Adventures on the Road to Loja

I had been warned that you have to be on your guard at the bus terminals. I booked a slightly fancier public bus (aka more expensive), and when I got on, a man in back welcomed me and ushered me to a seat. That’s a first. Smiling, he told me I was not permitted to have my bag at my feet, that I need to put it up on the overhead shelf. I did so, warily, looking for the first opportunity to bring it back down. The man collecting tickets took mine, and told me I wasn’t allowed to have my bag up above, that I had to put at my feet. Gladly, I complied. As soon as the ticket collector went up front, the man in back came again, and smiling, told me I wasn’t allowed to have it at my feet. He took my bag and put it back on the overhead.

As we started to move, I got up to get my bag, but the man in back stopped me again. “Tranquilo,” and he made motions for me to leave the bag. Then he went to the front of the bus and started selling DVDs, giving his sales pitch that they work in any device, and passing around copies for us to look at. Until that point, I had thought he was an employee on the bus company, but he was just a vendor. That’s the point when I should have realized he had no authority to tell me where to put my bag.

I felt bad for him, there were only a few passengers on the bus, and nobody was even looking at his DVDs. I bought two, for a dollar a piece, to help him out. I don’t even have a way to play them, but I thought I could give them to some hostel or somebody I meet. I must have nodded off, and woke up when I heard the bus stop and the vendor’s voice as he was getting off the bus.

I quickly grabbed my bag and moved to the back of the bus, putting the bag at my feet.

3 hours later I arrived in Loja, a smaller town of about 170,000 people. I took a cab to my hotel, opened the backpack, and panicked. Both my iPads were gone, my battery pack for charging them, several cables, my backup iPhone, and my iWatch. Most of that stuff I had been carrying in my big backpack, locked below, but I was afraid they might get broken, so for this trip I had stuck them in my daypack.

I walked to the bus station headquarters. They told me I should come back in the morning and talk to the manager so we could watch the video surveillance. I came back the next morning at 8:30, and was told I needed to go to the ECU911 office to solicit the video. I walked, about 45 minutes across town, to the ECU911 office, and didn’t even make it past the security gate. The officer told me I couldn’t make the request until I had filed a report with the fiscalía (District Attorney`s Office, on the plus side, a new vocabulary word for me). I took a cab back almost to where I had started (the fiscalía was two blocks from my hotel), got a number, and waited in line.

The first lady, when she saw me, didn’t want to talk to me. She asked her neighbor if she would work with me, and she did. We started to do the report, and as she was asking me about how it happened, she realized that the stealing happened in Cuenca. “We can do the report here, but this is in Cuenca’s Jurisdiction. It will have to be filed there, and you will have to go in person.”

I really hate getting the run around, going from place to place, only to be told I should have done something else prior. Add to that this all was in Spanish and I’m in an unfamiliar town so finding each place was a hurdle of its own. I was of the verge of a hissy-fit.

I asked her what the end result would be, if I were ever to be able to file the report and get the video. She said if they could get proof, they would print posters of his face and put them up in the bus terminal as a warning.

“So for me it does nothing, but it might help the next person?” I asked. She confirmed my conclusion.

Still angry, I debated cancelling my hotel in Loja and going back to Cuenca, but I decided to take the night to sleep on it. Online (with my iPhone, my last remaining link to the internet), Dmitri, a Russian I had met in Cuenca, chatted me over facebook. I told him the story and what I was debating.

“Do you want to be right or happy?” he asked.

“Both,” I replied, but I knew he was right. In the end, I let it go.

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