Argentina Ecuador

Harrowing New Year

Friend and fellow traveler, Duncan Stroud, is my guest blogger—to start off the New Year. Narrowly escaping death, as he has so many times in the past, he shares his journey home from Ecuador to Argentina.

“Travel Tip: Don’t plan to travel on New Years Day if you are in a small mountain village and everyone is hung over from the previous night’s festivities.

There were no buses out of Vilcabamba, a small mountain village in southern Ecuador, so I had to call a taxi to take me to the next nearest town. Once there, I discovered all the buses were booked solid for days (and you can’t reserve a seat), so I got a bus to the NEXT nearest town. There, too, all the buses were full. I talked a taxi driver into driving me 10 hours to Quito for $350 US. Great! The fact that he was a maniac and driving on the treacherous mountain roads like he was trying out for the Dakar Rally was offset by the fact that we were making good time, assuming we survived.

We did survive, but his taxi did not; it broke down in the Ecuadorian equivalent of Bumf*ck. I found a bus terminal (in the rain) and took a bus to the next nearest city (because they were also full to Quito).

After six hours of THE most unpleasant trip in a bus with no bathroom, standing room only, filled with peasants and their screaming children, all eating dinner, which consisted of some incredibly stinky fried meat they all purchased at the bus stand, an odor that mixed with the smell of diesel exhaust, making the lack of oxygen at 10,000 feet even more unbearable, the bus stopped in the middle of an unlit dirt intersection. This was the last stop. We all unloaded and everyone walked away into the darkness. I was left standing there in the pitch black wondering WTF do I do now?

Then, like a Gandolf appearing on the mountain, I saw another bus approaching that said “QUITO.” Waving my arms and preparing to throw myself in front of it if necessary, it stopped. I got on and, again, standing room only; two hours later I arrived at the Quito terminal.

Altitude sickness was beginning to take its toll … or perhaps I was just nauseous from eight hours of constant weaving and bouncing on the Deadman’s Pass through the Andes. Or maybe it was the stench of the bus, but I was also having a very hard time breathing. From the terminal I grabbed a cab and got “taken” for $40 but it got me to the airport so I was happy to pay it. Fifteen hours later, at 2:30 A.M., that part of my adventure ended. From there I still had to take a couple flights to Buenos Aires and I finally arrived home late the next evening.

Vilcabamba was beautiful, and life there is very laid back, but getting out of it was THE most harrowing travel experience of my life.”

Read more about Duncan’s crazy life in his autobiography: Legally Blind.

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