The photo above is of the Mayan ruins in Tikal, Guatemala. While there, I stayed in a cheap motel at the nearby town of Flores.
Foolish me, I thought I would skip the 5:00 AM bus out of Flores, and catch the later bus, at !0:00. That would give a chance to sleep in. Unfortunately, when the 5:00 bus came, it parked right outside my room for 15 minutes, with its loud diesel engine running and waking me up, so I didn’t get the extra sleep anyway.
Yesterday, I ran into a couple from South Carolina at Tikal. He was tall with frizzled hair and glasses and was wearing a purple shirt, and they both spoke with a heavy southern accent. They had stayed at the fancy lodge there at Tikal overnight, whereas I opted for the cheaper motel in Flores.
They were waiting for the 10:00 bus when I arrived. I asked them about their night, which opened the floodgates to a tsunami of complaints about poor food, and terribly expensive costs for room and meals. I was glad I opted for the cheap motel.
We boarded the crumbling old bus to Belize. I had to sit on a small portion of seat by the aisle. The road was extremely bumpy, and the driver spent most of the time driving with wheels on one edge of the road, or the other, to avoid all the deep pot holes in the middle. He just about hit a daydreaming motorcyclist, who kept drifting toward us as we tried to pass him.
The farmer sitting on the engine hump in front of me had a 15-20 pound plastic bag of sugar, wedged between him and the driver. The bag of sugar shifted and sprung a leak and the white stuff started slowly spilling out of the hole in the bag. He didn’t know what to do about it other than awkwardly holding the bag with the hole facing up. I was able to save the day for him by giving him the white plastic bag my laundry came in.
I had heard that the area between Tikal and Belize was experiencing problems with rebelling Mayan Indians, and so wasn’t entirely surprised when the bus was stopped for a military roadblock, although seeing all the soldiers with automatic weapons made me nervous. An armed soldier climbed on board the bus, and said that everyone must get off, so we all did.
As we stood there beside the bus, he started collecting all the papers and passports. He wasn’t very thorough in his collecting and completely overlooked me, but I volunteered mine anyway. As I handed it to the solder, the girl friend of the purple-shirted South Carolinian, said with a most grating accent, “I heard that they sometimes don’t give them back.”
This sounded a bit farfetched to me, since as Gringos we seemed to have a special status and usually received more considerate behavior than the locals, but I didn’t say anything. The soldier walked away with his big handful of passports. Then all of the males on the bus were hand searched. The soldier turned me around, wedged his foot between my feet, and proceeded to frisk me. He found nothing, not even the pocket knife I had in my pocket.
This was done to each of the male passengers from the bus in turn. It took quite a long time. I found it all interesting, but after a while I became bored, and longed to get back on the bus.
The soldier finally retuned with our passports, handed them back, and we piled back on the bus. I thought the whole exercise was over, but I was wrong.
I noticed that Miss South Carolina, was still outside--she hadn’t been given her passport back. The soldier didn’t know where it was, so Purple Shirt climbed back out of the bus to help his damsel out of her distress.
The soldiers clearly didn’t know what to do, and they all seemed puzzled. The girl demanded her passport be returned. Purple Shirt whipped out his US passport, and showed it to the soldiers, so that they would know what to look for.
The soldiers, still confused by this novel situation, came back onto the bus and demanded that everyone get off again for a re-search. Miss South Carolina, didn’t know who she had given the passport to, “It was just a soldier.”
When asked if it was “Before or after” Purple Shirt’s passport was collected, she couldn’t recall. Everyone was milling around, discussing the situation in small groups. No one knew what to do.
Purple Shirt got back on the bus to see if he had a copy of Miss South Carolina’s birth certificate in his pack. He opened his pack, and what do you think he found?----Yep, it was the passport. Miss South Carolina was suffering from a sudden brain lapse, and had never given it to anyone.
The soldiers all rolled their eyes, as did I, and as did, all the Guatemalan men, women, and children who were standing around. One of the higher ranking soldiers who had been brought into the fray when the passport incident started, walked over the Miss South Carolina, stood right in front of her, and gave her a very serious look.
He reached for a pencil in the chest pocket of his uniform, took it out, and then bonked Miss South Carolina lightly on the head, in mock punishment.
This drama being concluded, we all piled back on the chicken bus and it began, once again weaving down the dusty jungle road. Everyone was cheerful again. Everyone, except Miss South Carolina, who I suspect, was still reliving in her mind, her most embarrassing moment.
That concludes my adventures on the Chicken bus.
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