Not to be confused with the infamous Japanese World War II battle cry, Tora! Tora! Tora!, which is an acronym for lightning strike, although both can be seen as occurring within the context of some kind of war. Suba is the formal command form of the Spanish verb subir, which basically means to climb, or as in the case of the Ecuadoran transportation system means, "Get your slow ass up in that bus or we'll leave you behind!" May lightning strike the driver's assistant who decided I was not climbing up fast enough and who used his considerable strength to hoist my rear end into the bus to Quito amid a cacophony of applause and relief and, dare I say, ridicule.
From the outset, I have not been a fan of the bus system, although it is quite efficient and with buses aplenty. These buses most resemble a cross between an American city bus, a Greyhound and what looks to be the tuck and roll back seat of a '57 Chevy. It's the efficiency that I think is my biggest gripe, moreso than the occasional inability of the sliding windows to slide on a hot day. But the infernal efficiency. Not a grand, exacting, near-to-perfect German kind of efficiency, but its more high-spirited and boisterous younger brother, bat-out-of-hell efficiency. It seems important for every driver and his assistant to keep to a schedule that no one really knows the meaning of nor understands the finer points of, except that when it is put to use, one best hang on with all his might or he may realize the fate of the 80 year-old indigenous woman who nearly met a wicked end on the side of the road the last time Mary and I ventured to the big city.
Suba! Suba! Suba!, the assistant yelled to her as she tried to mount the stairs carrying on her back a rather large bundle of something or other that seemed to be squealing, wrapped in one of her blankets. Now, I am not a stranger to the rules of carriage in this Ecuadoran bus system, and I do know, through personal experience, that it is considered reasonable to transport animals along with you and your belongings ( I learned this on one of my first bus rides when a man got on with two bags, handed me one and said, "Would you mind holding my cock?").
Anyway, this woman was halfway up the stairs when the driver decided she was on enough for government work and peeled out - as much as a bus is capable of peeling out - doors open and flapping, the SRO crowd clinging to the weakly soldered pullstraps, and the able assistant imploring the stragglers to, "Glue yourself to the person next to you, there's not enough room up front!" While this may sound humorous in the telling, when you're the actual person being glued to, it's less compelling an experience, and as it turns out is a frotteur's playground. And all this is happening as the aforementioned 80 year-old with the suspicious bundle is still teetering on that fine line of being on or off the rampaging bus.
I wondered at that moment if this was some kind of South American Darwinian experiment- the Galapagos do belong to Ecuador, after all - like teaching toddlers to mind the traffic by placing them precariously on the side of the road and in swiping distance of one of these buses on a schedule. And it was, apparently, as we all found out.
There is a second part to an Ecuadoran bus trip of any length, and that is that in order to ensure the orderliness of the schedule there is placed, about half way through it, a measure of the efficiency of the bus and it driver, and while the 80 year-old was still trying to get her bus legs under her, the vehicle suddenly stopped, if not on a dime then surely on a quarter, throwing the woman with the squealing package back off the bus, where she instantly dives into a tuck position and rolls down the incline into a ditch conveniently filled with last night's rain.
"I was right!" I shout, as a piglet wiggles out of this woman's pack and, even though you might not have believed it possible before, takes to swimming the ditch in a desperate attempt to escape the humans and rejoin his much saner porcine comrades. Meanwhile, the assistant has leapt off the bus, jumped the ditch, and is speeding toward a meter on the outside of a nearby house where, once he arrives, he slides a piece of paper under a stamp and punches the lever strategically placed above it. A time clock, I am quick to surmise. And as he returns, somewhat slower than his advance, he seems to be shaking his head. Bad news. They must be seconds slow or something because when he gets to the ditch, a new look of determination festoons his drooping features.
Forget the struggling octogenarian below him, forget the pig, no don't forget the pig. In a masterful pas de deux, the young assistant, I am sure in an attempt to rescue the drowning woman, inadvertently scoops up the pig instead, understandable since both the woman and the pig are squealing at this point, and shouts to the driver before he can get a good look at what he has in his arms. "Get going! We have time to make up!"
And we're off. The SRO crowd leans left as a unit before stabilizing as the driver shifts into second, and then a second lean as he shifts into third. I do get a final glimpse of the poor old lady who is now on her knees in the ditch, shaking her fist and most likely saying, "Pare! Pare! Pare!", which is the formal command for, "Stop, you imbecile."
Sadly, this seems an unlikely possibility. Ever.