Radical Experiments In Fear And Discomfort

A bus from Denver to Dallas

I hate buses. I loathe buses. I deeply resent buses. 

I got on this bus in Denver. 10 hours in, in Amarillo, I felt good. I felt strong. I felt ready for the next 10 hours. By Wichita Falls I was questioning my resolve. By Decatur I was thinking about creative ways to end my misery with the few items within reach. If inmates in solitary can do it, so can I!’ 

You would think working a 40 hour-a-week desk job for several years would have conditioned my body (and mind) for sitting in one position for excruciatingly long periods of time. You might also assume that I developed at the very least competent – if not advanced and downright sneaky – sit-sleeping skills. Alas, the God of Bus finds me unworthy. Neither of these blessings is bestowed upon me.

Why am I smiling?
A couple of upbeat trendsetters lookin’ fancy after an overnight bus.

Night buses are slow torture. They are invariably, mysteriously, offensively cold. And there are bonus zones that are even colder – the slow leak from the AC vent above that will never fully close, the vents lining the windows, that mysterious spot by my feet. Where is that cold air coming from?! I have layered on ALL of my warm clothes. I’m wearing a fricking base layer and I wish I had a balaclava. 

I am a magnet for shockingly earnest snorers. On the train, with ample legroom and the option to walk around, the snoring amused me. On the bus it enrages me. I am locked in position. Greyhound buses provide less legroom than the tightest discount airline. Hours before the physical pain of constantly bent legs manifests itself, my mind is already defeated. There must be a better way. My outrage inspires me to design a new kind of coach. Tall people must be accommodated.

Buses and borders, borders and buses.
Riddle me this: What makes Emma even happier than getting on ANOTHER bus??? Getting on another bus that’s going to take her to a land border crossing with a 3km long queue in forty degree heat of course!!!

A shuttle from San Pedro La Laguna to Antigua

  • hur·tle (ˈhərdl/) v.
    move or cause to move at a great speed, typically in a wildly uncontrolled manner.
    synonyms: speed, race, careen, go like a bat out of hell, hightail it

We are squashed into a van hurtling through the Guatemalan Sierra Madre mountain range. As a non-believer/sceptic, the ‘Jésus es mi piloto’ sticker pasted to the rearview mirror alternately inspires hysterical snickers and sends daggers of fear through my heart (‘I’m pretty sure the dude responsible for getting me to Antigua alive doesn’t exist‘). ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ blasts from the radio as the driver rockets us around hairpin corners at 80km+ per hour.

Six months in a leaky boat?
Sometimes the only place to sit is on a sack of grain at the back of the bus and sometimes it’s in a puddle at the bottom of a leaky boat.

Anyone coming to Guatemala from the developed world must suspend any expectations of safety precautions. Extended phone conversations while driving, no seatbelts and overtaking while cresting hills and around blind corners are all the norm. I have anxiety about automobiles under even the best conditions so throw in the extreme driving, terrible mountain roads and my fear of heights and the only way for me to handle this situation is to dissociate. 

I wear a docile grin as I watch the Guatemalan world go by: tuk-tuks dodging traffic, children carrying loads of firewood on their backs, women cooking and gossiping by the roadside. A tiny frightened creature runs screaming in circles in the back of my mind.

A crowded chicken bus in Nicaragua.
Sometimes you’re just glad to have a seat.

A speedboat from Capurganá to Necoclí

The boat is dangerously overloaded and lurches alarmingly to starboard. I’m jammed into a bench that would comfortably fit 4 or reasonably squeeze 5. I am the 6th. My left hip is sitting on the bench but my right hip is thrust forward and slightly raised; I am half sitting on the man to my right. My torso is twisted sideways so the back of the bench punches my kidney every time we hit a wave. Something in PJ’s pocket jams into my thigh painfully. I look back at the row behind me sharing their bench between only 5 people. The man on the end is manspreading. He smirks smugly at me. 

We head into open ocean. I look left and see mountains of water rolling menacingly toward us. To the right the swells we have so far survived continue their journey to the barely visible continent in the distance. I tell myself that as long as I can see land we’re going to be fine. A few minutes later I look back and see nothing but water. A woman in the front of the boat begins to cry.

Boatin' boatin' boatin'.
Not all boats are bad.

I entertain myself by imagining how I will survive my inevitable kidnapping by FARC rebels after the boat capsizes and I am washed ashore in the Darién Gap. I expect my awkward charm will win them over shortly and we will have a jolly time together as they accompany me on my long hike back to civilization. We will share in-jokes and invent creative vegan à la Darién bush cuisine. My exceptional tale of survival will dominate world news for at least 2 hours. My loved ones will beg me to return home after my ordeal but I will nonchalantly continue my journey south. 

Soundtrack: Augie March – This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers

Speedboatin' through the San Blas.
I have nothing to say about this picture. Photo: Dan Andrews.

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