“A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment. Stepping out of a comfort zone raises anxiety and generates a stress response. This results in an enhanced level of concentration and focus.” —Wikipedia
Perhaps it is a sign that we are finally settled here in our new home in Ecuador. It took a year, but we finally found ourselves ready to explore our new country. It is whale watching season off the coast of Ecuador. We traveled by intercity bus.
Everyone knows that when in an unfamiliar situation, like a large, busy bus station in the largest city in a foreign country, a traveler should look determined, practiced and confident. Wandering the floor dressed in Land’s End travel wear, dragging a hard-sided suitcase while accompanied by a tall, white guy wearing a Panama hat is not the way to look determined, practiced and confident.
Less Than Confident
One looks even less confident when one person is saying, “I think we should look this way.” And the other is saying, “No, I think we should look that way.”
I am eager to put an end to this conversation when I spot a ticket booth labeled Jipijapa, which is the bus route, we were told, will lead us to Puerta Lopez, our destination. We approach cautiously but are welcomed warmly.
“Puerta Lopez,” we say.
“Yes, yes” nods the attendant. “The bus leaves in five minutes.” He adds with urgency.
I thought I heard him say, “local” but he was talking to the tall, white guy in the Panama hat so I wasn’t sure.
Rushing to catch the bus, we hurry up two flights of escalators, through a turnstile and to a bus where someone grabs our upscale luggage, throws it in the hold with the gym bags and grain sacks of the other passengers and we hurry aboard.
Less Than Comfortable
I am instantly aware that this is not the bus we would have preferred. The windows are open wide and the interior is hot. The seatbacks are broken.
The seats in front of us lean so far into our space that the tall, white guy cannot get his large American feet into the seat.
The kindly woman across the aisle agrees that this bus is not “cómodo por gordos” (comfortable for fat people,–not that he is fat, just tall) and suggests he choose another seat but, since seats are assigned, this begins a four-hour game of musical chairs as people get on and off at the myriad stops between the hub city and our coastal destination.
The bus was basic. The air conditioning was windy but not uncomfortable.
The “local” part was entertaining. At every stop, vendors would hop on the bus selling food and drink: apples and strawberries, coconut water in plastic bags, homemade banana bread, fresh-squeezed orange juice, fried corn tortillas, chocolates, and even ceviche.
Really, it was better than watching a movie.
Repeating the Process
Three days later, after a damp but not unpleasant beach experience, we set out to repeat the process. This time we took a different route to see the coastal fishing villages and enjoy the view. In preparation, we took careful instructions from the concierge and set out on our return trip on a gray, rainy Monday morning.
Walking into the bus station, we are told, “The bus leaves in 5 minutes. Hurry, get on the bus.”
This rush to get on the bus was repeated: in Olón, in Santa Elena and again in Guayaquil. None of these stops matched the instructions we’d received from the hotel.
“The bus leaves in 5 minutes. Hurry, get on the bus.”
And so we hurried.
A Learning Experience
We never rose to the level of appearing determined, practiced and confident travelers yet, at each unfamiliar bus station a kind stranger took the time to help us, often in English.
In the end, we returned to our home city unscathed. Unlike flying, we spent almost no time sitting around in terminals and the seats were generally far more comfortable than airline seats. Best of all, it was a learning experience and a go-with-the-flow travel adventure.
I believe travelers are adventurers; we like to be out on the edge of our comfort zone. Discomfort makes for the best travel stories. And next time, just maybe, we will appear determined, practiced and confident.
What about you? Do you like to be out of your comfort zone? Do you have a story to tell? Comment below.
by: Dana Dwyer