo areas of each bus and were lucky enough to usually get seats where we could keep an eye on what went in and out of the compartment. All of the bus conductors were very helpful and I felt that they kept a close eye on it for us. We had heard stories about people posing as bus employees who tried to take your backpack from you to "stow" it after you had boarded the bus, but that never happened to us (I always wore my backpack onto the bus until I was ready to sit down, just in case). We kept my daypack and locked backpack with us on our laps on all of our bus travel. NEVER put anything in any overhead storage or anywhere on the floor under your feet. Thieves sitting behind you will open zippers and take what they want from under your seat, leaving the backpack so that you don't know anything is missing until it's too late.

We had also heard various stories of thieves working in groups to create a diversion of some kind and distracting you from paying close attention to your valuables. There's the classic one about spilling something on you and then "helping" you clean it up, but a friend of ours almost lost his wallet when a well endowed and scantily clad woman got on the bus. He was enjoying the view until he caught on to the ploy and caught someone else's hand in his pocket.

You may think this all sounds like paranoia or overkill but it was a real problem for almost everyone we met. One of the reasons for us skipping Quito was our anxiety over the serious crime problem there, but it was also because we weren't prepared to visit a big city after the wonderful time we spent in the remote towns on the Quilotoa Loop. We had an excellent adventure and we highly recommend a visit to this area, but we were very happy to return to a warmer climate, our own bed, Ziggy, and the first class hot showers at PA.

Linda and John