Thursday, December 18, 2008

Terrible Travel Troubles

As I sit on the bus here in Chiquimula, I enjoy all kinds of entertainment out the window. Presumably, we'll be waiting here until the bus fills up—I'm not really sure. I'm not even supposed to be here, but I'll enjoy it as much as I can. Here's what I see:

  • A man is pulling a big wooden cart with a few piles of some kind of melon.
  • A taxi driver has a dirty, semi-transparent green bucket of about a gallon capacity. It's filled with water. He's pouring water into a small green tray which he's holding in his other hand and tossing the water onto his dirty taxi. He wipes the wet rear window with his hand. He tosses more water onto the rear bumper. Mud and dirt pour off the car into the street.
  • A woman in a skirt walks past with two dead chickens hanging from her left arm and holding a pair of black boots in her right hand.
  • A boy of about ten years is walking around with a big pile of newspapers stacked on his head. He gets on the bus to try and sell a few.
  • A family of four rides past on a small scooter. The family includes husband, wife, a little girl, and a baby.
  • A man gets on the bus selling sugar coated peanuts. He takes one peanut with a pair of tongs and gives it as a sample to each passenger. I buy a few packets and ask him to get me a Coke from across the street. When he returns with my Coke, I buy an extra packet of peanuts.
  • There is a small restaurant across the street. It's open air—no doors or windows in front—as are most such places in Latin America. A couple guys sit at the counter, talking and eating, another man reading the paper. There is an old steel wheel with legs welded to it sitting on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant and a grate sitting on top of it—a typically-resourceful Latin American solution (it's a barbeque).
  • Another man pulling a big wooden cart walks past, laboring to pull his load. His cart is filled with melons, cantaloupe, onions, tomatoes, and other produce.
  • Across the intersection, a woman sits at a rickety wooden table with three baskets on top of it. The baskets contain pieces of watermelon and other things I can't quite make out from here. She sits and waits patiently for customers. Other vendors nearby do the same thing.
  • A man with a blue pole about 8 feet long walks around trying to sell the myriad bundles of cotton candy which are attached to the pole. Another man—his competition—does the same.
  • A baby, just old enough to walk, in a pink-and-white-striped jumpsuit sucks on a bottle and wanders around on the sidewalk.
  • A small pickup truck with a dozen people in the back drives past the bus slowly. That's common transportation in these parts. Some of them are filled to overflowing.
  • A man who works for the bus company is walking around in the street yelling out our destination, a typical marketing strategy in Latin America.
  • There is trash in the street. There aren't too many garbage cans around, so the streets and sidewalks are where the trash goes. Not all Latin American countries are like this, but many are.
  • A man drives by on a scooter. To the back are bungeed two 5-gallon propane tanks. They are horribly rusty. Apparently the stringent safety regulations regarding propane tanks in the States are overblown.

My day started by rising at about 5:15 A.M. I showered, put my toiletries in my backpack, and left the hostel. I walked across the street and down a couple doors to the small company that would be driving me from Copán, Honduras direct to Antigua, Guatemala.

As we headed out, the transmission of the minivan made a horrendous whining sound as though it was about to explode. I didn't have high hopes. Maintenance had not been performed on this vehicle.

The driver had asked me twice where I was from and had done the same to a guy from Japan. I had spoken with the driver earlier in Spanish. He later asked the Japanese guy if I spoke Spanish. I didn't know if he was drunk or just had a really bad memory. Regardless, it wasn't confidence inspiring.

About an hour into the trip, the driver slowed down for some speed bumps as we passed through a small town. Each time we accelerated, I heard a loud popping sound. At first I didn't think much of it, knowing the condition of the vehicle was not good. As we pulled away from the third or fourth speed bump, there was a grinding sound. At first, I thought the driver was just grinding the gears, but it quickly became clear to me we were losing a CV joint. The vehicle would not move forward—only grinding. I knew that was the end.

The driver got out and talked to some locals. He asked how much it would cost for them to take us to Antigua—in the back of their pickup truck. I wasn't excited about that prospect. I ended up hopping a minivan—typical public transport here—to Chiquimula where I would catch the next bus to Guatemala City, then a connecting bus to Antigua. None of the other 6 passengers came with me.

Now, as I sit here waiting for the bus to fill, I look out the window and what do I see? My six long lost friends. I guess they hopped another minivan and they've caught up. Within minutes, we're off to Guatemala City.

That segment of the trip went without a hitch. After getting to Guatemala City, we split taxis to save on cost—we had to catch taxis to Zone 3 to hop the bus that went to Antigua. Supposedly, it left from the bus terminal, but when we pulled up, there was only one school bus sitting there. Not much of a terminal. We piled in and off we went.

The bus stopped dozens of times as we drove across and out of the city. By the time we hit the open road, there were three people to a seat—space was tight, but this was normal for the locals.

Part way to Antigua, I heard a funny sound from across the isle. A little boy was holding a sack. A chicken poked its head out. The boy's mother opened her bottle of water, filled the cap, and pushed the chicken's beak into the water. You've got to make sure your chicken gets water to drink before you chop its head off. A happy chicken is a tasty chicken!

We arrived in Antigua none the worse for wear. I'm sure it took a bit longer than the mini van would have, had it not busted the half shaft, but it was probably a bit more interesting. And in times like these, you commonly make new friends, so it's not all bad. What could've been a terrible trip wasn't so bad after all. Long live Latin America!

No comments: