The First Bus Ride

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.

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The (Not-So) Great New Zealand Road Trip (South Island)

The (Not-So) Great New Zealand Road Trip (South Island)

Posted on January 23, 2013

I made the mistake of taking a summer philosophy class at the local community college to fill out some of my elective credits.

This was a mistake for two reasons, which are not mutually exclusive.

One, I found philosophy surprisingly boring.

Two, my professor was a fucking crackpot.

Our second week of class, after spending the entire first week lecturing rhetorically about whether or not ”physical life is real, is the chair real, is what we see real, how many more dimensions are there that we are not aware of, blah, blah, fucking, blah”, he was asked by one of the students, his stance on drug use to ‘enlighten the mind’.

He replied back without hesitation or inflection in his voice, “I think everyone should take LSD at least once a year.  It clears the mind.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I am just as much in favor of the recreational use of hard drugs as the next guy.  But as I took a look around the room and saw just how impressionable my peers actual were and just how much of this guys bullshit they were actually believing, I became slightly concerned.  I envisioned several of these 18-year-old kids explaining to the arresting officer, “It’s for school, I swear.”  While sitting in the back of a cop car, wondering if the hand cuffs that are cutting off the circulation to their hands are actually “real” (Turn on, tune in, and, um, drop out?).

It was about this time that I started questioning the validity of our “professors” teaching credentials.  I know he had written a book.  He had succeeded at mentioning that part of his resume 17 times during the enthralling first week of class (I kept a tally).  He even offered us a $5 discount off the hard copy version.

The fucking cheap bastard!

To top it off, the book wasn’t even something he wrote.  It was simply a collection of philosophers that he felt were relevant, placed into a single book by him (and a co-”author”!).

I use to make mixed CD’s of my favorite rap artists as a kid but I don’t claim to be a music producer.  Can you imagine if I managed to throw this blog into paper back and then used it as evidence that I should be lecturing impressionable, young, naive college students about global culture.  Undoubtedly I would be telling them to come to my class piss-drunk, to get their head right for my lesson.

I personally prefer the philosophers of my generation.  I can not only relate to them on a more personal level, but I feel they are more direct and eliminate most of the bullshit (unlike this blog post).

Take Xzibit for example, “I can drink a whole Hennessy fifth, some call it a problem but I call it a gift.”

That is a great observation of the duality of man.  On one hand, drinking an entire fifth of Hennessy is considered a problem.  While that very same attribute can be seen as a blessing.  Is it a problem?  Is it a gift?  Maybe a gift that is a problem?  Or better yet, a problem that is a gift?  Certainly one for the ages.

Or one of my favorite and more widely applicable quotes:

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” – Mike Tyson

We had a plan for The Great New Zealand Road Trip (South Island).  A complex and in-depth plan that detailed the entire first five days of our two week journey.  We spent an entire half hour putting this elaborate and complex plan together!

Then we got punched in the face.

We drove from Queenstown to Te Anau at a leisurely pace, without a care in the world, chalked full of excitement for our days to come.  The plan was to stay the night in Te Anau and head to Milford Sound the following morning.  Spending an entire day enjoying the wonderful scenery that Milford has to offer from the decks of an overpriced tour boat.

We had become familiar with New Zealand’s weather patterns from our time in the North Island.  But we never thought (didn’t properly research) that the road to Milford Sound might be closed if the weather was too extreme.

Even worse, closed with no fucking clue when it would reopen.

The most we could get out of any of the locals when we asked if the road would open soon was, “Maybe” with a shrug and a half-smile.  That same fucking smile and sense of uncertainty you would get from your high-school pot dealer when asking when the drought would be over.  So you could buy some more of his shitty and overpriced weed.

Convinced we would be missing out on a South Island highlight, we had no choice but to burn a day, sit inside our hostel, and watch as the torrential rains pounded the already flooded streets outside.

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The weather report comes out twice a day for the roads in New Zealand (South Island).  Once at 4:30pm and once at 7:30am.  We waited until the seven-thirty report but didn’t receive confidence-building news.  The roads were closed, it was currently raining, it was planned to continue raining, and no one wanted to give a firm answer on when they thought the roads would reopen.

Our time in the South Island was already fairly limited and after taking advice from pretty much everyone (to include the local North Island hobo) on where we should be spending our time in the South Island, we were left feeling like Shanic Johnson during her supermarket sweepstake run.  Crashing our cart into the wall, trying to grab as much shit as we possible can.  But realizing as we slammed our way through the aisles, there just wasn’t going to be enough time to grab some ribs AND make it to the beer section.  So we did what we thought would be a close second and snagged as many hot dogs as we possibly could.  That is, we cut bait and headed up the west coast.  We were hoping to somehow squeeze Milford Sound in at the end of the trip.

Unfortunately our contingency plan was about as well thought out as our initial strategy. The road back to Queenstown was also closed due to flooding.  We had to make an hour and half detour to circumnavigate the additional flooding.  We managed to get as far as Lake Wanaka, until we were met with flooding again (this is summer right?).  The lack of planning (in general and in regards to weather) left us scrambling for a place to stay, along with half of the South Island tourists.  All of the hostels and hotels were full with people who didn’t leave and or people trying to hustle their way up the coast to avoid further saturation. Thankfully, after five different attempts, we scored a cabin at one of the camp sites for only $40 more than we budgeted for a nights accommodation (that’s drinking money man!).

With nothing to keep us entertained during our stay but a couple of bottles of wine, Dancing On Ice Finale 2011 (featuring Vanilla Ice), and a Thanksgiving episode of Ellen. . . we were more than ready for an immediate departure and sunnier skies.

The drive up the west coast of New Zealand (South Island) is nothing short of amazing. The rugged mountains sharply find their way into the stunning blue water that can only be described as the kind of beauty that literally takes your breath away.  The kind of beauty that could at least land a part-time modeling gig.  The impressively turquoise water seems more out-of-place than an intelligent comment coming out of the mouth of Lindsay Lohan. The color rivals that of the waters of Thailand, but the temperature (if tested), would ensure that your manhood served as dimples for your belly button (regardless what the locals say and do).  It grabs your attention every time you come around a corner and it is brought into sight.  Interrupting conversations, slowing the speed of travel, and requiring one or both of us to state how “fucking awesome” it is.

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After several days of driving and stopping at virtually every scenic lookout available, we finally reached the north part of the South Island.  Our time in the South Island thus far was pretty much spent confined to the inside of the car and or inside our hostel watching the rain pour down.  We couldn’t help but feel like Charlie Brown when we watched the evening news.  It seemed like the rain was literally following us around.  Leaving sunny skies and warm weather both behind us and where we planned on going.  At least we were achieving a scenery change with the different hostels, but we were starting to have a growing hatred for the car.

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Thankfully the following day was supposed to be partly cloudy with off and on light rain. That was encouraging enough for us to make a dash to Abel Tasman National Park.  Even if there was going to be just a moment of sunlight, we had to get outside and do something, anything!

As luck would have it, we arrived to the park just a pinch too late.  Most of the tours had left only 15 minutes prior to our arrival.  We had two options left:  A boat trip up the length of the park and a two-hour break to walk and explore.  Or we could be dropped off half way up the coast and walk back four hours.  Those of you who know me, understand that I am inherently lazy and though I tried my best to smile at Sally and explain that I was game for either option.  We ultimately ended up doing to the longer boat ride, shorter walk (score!).

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P1040791The boat company turned out to be more geared toward taking people to various parts of the park to drop them off.  A taxi service if you will, hence the name Aqua Taxi.  I am not sure why they sell a “Tour Package”, but they do, and we bought it.  The tickets really entitled us to speed up the coast as quick as possible and drop off/ pick up other passengers.  But as luck would have it, the weather took a turn for the worse (surprise surprise) and the waters became a too rough to continue the trip up the coast.  The boat company was able to turn a perceived rip-off into an extremely enjoyable afternoon through the single actions of our skipper.  The local Maori (ex-kayak guide) Eric provided more cultural experience about the local culture, plant life, and history then we collectively experienced during the duration of our trip in New Zealand thus far.  He also catered the rest of the afternoon to our interests.  By taking us (and another couple) to Seal Island and a little cove for a quick swim in the water (Sally and I stayed on the boat).

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