Monday night the hotel receptionist knocked at the door. It’s over. Thank fuck for that I shouted.
No, we were not breaking up. The week-long strike in Tulcan in northern Ecuador was over. I could get a bus in the morning out of this godforsaken town.
I had been stuck in Tulcan after I crossed the Colombian border and walked into total shutdown. The night the strike ended, I walked through Tulcan. It did not look any better with everything open.
Tulcam will be my Vietnam. You were not there. You do not know what it was like.
The strike affected a Provence up to 80km. A few backpackers decided to try to walk the 80km. I looked at the people in the hostel. None of the Ecuadorians would walk. I asked them why. It is not safe, they said. I decided to trust the local’s advice.
I have since heard some backpackers were robbed on the road. That is why I waited it out. You are 100% vulnerable on an Ecuadorian road in the middle of nowhere.
I was at the bus station for the first bus out of Tulcan. I had collected two new Chinese lady friends from the hostel. They wanted to get the noon bus. I said I was getting out at the first opportunity with or without them. They came with me.
I had planned to stop at Otavalo and then Quito. I had a feeling we were on the outskirts of Otavalo. I spoke with the bus assistant. He said I will inform you when we are at the station. Twenty minutes later I asked him again. He looked embarrassed. He had forgotten. We were 20km past Otavalo.
I felt Ecuador had it in for me. I had no choice but to continue to Quito with my Chinese mates. Later as the bus assistant passed, he said you owe an extra three dollars for Quito. I looked at him and said I will pay after you pay me for the night I had already paid for a hostel in Otavalo. He quickly moved on.
The Chinese ladies had been impressed with my all-action style over the past few days. We got into Quito. Like a lot of South American and Asian countries, the bus station was at the edge of the city. Eleven kilometres from the centre. This drives me nuts as a taxi can cost more than a ten-hour bus journey.
I spoke to a taxi driver. I explained in my best Spanish that we needed to go to the centre but different hostels. He said twelve dollars. I had done my research and knew it was about ten to twelve. I agreed as I though six dollars each from the Chinese and I was good value.
It was at that stage the Chinese now thought I had become weak. They bargained him down to nine dollars. He was nearly crying. It was the first time I have ever felt sorry for a taxi driver.
He took them to their hostel. He asked if they could walk across a small road as otherwise, he had to go up a long drive and back. No way. We have paid to be taken to the door. He gave in.
Once he dropped them off, he began moaning to me. I got my steel back and said his problem was with the Chinese and not me. I did pay him twelve dollars as I did think it was fair. Five from the Chinese and seven from myself was not bad for eleven kilometres.
As they left the taxi, the Chinese asked if we would meet later. I said I was tired. I had a plan. After a week of no beer, I was going to have pints no matter what the cost was. I did not think that would fit with their strategy.
They were nice people. I was amazed for all their tough negotiating how much value they put in the Chinese government travel information website. It was gospel. I felt whatever the Government said it must be acted on and believed.
Later that night, I went to the bar and nightclub area of Quito. I was going to put my head into Tits for a quick one. I ended up going into Dicks for a stiff one on my way home.
I was surprised at the cost of beer here. Four to five dollars for a pint. Most people here make, on average twenty-five dollars a day or five pints.
As the bus travelled into Quito I was surprised at how together the city looked. Modern offices. Shopping centres and well-tarmacked roads. Bogota in comparison outside the main square was one long shantytown.
The average salary here is 475 USD a month. When I had a beer in an Irish bar, there were plenty of locals pushing 50 dollar bills over the counter. There is a section of society here with money, but a lot are struggling.
The historic area is the best I have seen so far in South America. If Quito can work on its bad reputation for pickpockets and petty crime, I am sure more people would visit.
First a strike and then a riot
On Wednesday night, I had seen a few people on the streets demonstrating. The next day was the first day of the ending of decades-old fuel subsidies. Any increase in fuel has a knock-on effect on most other goods, including food.
As I walked through the streets of Quito on Thursday, I could feel a different atmosphere. There was a menace in the air and peoples faces.
I wanted to go up to the grand square to shoot a video about Quito’s attractions. The police had blocked off the square and many other streets.
I thought it was overkill for a protest. It was not.
I could hear a constant noise in the distance, so I walked towards it. It did not take long to see the first clash between police and protesters.
There seemed to be standoffs on each street. Individual battles were happening all over the historic area.
This was different from last week in Tulcan. In Tulcan the town was in a complete shutdown. There was no violence there.
Quito is different. Rocks from protesters were responded with tear gas by police.
The president also plans to lay off a lot of people in state-owned companies urged on by the IMF. The IMF has a lousy track record in this part of the world.
During the day I found myself getting deeper and deeper into the eye of the riot. I have never been in a situation like this before. I have to admit I was excited and scared.
I said if you think you are a blogger you are going to have to have this on video.
After 3 hours, I had run out of space on my phone video. I felt a stare. I glanced sideways, and I could see three teenagers looking at the phone in my hand. I knew from their look that they were seconds from reliving me from my phone and maybe more.
I popped the phone in my pocket and made a swift exit. I would have been completely defenceless. The police were a bit busy.
The Ecuadorian government has declared a state of emergency. Transport unions have promised to paralyse the county until the fuel subsidy cut is reversed.
I went back out in the street to get something to eat. All the shops had closed. There was an even bigger menace in the air as darkness descended. Trucks with people in the back were coming into the city. They had a look of determination on their faces. As I left the area, I could see smoke coming from the area where I had been earlier.
The hostel is in lockdown. It is going to be a long night in Quito. I can’t help thinking of the Chinese ladies. I am sure they are getting the latest travel information from the Chinese government website.
I hope they are not out in the city. They might bump into the taxi driver. I don’t see that ending well for them.
If you want to see some of the video I took I have added them below.
Join me on my journey.
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