Our day started out very pleasantly with breakfast downstairs. We bid farewell to the Forum Hotel which was an absolute gem; great location, great food, great owners, everything was top notch!
Our taxi (Latin Cumbia music blasting from the speakers) whisked us to the Bus Terminal were we boarded our bus, much too early for Latin American standards! It was a bus just a shade nicer than the one from Guayaquil, and not too far from the proverbial “chicken bus”. We have 6 hours to Riobamba but we will just make the best of it as the better buses do overnight trips, and in reality aren’t much better.
We depart at 8:15am with a pleasant ride through the north of Cuenca, and through a beautiful city called Azogues. We were both surprised at the scenery as it reminded us of Switzerland, gorgeous green valleys, high mountain peaks with trees and grass almost to the peaks. It was delightful.
And then it became the bus ride from hell! The roads wound along the side of these beautiful peaks and our driver seemed to think he was Mario Andretti or something. Fero says he even had the famous Mario Andretti leather jacket. I think he forgot there were passengers under his care in the back of the bus. At first it didn’t bother us but as the day wore on, there were many times we feared for our lives! All we wanted to do was get to our destination alive.
The distance isn’t really that far, only 268km to Riobamba, however instead of a direct bus, they all try to get more fares so the stop EVERYWHERE making the journey 6 hours for what should be 3!
Around 1:30pm we were getting close to Riobamba, thank heavens, and I was listening carefully to each announcement that the “assistant/fare taker” was giving. When we passed what I thought was Riobamba I started to get a bit antsy – the stop hadn’t been called and they knew that was our departure point (mistake #1 – thinking they would remember). We both agreed that Riobamba hadn’t been called and we shouldn’t panic as it likely is coming up.
To make a very long story short, I finally asked about Riobamba and was told, oh we passed that half an hour ago. I was furious as the stop had not been mentioned and he, of course, claimed he had and then conveniently no longer understood me. Not to mention the fact that our hotel in Riobamba had been guaranteed and we either had to get off the bus and go back or carry on to Quito. Apparently Quito was only another 2.5 hours away and the purpose of the stop in Riobamba was to break up the journey. We decided to carry on and hopefully get a refund at the hotel we just had to forfeit! And to add to our frustration, the assistant asked us for another $4each for the additional portion to Quito. Both of us said a resounding NO WAY!
At this point I commented to Fero that our driver must have a bet with someone that he could cut down his time to Quito as he was taken horrible chances downhill, and around corners. It was really a frightening experience and one I never want to relive.
Finally at 5:00pm we arrive at the beautiful Quitumbes Bus Station in South Quito. Such a relief to get off that Express Sucre (an oxymoron) and into the station. It is quite new and looks like a modern airport! We took a taxi to our hotel in the Mariscal area, Hotel Reina Isabel, which took about 45 minutes.
Quito is built alongside three volcanos named Pichincha which are between 4000m and 5000m! One of the three is still active and had its last last eruption only 20 years ago. The city is long and narrow and a myriad of one way streets, some from Inca and colonial times so they very narrow.
The Hotel Reina Isabel is a very nice hotel in the Mariscal district which is known for its restaurants and nightlife. For those of you who live in Vancouver, it is very similar to Granville St. Downtown – great for the younger crowd but a bit seedy for my liking. Next time I would choose a colonial hotel in the Centro Historico.
Our room is lovely and we were so tired from the day we ordered mediocre room service and collapsed into bed around 8:00pm.