In Ecuador, it seemed that everyone I met knew someone who got robbed on a bus, each story the same:
Backpacker gets on bus, put his/her carry-on bag on the floor or on his/her back (if they’re standing – it happens). Unnoticed thief uses knife to slit a hole through zipper or bottom of said carry-on item. Crafty thief steals stuff.
And it’s annoying because backpacker really needed the last of that face cream from home/money/other.
A personal example:
I was traveling on the buses in Ecuador from Baños to Montañita via Guayaquil to spend more time with someone I met along the way, separating from friends who were headed north in search of Colombia.
After being on the road for almost six months, I decided to take the night bus to Guayaquil, hoping for sleep instead of another cramped, hot ride – not a lot of leg room going on in the buses of Ecuador, plus my iPod selection was long-since tired. The bus departed at 10:00 PM.
At one of the first stops, the nice Colombian couple sitting behind me got off. I was one of about 15 on the bus, and was alone towards the back. I figured I could sleep since I couldn’t see anyone for three rows in any direction.
My bag was on the floor with the strap wrapped around my ankle. I jerked awake when I felt a sharp tug on my bag, pulling my foot underneath the seat. Startled, I whipped around and locked eyes with the two anonymous men who sat motionless behind me.
I half-yelled “Que pasa?” in an aggressive tone, as the contents of my bag spilled onto the floor, it’s zipper broken. The men looked and each other, then at me, and got off the bus, stepping over me as I gathered my purse, make-up bag, and tangerines off the floor.
Needless to say, I did not sleep at all the rest of the way.
Here are some tips to help you stay safe on buses in Ecuador.
Stay alert. Look alive. Make eye contact and notice your neighbors.
This is easier if you travel during the day, but if you find yourself on a night bus alone, sit next to a family or group of people you can make small talk with. They could be potential allies. After all, no one wants to be the backpacker who got jacked.
Wear a money belt
Keep important documents (passport) and bank-related items (credit cards, cash, etc.) in it, concealed under your clothes.
Best investment you can make before you start your adventure! Everything else can be replaced… eventually.
Keep things you carry on the bus with you in your lap
Annoying? Probably – and especially if you’re on a long journey – but by in large, those who followed this rule while in Ecuador got to keep their precious items. If you’ve been carrying them around this long, it’s safe to say you’d like to keep them, right?
Moral of the story: theft happens. But Ecuador is an amazing place! Go forth and fall in love with the Amazon, mountains, surf-culture and beautiful people there.
Just take some precautions first.