Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Transivi ego cum omnibus

Buses are a fact of life in Honduras. Most people can’t afford cars and there is no train service. But they can get you anywhere in the country for cheap—Tegucigalpa to Santa Rosa, a 7-hour ride, will set you back about $8. Higher quality bus lines are more, but not that much more, and they don’t service many routes. Most buses are old American school buses, usually refitted to cram as many people on as is possible, many of which still have something like “Clark County Schools” painted on the side. There’s one bus I’ve found that has adequate leg room, but since most have seats quite close together, I am usually uncomfortable.

In any case, I’ve had a number of noteworthy bus experiences, some of which are recounted below.

January 20, 2007: As 6:20 became 6:25 and 6:30, while waiting at San Manuel’s “Transit Plaza,” I tried to figure out whether the people who had cheerfully told me the day before that there would be an early bus at 6 had been lied to themselves or if they had started this happy-sounding falsehood just for my benefit. The 6:30 did show up, though, and made it across the 20 miles to Gracias in just under two hours, which was good speed considering that we had stopped approximately every three minutes to pick up or discharge passengers and their voluminous, unwieldy cargo. On the bus from Gracias to Santa Rosa, my personal hypothesis that I will always be the last person on the bus with a seat to himself was again supported. Midway through the 90 minute ride, I noted people carrying several two liter bottles of Pepsi down the side of the highway, and marveled at how long people would walk to buy supplies. Then as the bus slowed down, we all rubbernecked to see that there were a lot more where those bottles came from, spilling out from the crashed bus. Shortly after that, a child standing in the aisle—if I didn’t mention it before, they always pack buses full to overcrowded in an attempt to get a few more $1 fares—started to vomit, and while it missed me any my belongings, I became concerned about the possibilities for a repeat performance as he moved a little closer to me.

February 5, 2007: On my way back west from Tegucigalpa, my comparatively nice bus is heading steadily down the highway about 90 minutes outside of the city when I hear a noise and the bus starts precariously rocking from side to side. We gradually slow down and we finally figure out—there are never any announcements qua announcements on these buses, lest the passengers’ ability to deduce the source of their delay wither from lack of use—that one of the tires has gone flat. I ask and some passenger tells me we’ll probably be all of 45 minutes to change it, at which point I look at my watch and, noting that I already had a sufficiently late start in the day, decide I will abandon this conveyance in favor of the next that comes down the highway, which it happily does within about ten minutes later. Seven hours after that, I arrive in Santa Rosa. That was an interesting trip.

February 16, 2007: The bus from San Manuel gets a flat heading down the mountain. So they just change the tire, right? Wrong. It takes an hour for the bus driver, money collector, and assorted passengers to bang the rims out of shape enough to remove the tire and then install a new one. Though I would have used a tire iron myself, I wasn’t in a hurry and they let me sit on the bus to read my book, so I didn’t complain.

February 17, 2007: On a bus in the morning, we find that the cause of a slow down is that a bus has gone off the side of the road and fallen down 50 feet from the highway, lying upside down in pseudo-forest. It’s a disturbing thought, especially when you’re on a similar bus yourself at the moment, but I take comfort in thinking what the odds would be of there being another such bus crash that day. But when we see another one—this time, a truck pulling onto the road collided with a bus passing through—I had to think, “Well, what are the odds of three crashes on this stretch of highway today?”

Then, If you were the operator of a bus line, and you knew that your bus would be two and a half hours late in coming, would you sell 100 tickets for a 60-seat bus, and then tell the impatient passengers first “It’s coming at 5:30,” then 6, then 6:30, then 7, and then get angry at the people when they’re a little ruffled once the bus does arrive? If you said no, you obviously don’t work for the Sultana bus company in San Pedro Sula. Arriving at 5 p.m. for the three-hour ride to Santa Rosa, I waited two and a half hours at the bus station, then didn’t get into Santa Rosa until 12:30 a.m. because of an accident on the highway that blocked or at least slowed traffic way down. And because the ticket agent who had no common sense or courtesy of which to speak found somewhere within him a chivalrous stripe and insisted on letting all the women on the bus before any of the men, I was standing for that whole time, except when someone allowed me to sit on his armrest, which was a nice change but nowhere near comfortable.

February 20, 2007: At first my question is “why is that man behind me spilling water onto the floor of the bus?” Then, as I look back, it becomes “how is that man able to vomit so quietly?” The guy taking fares says balefully “Next time, call out for a bag.” This is why I never put my backpack on the floor of a bus.

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