Other than local city buses, so far on our trip we have managed to avoid the dreaded long-distance bus rides I have heard so much about. Our first one would turn out to be a warm-up to what lies ahead as it is only a “short” 3.5 hours from Cartagena to Santa Marta.
The first option was to squeeze on a local bus with our backpacks and ride one hour across town in the 90 degree heat to the main bus depot and hop on another bus that would take us to the depot in Santa Marta, then walk with our packs to our hostel. OR we could book a door-to-door, air-conditioned service through our hotel or only a few bucks more. Door-to-door it was! We were excited to move on to somewhere new and get there backpacker luxury style in a Mercedes van that only carried 8-10 people.
Travel day arrived and we were ready and waiting for our 7am ride at 6:30am in the hotel lobby. Around 7:30am our bus picked us up and we were first on! Sweet, free to sit ANYWHERE we chose. I immediately leaped into a two-seater spot and called the window seat. Bret in the meantime went straight to the very back where there were four seats across. ”There’s more leg room back here” he stated. I hesitantly joined him at the back and again, called a window seat.
The bus drove around to a few other hotels to pick up guests also heading to Santa Marta. As the bus slowly began to fill up, we still had the entire back seat to ourselves. Maybe we would get lucky and it wouldn’t be a full bus? After each stop we grew more and more excited over that idea. Until the second to last stop. . . Maybe just one person would hop on and we’d have three seats between us? Wrong! A um, rather large couple who could have easily taken up the entire back row themselves had no other choice but to join us in the back. . . The woman (of course) took the other window seat, leaving the men to battle for what little room remained in the middle.
And so the looks from Bret began. For the first 45 minutes or so he had a look on his face of utter misery. About the 46 minute mark that look turned to pure rage!
The following event is not exaggerated. It is however perspective based and includes integrated visions of imagination.
The foreshadowing couldn’t have been written better by a well thought out and seasoned author. Sally noting the metal rod that stuck up between seats. The two of us marveling at the amount of space we had. ”If only they don’t pick up anyone else”, we repeated after every stop. But this is South America and to have even the smallest thoughts of the bus running at any capacity besides maximum beckoned to be slaped in the face with reality.
The second to last stop, that’s when it happened. Time went into slow motion. The chorus of Bob Dylan’s Hurricane filled the bus like an amphitheatre. “Here comes the story of the Hurricane. The one the authorities came to blame. For something he never done. Put him in a prison cell but one day he could-a been the champion of the world”. I could have been a champion. It felt so destined to be and yet my prison cell awaited. The right side of the bus had a sudden and sharp tilt to the right which put us at almost at 45 degree angle. Her head emerged into view as she took each of the three steps with monstrous force. She turned toward the aisle and realized that regular forward movement would be restricted by her size. A slight look to adjust to a sideways shuffle, a smile to the crowd, and then she locked eyes with me. There was no other option but to make her way to the back seat. She plopped down next to the window, leaving one seat (half of one seat) between her and I. ”This isn’t so bad!” It might actually deter anyone else from sitting on what was left of the seat next to me. Just as I was getting through those very thoughts her husband boarded the bus. She smiled and waved to him, gesturing that there was an available seat next to her. My heart sunk as a man who had clearly been matching his wife’s eating habits made his way to the back of the bus. He wedged himself between the two us, not even acknowledging the fact that he was hanging over into my seat. This mother fucker.
My heart started to pound, my head throbbed, and I knew it would be a battle. This wasn’t trench warfare being conducted on neutral ground. The way he slung his shoulder over the top of mine (right over the fucking top!) and used the weight of his hairy leg to wedge extra space was an invasion my country, my space, my self worth as a man. I took deep and slow breaths. I slid my leg slightly away to avoid the flesh to flesh touching that made me want to jump out the window of the moving bus. Only to have that void filled immediately and then some by his invasive left calf. The pressure on my leg was more intense than before, as if he could sense my retreat. Holy shit. Breath Bret, breath.
I looked at Sally and she could see the frustration consuming my body. Just then we hit a bump and I flew up, hitting my head on the plastic ceiling. We swung around the corner and made our final stop. Sally and I whispered to each other about the situation. Her half-smile not matching her words of sympathy. The driver packed the final bag into the back of the bus (directly behind us) and slams the door. The seat jolts forward as the back door bounces off the over-packed luggage. He repeats this attempt four more times, sending us forward with each thrust of the door before he adjusts the suitcase that didn’t seem to fit.
At that point I felt like a postal worker. My face relaxed, eyes blank, masking the horrendous travesty I was plotting in my head. I need a distraction. I quickly found reggae on my iPod. Knowing that if Bob couldn’t keep me from focusing on every millisecond that was slowly passing by, I would be in for the worst ride of my life. My right arm began to sweat. I could feel every wrinkle of my t-shirt making an imprint on the side of my body. The AC for the bus blew right over the top of our heads and the body heat that was being put out by the two large bodies next to us could very well be responsible for a portion of global warming. My willpower to not forfeit any more of my seat finally gave in to the conscious fact that I was only moments away from using this mans face as a break on the pavement the next time our driver made a dangerous pass around a blind corner. I leaned forward and put my elbows on my knees. The rush of body into my seat behind me created a small shaking sensation that was felt throughout the entire bus. After about five minutes of leaning forward I started to calm down. I was almost able to unclench my fists and return my heart rate to normal. That’s when Sally leaned forward and pointed. ”You see that guy in the red hat?” It was a man who was almost six feet tall sitting next to his wife and looking quite comfortable. His seat kicked back as he took a little nap. ”That’s where we could have been sitting.” The steam that shot from my ears must have been noticeable because Sally’s giggle turned into a muffled laugh. I shared a few words that expressed my displeasure with her statement and noted that I wasn’t able to enjoy her joke at this time. She did a great job of pressing right up against the window to give me a little more room. As I slide over to use part of her seat my left ass cheek was reminded of the metal rod that stuck up. It took every man gene I had in me to keep from crying like a small child. Sally wedged her scarf down between the seats to cover the rod as best she could.
It was only two and a half hours of self-pity until we dropped off enough people that I could move to a different seat. The last 20 minutes of the ride was enough time to decompress and remind myself things could be worse. I could be sitting in a cubicle, looking out the window at the cold dark rain, trying to excite myself that it was Wednesday, and I only had two more days left until the weekend.