01 mayo 2007

The Real Culprit: Plantain Balls and How I Ended Up on the Floor of a Bus

[This is a story of something that happened to me a few months ago...enjoy!]

Slashed purses, lifted wallets and stolen cell phones. These are some of the stories told from Quito’s Trolebus—the city’s public transportation notorious for pickpockets. Guidebooks caution tourists from entering this “red zone”, but I wasn’t a “Quito-in-two-days” kind of traveler. I would be living in the city for six months. So I took a chance.

Twelve years ago the Municipal Government of Quito established a new form of public transportation. The hope was to cut down on the amount of smog produced by city busses and to help transport the quickly growing population. The Trolebus was their answer. This line of busses runs on an electrical track going North and South through the city. In the historical part of town, the Trole runs along Guyaquil Street, passing colorful colonial architecture, busy plazas and cobblestone streets. Further North, in the new section of Quito, the line goes along the avenue 10 de Agosto alongside hotels, restaurants, car lots and clothing stores. The cost of a ride is equal to that of a city bus, so the main draw is that the Trole is faster. It only stops at specific points whereas busses stop and go constantly at the whim of the passengers. Because of its relative speed, the Trolebus is generally packed with people—leaving no places to sit (and barely room to stand) during the busy commute to work. It is for this reason that the Trole has been deemed a pickpocket’s heaven. In such cramped quarters it’s nearly impossible to know which shove, push, or budge is unintentional and which is the hand of the person next to you reaching for your wallet. Cautious and alert as you may be, these people are professionals. Many guidebooks and websites, therefore, tell travelers to save themselves the trouble and call a cab.

I heeded this advice during my first week in Quito, but soon realized that a $5 taxi trip could have been a $0.25 Trole ride. That’s $4.75 that could buy three almuerzos (lunches), five Pilsner cervezas, or: two pineapples, four avocados, 25 bananas, 10 mandarin oranges and a guanabana at the market. So I stepped onto the Trole. And I continued to take the Trole for five months without any trouble. That was before the bolon.

Bolones de verde. Those smashed-up plantains, filled with cheese, and rolled into balls of fried goodness. Mmm. I had eaten many bolones and become quite fond of their taste—especially when drizzled with Ecuador’s spicy ají sauce.

One night a friend and I went to share a cup of coffee and bolones. And it was good. The next morning I woke up at my regular hour to teach English classes. My Ecuadorian host-mom had prepared a breakfast of fruit, bread, cheese, and hot tea as always. Typically I ate every bite, but for some reason that morning I was not hungry. When I told Margot, she looked at me strangely and asked if I felt ok. I said I was fine, which I was, but I just didn’t have an appetite. After my first class, though, I started to feel a little weird. My stomach began to ache and I had less energy than normal. I blamed the symptoms on my empty stomach and thought about eating, but I still wasn’t hungry. It was during my next class that I knew something was wrong. Sitting there in front of my student (explaining the difference between “to”, “too”, and “two”), my palms became clammy and I felt that I needed to lie down. As soon as the class was over, I hurried to the closest Trole stop to head for home.

The day was Tuesday and the time was 11:30 am. Generally not a busy time for the Trole, but today the whole city of Quito seemed to be crammed into “my” Trolebus. I worked my way into a space large enough for a broom and grabbed the bar over my head. The windows were all closed and the sun was shining bright—creating a Trole oven. After the first stop I knew I should sit down, after the second stop I knew I should lay down. At the third stop the whole world went black.

I came-to nearly 60 seconds later sprawled on the floor of the Trole. I was in a frightened daze as hands from above lifted me to a seat. Then I realized the horrible reality. My purse was not on my shoulder. My head flew around in all directions, grabbing at my side where the bag had been.

I knew it! The reports were right. It would happen on the Trole that some coward thief would take advantage to rob an unconscious foreign girl. I never should have taken the Trole. Ever. If only I had listened!

And then, in the midst of my cries, “mi bolso, mi bolso!” an older gentleman kindly handed me my purse and told me that it had fallen off my shoulder when I fainted. I stared in awe. How was it possible that no one on the “infamous” Trole had taken the opportunity to steal my purse? How was it possible that someone on the Trole had helped a traveler in distress? Was it possible that not only pickpockets, but good Samaritans as well, rode the Trolebus? At my stop I exited the Trole and decided to take a taxi to my front door rather than risk another faint. I had the next 36 hours of lying in bed (between visits to the bathroom) to realize, unequivocally, that the culprit was my “tasty” bolon de verde form the previous night.
I have since not eaten a single bolon (and not sure if I ever will), but in contrast, I have taken many lovely trips on the “dreaded” Trolebus. According to me, guidebooks should amend their warnings: “stay clear of bolones de verde and enjoy your faint-free ride on Quito’s Trole!”


Blogger Becky said...

Oh Miranda! Bless your heart! I remember your mom telling me that you fainted on a bus a while ago, but I never heard the rest of the story! So glad that it was just the stinkin' "bolon" and not anything too serious... you told the story well! Nice ending! :)

10:20 p. m.  
Blogger bradfordlstevens said...

Now we know how our prayers for your protection were answered on this one occasion.

6:31 a. m.  
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4:20 p. m.  
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