Tuesday 19 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Guatemalan Bus Ride Continues

    The bus was snaking back and forth through the hills at a good clip, when suddenly at the bottom of a valley the bus slowed and pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.  No passengers were waiting there to get on and I couldn’t figure out why we had stopped.  

    Bus Helper #1 started yelling at the passengers standing on the bus steps beside the driver, telling them to get out of the way.  Once the area was cleared of people, the helper began rooting around through the pile of the packages, bags, and machetes, stored by the gearshift.  From the bottom of the pile, he pulled out a blue plastic bucket.

    Bucket in hand, he scrambled down the steps, and side of the road where a creek was flowing.  He dipped the bucket into the water, turned, and carried it back up to the bus.  While this was going on, Helper #2 was raising the hood of the bus, and although I couldn’t see what was happening behind the bus hood, I realized that they were filling the radiator with water.  Once filled and the radiator cap back on, the two  slammed down the hood of the bus and one after the other, the two helpers jogged along the already rolling bus, grabbed the side mirror, and swung themselves back into the open door of the moving bus.   

    The scenery outside during this whole circus was interesting.  Beginning at the Guatemalan border the landscape looked volcanic, with steep slopes, knobs, and mountains.  On these ridiculously steep slopes were corn fields.   I don’t know how the corn plants managed to hang on, let alone, anyone that was trying to pick the corn.  

    Periodically, I would spot a small scale logging operation.  At one, a lone pine tree had been cut down and was being hand-hewn into a beam, right where it lay, propped, so it wouldn’t roll down the hill.  Seeing that pine was the main tree species in the forests was a surprise to me.  I always pictured Guatemala as being jungly.

    Most of the trees had been limbed quite high, say 20 feet.  I assume the cut-off branches were used as firewood.  Having the trees limbed allowed sunlight onto the forest floor where the Mayans grew their crops, between and beneath the tall pines.

    The area around the city of Huehuetenango was very dry and reminiscent of Kamloops, BC.  Surprisingly, the area exports a lot of coffee.  As we passed through the town, I saw a funeral parlor whose name was something like:  “El Ultimo Adios”  which seemed pretty appropriate.  Our bus pulled into the bus depot for a 30 minute stop.

    I was hesitant to get off of the bus, fearing I would lose my good seat in the very front row that enabled me to look out of the bus’s windshield, but when I saw the bus helpers make a frail old Indian lady who didn’t want to leave, get off, I knew everyone had to.

    I found a much needed bathroom in the depot, had a Coke, and looked up stuff in my guide book.  When I glanced outside, I noticed that our bus had disappeared, but I figured it would be back.  When it did return, there was a mad rush out of the depot toward the bus.  Bus Helper #1 who was standing in the door of the bus, yelled and tried to get the teeming millions back onto the sidewalk.

    He then pointed to me and motioned me back onto the bus, while he threatening the mob with the police, if they didn’t stay back on the sidewalk.  The other Gringos were also allowed back on the bus, as they filtered their way through the anxious crowd.

    A bus employee escorted his young wife and child, as well as a black and white portable television set, onto the bus and sat her, the child, and TV, beside me in the front row.  I watched through the window as an official from the Condor Bus Company walked out of the depot with a paper full of names.  He stood blocking the bus doorway, reading names from the list and those passengers were then allowed to board.

    When he got to the end of the list of names, he just picked among the pleading faces, those privileged, to board the bus.  Once the chosen had boarded, the bus was once again tightly packed with passengers. 

    The bus employee who had brought his young wife, who was sitting beside me, reentered the bus and instructed his wife, the kid, and myself, to stand up and move away from our seat.  He then unhooked the seat cushion from its frame, pulled the window end of the seat cushion (my end) forward, toward the barrier, where it was put in place in that new, angled position, and he then motioned for us to sit back down on it.

    I guess this tweaking of the seat position was meant to free-up room (maybe 10 inches) allowing another passenger to sit at the aisle end of the seat with their legs jutting into the crowded aisle.  This new arrangement certainly didn’t do anything to make my life more comfortable.

    When I then sat down, I realized I was now squeezed against the window.  Beside me was the wife holding the portable television.  Beside her sat her two and a half year old son, and next to him at the end of the seat, perched another guy.  This is how we spent the next four hours.

    As the bus hit the road, I could feel my knees began getting more and more tender as they chafed against the barrier which they now touched.  The muscles in my buttocks began to complain about being confined in a constricted position from which they could not escape.  I shifted my weight as much as I could, but the relief was only temporary.

    When the bus made another stop at a creek for more radiator water, I took the opportunity to stand in place for three minutes, but the three minutes were fleeting, and I unenthusiastically returned to my cramped sitting position.

You can see my paintings at:  davidmarchant2.ca


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