Would you rather catch a cold or stink like fish?

(I have no pictures of this day, but this layout I’m trying seems to want pictures, so here’s a pair each from Riobamba and the Amazon both earlier in Ecuador. Let me know if you think they’re more distracting than pretty.)

One fine Friday morning we paid our bill with the old lady who ran our hotel/hostel in Puerto Lopez, said goodbye to her two sons who we’d become friends with, and walked to the bus stop, aka the large parking space next to the town’s only traffic light.

The travel gods were with us and a northbound bus pulled in just as we were crossing the street. I threw my bag in the storage space underneath, and had just enough time to notice the plastic tubs and strong scent of fish before he closed the door.

As the bus headed north I pondered what to do if my entire backpack emerged stinking of fish. But that was a rocking horse going nowhere, so instead I stared out the window as we drove up the gorgeous Ecuadoran coastline, marveling at the plumes as whales spouted offshore. Our bus answered with enthusiastic eruptions of noxious black exhaust.

The bus was full, then empty, then filled up again with rambunctious kids going home from school on Friday afternoon. All in navy blue uniforms, they sang along with the love songs, flirted, and teased each other, boys howling and girls blushing.

We all piled out in Manta (where I was relieved to note my backpack did not stink of fish), and took the next bus to Portoviejo, which made Manta look luxurious. We bought our tickets and climbed on the overly air-conditioned bus to find we were nearly the only people onboard, so I went looking for a snack from the bus station vendors, K waiting on board.

I was working my way around when I noticed my bus’s parking space was empty, then looked up to see it driving away through the parking lot. So I got to run through the crowd of people and jump onto a moving bus, which is always fun.

Luckily vendors got on in the next town, so I had lunch of a pastry thing filled with dulce de leche, with a plastic baggie filled with sweetened coconut milk to wash it down. They do love their sugar in Latin America.

That bus, our third of the day, stayed overly air-conditioned for the 6 hours we were on it, and we could both feel that nasty taste growing in our throats that meant we were getting sick. Just short of 8 hours on buses felt much longer by the time we reached San Vicente, a small town just 5 minutes from our destination of Canoa. But this is where the driver and money-taker stopped for dinner, so we sat, trying to accept the delay with Zen-like perspective despite our blood sugar levels dropping past Crabby and into Downright Cantankerous.

Right outside our window was one of those barbeques in a half an oil drum, and the woman tending it had it heaped with all manner of indistinguishable entrails and sweetbreads. The big rubbery floppy things were actually starting to look good to me, but I felt bad for K.

Meanwhile night had arrived, and one of our travel principles is to avoid arriving in new towns after dark if possible, but there was nothing we could do. K worried about finding a place, and I reassured her “I am sure we will find a place. It’s not like the entire town will be full or anything…”

Can you guess if that statement came back to bite me?