The blue buses are the stuff of legend here in Cuenca. There are 29 different routes that criss-cross the city and continue a fair way out of town. Each of those routes has buses that run 7 days a week, with a frequency of 10 minutes or less. Do the math, and you'll see that Cuenca is crawling with blue buses!
A lot of bus stops serve several different routes, which results in a line of buses jockeying for position when they approach the bus stop.
The upside of this is that for a fare of 25 cents, you can hop a bus and get just about anywhere in the city. Well, after a few false starts in the beginning - I'll bet everyone who rides the bus here has a story to tell - here's mine.
After studying the city's bus guide, and a map, I determine which bus I need to take to reach my destination. I'll have to get off the bus and walk a fair distance to get where I want to go. No problem, I'm a walker. Coins in hand, I board the bus and off we go.
The bus driver often has a pal sitting next to him, helping with change or just talking. The rectangular box in the upper left hand corner of the bus is a rolling sign that shows the current stop and announces the next stop. Very helpful when you don't exactly know where you're going! Note: not all buses have this amenity.
I get off the bus, take care of business, and then, because I've already walked awhile, I get on the first bus that comes along. I can tell by the guide that this bus will eventually stop somewhere close to where I live. I'll just have to ride it to the end of the line - which is okay - another blogger mentioned that she did this all the time.
From my vantage point in the back of the bus, I watch as the bus moves through El Centro, out past the airport, into an industrial area, and then heads up into the hills. Now we're in cow and corn country, and I'm getting a little nervous. I'm starting to feel a long way from Cuenca, almost into Peru, and the bus is showing no signs of stopping!
Hey, is that a llama??
Finally, the bus stops, on a dirt road surrounded by little farms. A couple of other buses are standing idle at the bus stop. The bus driver gets out and heads towards a little bodega. So much for staying on the bus until it loops back to where I want to get off! I suddenly feel very alone in a foreign land!
A short conversation with the driver, and I realize that all I have to do is get on one of the idle buses and wait and eventually the driver will appear and start driving the route again. In fact, this is what happens, and the bus slowly winds its way back through the industrial area, past the airport and into the center of Cuenca. As soon as I see anything that looks even remotely familiar to me, I get off the bus and walk the rest of the way home.
Out in the sticks, I was the only passenger on the bus for quite a few stops, but the bus gradually filled up again, and was packed when I finally stepped to the rear door to get off.
That experience taught me to pay closer attention to the bus routes, and study the map a little closer, before hopping onto any old bus. But I have to admit, it was quite a ride for 25 cents!
Bus guides, guia de buses, are available at Cuenca's tourist information offices - free. There is also a website, cuencatransit.com, which shows all routes and has a tripfinder - and is in both English and Spanish.