Posted by: Jena Davison | December 8, 2009

BUS-ting a Move

I was waiting in the chaotic gathering of people in Uyuni, Bolivia, about to board my overnight bus to Sucre, when I realized I was effectively screwed. I managed to catch a glimpse of all the Bolivians with thick blankets and jackets in hand, crowding around the few naive tourists clad in tee-shirts and overstuffed backpacks. ¨There is something they know, that I don´t,¨ I immediately thought, and long behold, I was right.

Though daytime in Bolivia has been temperate and sunny thus far, nights are a whole different story. Because of the high altitude and positioning in the mighty Andes Mountains, temperatures dip down toward freezing after dark. This means the buses, my primary mode of transportation, transform into freezers-on-wheels midway through the night. Normally this would be OK, seeing as though I am inside the bus, not out, but the windows lack proper seals allowing the chilly air to penetrate through, creating a face-numbing breeze throughout the interior of the bus. So, as I shivered in my sweatshirt, sweatpants, two pairs of socks, hat and scarf, I watched all the Bolivians, cuddled up in their thick woolen blankets, sleep in ease.

This is simply one lesson I have learned about bus-riding in Bolivia. Seeing as though I have spent literally days on buses getting from one place to another, many times on overnight buses, which double for my night´s accommodation, I should have it down pat by now. But each bus offers its own quirks, always managing to keep it interesting.

Last night, when I was on an overnight bus from Sucre to La Paz, Bolivia, I mentally made a list of people to avoid sitting next to on buses in South America, or in general I suppose. Never thought about how many imperfections seat partners can possess until now, but there are many.

1) The snorer. I have reclined my seat to its maximum allowance and have finally found a position that supports my head enough to border on being comfortable. Fatigue is pulling at my eyelids, signifying how now is the time for sleep. Eyes closed, a deep breath; I am finally falling into a light slumber. And suddenly…from the depths of the universe, earth-shattering snores rattle my ear drums, notifying me that no, I will not sleep tonight, but will instead be treated to a musical symphony of snores from the loudest snorers in all the land.

2) The coughing, sneezing, sniffling passenger. I am not a germ-a-phobe by any means, but when I have to share recycled air with the same person for ten to twenty hours, the last thing I want to do is inhale particles ripe with sickness. And that´s besides the fact that each cough and sneeze abruptly wakes me from my fragile state of sleep.

3) The passenger with suffocatingly bad body odor. There is nothing worse than smelling someone´s awful BO trail down the buses aisle, only to stop in front of your seat and say, ¨my seat is that one,¨ pointing to the one next to yours.

4) This is a new one I added to my list last night: the passenger with a baby on her lap, who poops his diaper ten minutes into the journey. The majority of Bolivians buy one ticket (seat) for them and their children so they pile them upon their laps. There is obviously the screaming, crying, and snot-dripping instances, but worse than that–as I found out last night–is the baby with a poppie diaper that has a stench guaranteed to keep you gagging hours on end.

5) The teenaged boy blasting reaggaeton on his phone. I don´t know why, but they love to play the most obnoxious, loud, butt-bumping music through their phones, for all to hear. It´s called headphones, people. OK, so it´s a dance party? Think again. This is about when you invest in some ear plugs.

Phew, got that out of my system. Here goes the second rant of the post. I have never been so stressed about going to the bathroom as I have been since I arrived in Bolivia. I have literally prayed to the heavens for male anatomy so as to somewhat alleviate the situation. Toilets without seats, squatters, au natural, you name it, I´ve seen it. And toilet paper is a precious commodity…carry it with you or it´s drip dry all the way.

On my overnight bus from Uyuni to Sucre, I was told that no, there were no bathrooms on board for the twelve-hour ride, but that we would make stops along the way. About four hours in, we pulled up to this undescript block of a building with a sign offering food and drink. As soon as the doors of the bus opened, the passengers quickly ran off and began to go to the bathroom in the surrounding grass. I have never seen anything like it in my life. I knew the next stop would not be for another four hours or so, so I spent about ten minutes planning where would be the best place to relieve myself. I would not risk having a full bladder on the bumpy roads that seemed to hiccup every five minutes. Finally, I bus-ted a move and jumped behind a bush to do my business. If thirty Bolivians had no problem doing it, why oh why was I so peeing-in-public shy?


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