Wednesday 13 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: A 13 Hour Bus Ride

I boarded the bus still cognizant of the horror story I had just been told by the distressed woman I had just met.  Like a doomed man, I walked down the aisle looking for seat #19 which had been assigned to me.  Finding it was more problematic than I had anticipated, because most of the seat numbers had been worn off, but I eventually figured out where it probably was, stashed my backpack, and sat down.

It wasn’t long after the bus left the terminal, that I discovered that it certainly was possible to get “seasick” on a bus.  The terrain was very hilly and the road had more turns and twists than I thought possible without unravelling.  As we flew down the highway, I was swayed to the left, and then to the right, then forward to the left and backward toward the right.

The woman at the bus depot was right; the bus driver did seem to a bit of “madman’ after he got behind the steering wheel.  I should have known she wasn’t exaggerating, when I spotted a hefty looking Mexican man in the seat across the aisle from me, ‘cross’ himself and kiss his thumbnail as the bus pulled out of the terminal.  (The kissing of the thumbnail did seem quite common in Mexico, I had never seen it being done in the States or Canada.)

At break-neck speed I watched out the window as we spiraled through the cactus-covered brown hills.  I was starting to feel a bit green from the gyrations of the bus, and kept getting hotter and hotter.  Around noon, the terrain flattened, but the hot temperature remained.

The heat was even more noticeable when we pulled into a bus stop for a break.  I found myself in a rather unusual situation.  I was hungry and thirsty, and had lots of money, however I was unable to buy any food or drink, because I had too much money.  I just had a 5,000 peso bill and a 20,000 peso bill, but I couldn’t get any clerk or fellow passenger to break them for me at any of the small rural stores the bus stopped at along the way.  What a curse wealth is, such is life in the slow lane.

As I slowly wasted away from the lack of nourishment, I did experience one bright note during the bus ride,:  I finally finished the horrible “Artifact” paperback.  

I was a taken aback upon entering one of the bus stops.  Inside, at the the small store, a strung up well-used, hammock angled across the corner walls, taking up a fair bit of the small room’s “real estate”.  Another charm of the place was the brown pig that was running loose inside, like a stray dog.  I don’t recall the name of this hamlet, but I would not be disappointed if I never had to revisit it.

The thirteen hour ordeal ended with a crescendo; a terrorizing bus ride through the darkness, up and around another twisty mountain road.  The bus driver eager to get home, passed vehicles on curves and hills alike, but thanks to the guy who had crossed himself and kissed his thumb when we left Oaxaca, we arrived at San Cristobol de la Casas, unscathed.

I shared a taxi with a Finnish girl who spoke both Spanish and English (and I guess Finnish too, but that wasn’t important to me), she was staying at the same hotel.   My room cost 5,000 pesos ($6.64 Canadian).  I joined the Finnish girl after checking in, and we went out looking for a place to eat.  I was famished, having not been able to eat anything all day except for a Coke and two little cookies, which I had fortunately saved from my Mexicana flight to Oaxaca.

At the restaurant I stuffed myself with Tacos De Pollo (chicken tacos).  There were five of them on the plate, rolled up and covered with hot sauce.  They tasted so good.   Back at the hotel I was finally able to break my 20,000 peso bill when I paid for my hotel room.  

I slept really well that night despite the two Cokes I had had with my meal.  San Cristobal de la Casas seemed quite dead at night compared to the more active Oaxaca, but I decided to forego any judgement about the place until I got to explore it in the sunlight.

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