Click here to read Chicky Bus pt. 1.
Chicky Bus (pt. 2)
(c) L Egle, 2010
Checking things out
I stood to the side of the bus, waiting for the pre-border officials to check things out. They came off the bus carrying the large garbage bag I’d spotted, which appeared heavy judging from how they carried it. One of the men pulled a knife out his pocket and cut a slit in the bag and then reached in.
The suspense, meanwhile, was killing me and Krista. What illegal substance or product would someone have hidden inside a garbage bag? And why hide it in a garbage bag in the first place? I got as close to the officials as I could and eavesdropped as stealthily as possible.
“Hay queso al dentro,” the taller official said. There’s cheese inside.
I almost laughed, but didn’t. It was a serious moment, judging from the looks on the officials’ faces.
“This is silly,” I said, in Spanish, to the heavyset man/fellow passenger, who was wearing the Goofy t-shirt. “I can’t imagine why it would be illegal to cross the border with cheese!”
“Is goofy,” he said. Krista and I looked at each other and laughed. Yes, it certainly was goofy.
“Actually,” said the missionary, who had given me the pamphlet an hour before, “It’s illegal to bring Nicaraguan cheese into Honduras without the proper permit.”
“Are you kidding?”
“No. That’s what the lactose law says.”
“The lactose laws? Is there such a thing?
“So now what?”
“Maybe there will be a multa…”, he said, referring to a “fine” or “bribe,” commonly paid in Latin America. “But chances are, they’ll have to leave it behind.”
The officials ordered all passengers back on the bus. We complied and returned to our seats, which were easy to remember due to the fact that they were numbered. The bags of cheese were still on the ground, in the spot where they’d been inspected.
“We’re now 2 hours behind schedule,” I told Krista.
“We’ll never make it to El Salvador before dark.”
“No, we won’t.”
“Damn,” she said. We settled into our seats and the bus continued.
On the run
“Oh my god,” she said. “Look!”
Several children, wearing tattered clothes and no shoes, were chasing our bus. They were running faster than any children I’d ever seen and looked sad, even distraught. We were getting close to the next border, the one between Honduras and El Salvador. (see video for this)
“What’s going on,” I asked the missionary. I tried not to stare at the kids, but couldn’t help myself as it was something I’d never seen before. The looks of desperation were absolutely heart-wrenching…
“They’re poor…and they’re hoping you’ll throw them food or money.”
“Sad, isn’t it?”
A few people threw things, and the group of about 12 kids fought over it, not unlike dogs fighting over a scrap of meat.
Meanwhile, I noticed that several obese women were now on the bus. Had they gotten on at the border? Were they, in some way, connected to the cheese? None of the men were offering them seats, which was odd because men normally did that in Central America.
Finally, after a relatively easy border crossing into El Salvador, the bus stopped at a border gas station/rest stop. I was grateful at this point because I needed the bathroom.
“Donde está el baño?” I asked. Where’s the bathroom?
“Aqui.” Here, I was told by a woman of about 70, who eyed me suspiciously.
“Cuanto?” I asked. How much?
“What? That’s expensive.”
“Well, that’s the price.”
She led me into an old, run-down building and through various rooms that appeared to be part of her home. The rooms were full of old clothes and blankets, as well as run-down furniture. The floor, a low-quality linoleum with large flowers, looked as if it had never been mopped. We walked through a mini sewing room and ended up partially outside. She moved a handmade curtain aside to reveal the makeshift bathroom—a hole cut into a metal box over a larger hole in the ground surrounded by three makeshift walls. I said thanks and waited for her to leave.
She didn’t, however. She stayed in the bathroom with me. Puzzled, I just stared at her. And she returned the stare.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Are you staying here?”
“Well, I’m not going to pee with you here. So if you want to keep my 75 cents, you’ll have to go and give me some privacy.”
“OK,” she said and left, waiting outside the curtain.
What the hell did she think—that I was going to take the 5 pieces of toilet paper left on the roll? Or maybe the dirty pail in the corner of the stall that was no longer white, but stained black?
I peed and left quickly, happy to be back in the public area.
Drama at the border
“You’re a liar,” I heard Krista screaming at one of the women, a relative to my urine voyeur. “I DID pay you the money.” Sure enough, a border drama over a piece of candy worth 2 American cents.
“Vamos,” the bus driver said. I jumped on the bus, thrilled to be leaving finally entering El Salvador. Honduras had simply been too weird.
“So…where are you going?” I asked two gringos, a couple from Holland we’d met earlier, wondering what their plan was.
“We’re going to San Salvador…there are some really low-budget places there, according to our Let’s Go guide,” the tall blonde guy said.
“I’m sure there are, but…do you think that it’s safe? Also, that’s 2 hours beyond San Miguel. You might be arriving at midnight at the rate we’re going.”
“That’s OK. We don’t mind.”
“Really? But…it’s San Salvador. I’ve read that it’s got one scary bus station, even during the day. And how about the gangs, etc.”
“Hmmm…good point. Perhaps we’ll get off where you get off.”
And the bumpy ride continued, now in relative darkness, but feeling different. Some unsavory characters, people who might hang out at an OTB in Port Authority, had gotten on at some point, which had adversely affected the nice chicken bus dynamic there had been. The lights about the seats didn’t work, of course.As a result, I checked my passport and money more than a few times and kept an eye on my bag. Meanwhile, a gentle rain began to fall, making the roads we were speeding on quite slippery.
As we approached San Miguel, I began to feel a little tingle in my chest, a pre-arrival anxiety. The bus had gotten even darker, with a menacing feeling hanging in the air. I wanted some light, to see what was going on, and I wanted to be off the bus.
And soon, the independent travel gods granted my wish. Someone—one of the sleezy cheese smugglers–flipped open his cellphone. “Check this out,” he said to his friend. I took a quick look and saw….half naked shots of his girlfriend. His friend, one of the guys missing some teeth, laughed hysterically. They viewed more pics, of other woman, and laughed again. I heard the word ¨puta¨ (whore) used a few times. Lovely, I thought.
Now, just minutes away from San Miguel, I gathered up my bags and got ready for a quick disembarkment from the bus. As fun as it had been, it was time to go.
“Five minutes,” the bus driver said. Ah yes. I would soon be off the bus, in El Salvador, in the dark, looking for a low-budget room. I was eager for the next adventure, whatever it might be. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned quickly. Was I about to be pickpocketed, I wondered….
“I like you,” said Vicente, with a large grin on his face. His eyes were glassy, as if he’d been drinking.
“Thanks,” I said, not sure how to handle the new situation.
“Actually, I love you.”
“You don’t know me.” I laughed in his face.
“So what….no importa.” It doesn’t matter.
“And I want to marry you.”
“I mean it….you’re a special woman.”
“What about your girlfriend in Colorado? What about Colorado?”
“What about it?”
“I live really far away from there…..not a good idea.”
“I don’t care.”
“Vicente….I’m sorry, but…you should really stick to your plan. It’s a much better plan than the new one. And, I think you should go back to where you were sitting.” I felt like I was teaching and he, an adult, had been acting out. Miraculously, he listened. He put his head down as he made his way back to his original seat, finding another candidate for marriage in less than a minute.
The bus stopped, the lights came on. Krista and I stood up, making our way to the front.
“I’m not too thrilled with our options, Krista,” I said. It was dark, late at night, and we were in El Salvador.
“What are they?”
“There’s A—a ¨decent¨low-budget place, but often used by female sex workers….pay more for quiet rooms. B—an OK low-budget place, with dingy rooms, in a great location. Or C–a 4-star hotel in a ¨sketchy part of town,¨with great amenities that make it worth your while.
“I don’t know…that’s a tough decision.”
“I saw we go 4-star….we can always taxi in and out, but at least we’ll be in the lap of luxury while we’re there–even if it’s not the best area.”
We gathered up our bags, eager to get off the bus. Strangely enough, I felt like we were abandoning our busmates in some way. Was it Stockholm Syndrome? Perhaps I just couldn’t bring myself to leave the chicken bus?
I turned to take one last look at my fellow bus passengers. The heavyset Guatemalan woman was randier than ever, now sitting on the lap of one of the partially toothed and thin men. It seemed that, for them, the night was young. Only 12 hours to go. There were a couple of suspicious looking folks, whispering at the back of the bus, while handing things to each other and shifting boxes around for no apparent reason. One of them wore a khaki outfit and seemed to be an official of some sort. And then, as we made our way to the rear exit of the bus, I spotted it.
The garbage bag of cheese. It was back.
“Krista…check it out. The cheese is back!”
“What? How?” she asked, putting her body-bag sized backpack on her back.
“I don’t know. Maybe they paid a bribe.”
Now back on the ground, off of the chicken bus, I felt a sense of freedom and excitement as we transitioned into our next adventure. We flagged our taxi and then, temporarily in a vehicle again, made our final decision about which room we’d stay in that night, our first in El Salvador, another country with a violent past and present. I certainly hoped it was the right one….
Here is Chicky Bus video, part 2. I shot it using a digital camera and set it to some cumbia, since that is commonly played on chicken buses (so are salsa and merengue).