Friday, April 20, 2007

A Tale of Two Busses


(Harris getting some mud out from between his toes and surveying the scene)

As we sat in Rurre on our last night, enjoying a unique Bolivian tradition known as 2 for 1 happy hour we made the rather astute observation that we were facing a very large continent : time ratio. A few back of the envelope calculations showed clearly that moving at our current rate we were destined to spend approximately -3 weeks in Venezuela, give or take. A BUS! A BUS! We realized that was our solution. A deal with the devil maybe, less biking, more time wedged between fat ladies with narrow notions of personal space, but it was our best option, as we saw it.

We arrived at the bus station at 7:30 the next morning for an 8:00 bus slated to make the 500 km journey to the border between bolivia and brazil in about 18 hours, give or take. There was a bit of rain as we peddled to the bus station and we'd heard that it was possible in the rainy season for the journey to take as many as 3 days because of deteriorating roads. 3 days for 500 km though? Really? We saw this figure as an outside bound, two standard deviations from the norm, more of a statistical anomaly than anything else. We pointed to the figure in the guide book and laughed. Sure would feel sorry for those 3 day bastards.

By 8 the rain had picked up, by 8:30 the sky was filled with a cube of water. 9, 9:30, 10: ditto. The bus arrived and at 11 the bus driver decided that it was now or never. We clamored on and took our seats in the back of the bus. The bus rumbled on at break neck pace, bump, bump, BUMP, bump. We were tossed like fresh, leafy greens. We were the Micheal Jordans of bus riding. All two hundred odd pounds of Matt Turnbull were thrown against the overhead console and he came down holding his forehead with one hand and his butt with the other. Thea pulled the same trick and soon we were asking ourselves what we had gotten into. It was less than two hours into the trip when the bumps stopped and we found ourselves caught in a rut. A few men got off, some shoveling was done, the bus moved on. A kilometer down the same story, and then two kilometers after that.




We were all ordered off the bus when we had to get through a particularly muddy patch. The driver revved the engine and shot the bus out of the mud, careening through the next spat the bus leaped onto two wheels and returning from a 30 degree journey, fell back down on its tires with a thud. Its amazing how fast people run when they think a bus is about to land on them. We climbed back on and after another couple of kilometers the bus was stopped again. The shovels and pickaxes were brought out, digging commenced, the bus still wouldn't move, more digging, a rope was tied to the front of the frame and every able bodied man and Thea pulled with all their might, trying to free the great steel Leviathan from its muddy grave. Nothing. More digging, more pulling. The bus is equipped with two drivers. One drives the bus, the other drives the passengers to pull harder.

The locals were getting restless, they were calling us some impolite names within earshot (four gringos are a good scapegoat if you need one on the quick). There was a good chance that we would be the first to be eaten if this bus didn't start to budge. It was starting to get dark, we dug, we pulled, we repeated. Sometime around 10 we moved, we cheered, we were stuck again in 50 yards. Another four hours, another fifty yards. We were Doctor Faustus and the devils with sparklers had finally appeared.

A muddy expanse lay before us and we realized that it only got worse from here on out. We were no longer just pulling the bus out of the mud, we were building road in front of the bus. We would shovel out the soupy slop, use pick axes to tear up the ground to create a tractionable surface and when there weren't enough tools to go around we squatted down and used our hands to ladle the mud to the side of the road. At some point a Lord of the Flies scene erupted when passengers from the long line of buses that had formed behind ours gingerly walked by, not offering a helping hand. Someone threw mud and then a volly of mud came directed at anyone, man, woman, or child who walked past. It was a messy scene.

The coca was passed around and we shoveled and pulled more. By 2 am we were still going. Thea told us about an email she'd recieved for a jungle party back on campus. Now this is an f@#$@ jungle party we thought. We were tired. My bare feet had been bitten by ants and cut up by the rocky road. Getting back on the bus was a clear faux pas, however. 10 more minutes! our foreman, er, driver said. It elapsed to 20, 30... By 3:30 we had done the last ditch of the stretch. We cheered shook hands, passed out on the bus. The worst of it was over.

The next morning we had a traditional bolivian breakfast. It was suspect, but we hadn't really eaten in the last day, so we weren't going to complain. We had gone about 80km in 30 hours. Even the bolivians on the bus couldn't help but comment, Wow, this is an adventure. That night we unloaded again for dinner. Jamie told me that Saturn was the bright body on the horizon, and that in Bolivia, Orion's belt was known as the 3 marias. We ate some more food of unknown origins and got back on the bus. Matt and Thea befriended a copy repair man who was going to fix a broken copy machine in Riberalta, Ben befriended a burly man with "sex instructor, first lesson free" written on his mud covered tee shirt.

The pace picked up and in just under 60 hours after the start of our trip we arrived safely in our final destination. We shook hands with people as we got off the bus, gave them well wishes. We confided to the driver that it was quite an adventure. He just laughed, it had taken him 18 days once last year, he said. We had gotten off easily.

We spent a night at the border and the next day crossed into Brazil and hopped a bus to Porto Velho. It was air conditioned, our bags were luggage tagged and our seats reclined. The 300 paved kilometers were covered in 5 hours and we arrived in Porto Velho without a story to tell.


DonĀ“t worry, the bus is not on fire. The smoke is just to keep bugs away while we push the bus off the road and through a river.

9 Comments:

Blogger naree said...

holy schmokes. i sometimes wonder what it would be like if ya'll had it up china. i imagine there would be many mini-inquisitions in small prison cell blocks. not nearly as awesome as fun in the mud. ya'll rock

12:59 AM  
Blogger rt said...

What does that mean, "Micheal Jordans of bus riding"? All air? All into minor league baseball?

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