I never took Spanish in school, so most of my knowledge of the language comes from an old Berlits Latin American Spanish phrase book. I’m pretty good at getting a place to stay, and even better at ordering a meal. What I cannot do is engage in a conversation. I will try gamely, but my Rule #1 is never ever get flustered.
Once you get flustered, the person who is talking to you will think that you are being a rude dickhead for no earthly reason. It is far better to look stupid and try patiently with your limited repertoire, including hand gestures and even written notes.
At the bus station in Cuenca, I tried hard to buy a ticket for a ride to Alausi. Although the signs on the booth indicated that Patria buses stopped there, the lady refused to sell me a ticket there. Instead she went into a long explanation which I didn’t understand. Finally, I bought a ticket instead to Riobamba, which was a major stop on the line, albeit past Alausi. I figured I could get off the bus near enough to Alausi to get there by other means—at worst walking a kilometer or two down the hill. (I knew that the buses would not stop in Alausi itself, as it was in a valley below the Pan-American Highway.)
In the end, not only did I have no trouble getting off at the Alausi bus station on the Pan-American Highway (a place called La Estación), but the conductor called a cab for me.
I think what the woman’s long explanation at the Cuenca terminal was all about was that the bus did not go into the town of Cuenca, a fact which I already knew. Although I was out about fifty cents by buying a ticket to Riobamba, everybody was a winner in this transaction.