Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Planes, Trains, and Buses

Eric left the house at 3:30 this morning to catch a 4 AM train to Montreal. The journey lasted over fifteen hours, partly because there was some sort of glitch at the border, where Canadian border police took a Sri Lankan man into custody. Eric slept and worked on the paper he has to present on Friday, so it was not a waste of time by any means. To fly would take at least six hours, with a two hour preflight wait and perhaps another hour waiting for baggage at the other end. The return train ticket cost $144, and a plane trip would be at least $350, so the cost difference is substantial, and although the time it takes to get there is more than double the plane trip, if one has work to do, or books to read, or sleep to catch up on,the train ride can make sense. And train travel is fun. Far more relaxing than plane travel today.

I love taking the train. Having spent many of my early years in Europe, trains were a regular part of my life. Later, when I traveled on my own after high school, I had a backpack and a Eurail pass, and criss-crossed the continent following friends, whims, sudden desires to see something or someone a few countries away. I took the train from Edmonton to Montreal to do my internship after medical school, and stayed in a small cabin that transformed form bedroom to sitiing room day after day across the several thousand miles. I like watching the world go by, different landscapes, prairie towns, the wild wild west. Southern California and Salt Lake City were not suited for trains, or at least no one took the train because cars were preferable, but since I have lived in Baltimore, trains are an easy and convenient mode of transport to DC and to New York. I prefer the train, but the cost is excessive, so I have started taking the Chinatown bus, which is $20 each way to New York, convenient and fast, but not as fun as the train. Tara introduced me to the bus, and although there is a schedule posted, often the buses do not follow the posted schedule, and one just shows up at a the designated spot and waits for the next available bus. I close my eyes and awaken at Penn Station, relaxed ready to go. Then I can spend alot more money than I planned in New York, which is a bonus!

I was surprised that there are few trains in Ecuador. It just makes sense to me to have traintracks crossing the country. Instead there are buses that limp up and over the Andes to the coast and up and over the Andes to the jungle and through the jungle and north to south along the Andes. Everyone takes the bus, and they are crammed with people all the time.Erika does not think twice about taking a fourteen hour bus ride. For such a small country, distances are far because of the conditions of the roads. When the students come to Ecuador for the course, time is shaved off by taking planes everywhere. Our plans in Ecuador may not include having a car, so I imagine that we will be taking the buses,which are inexpensive and cover every small and large town and travel regularly. I am not sure how I feel about the buses. The roads often frighten me and I would rather not take a car or a bus, but that may be what we can afford and may in fact be the only means of transportation for us.

The only train I know of is a tourist experience. The tradition is to sit on the top of the train and experience the wild twists and turns of the precarious course through the Andes. I may be wrong, but I recall the name Riobamba, so either the train goes through the river valley, or starts or ends at the town. No doubt we will have to try it!

Having read what I wrote today, I must admit that I simply enjoy traveling and part of the journey is the mode to transport. I love to fly, take the train, drive a car, and buses are just fine because they get me from point A to point B, and I like to be moving and experiencing adventure.

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