Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!

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05 August 2007
Travel day from hell
Vamos a morir
I hadn´t gotten a great night´s sleep to begin with, since the walls of Casa Maritza are paper thin and I could hear every stupid conversation in seemingly every room. But I got up bright and early to find the bus to Quetzaltenango, aka Xela /shay-la/. I´d checked with a woman from Big Foot Travel the day before, and she assured me that buses to Xela left practically all morning long from the main plaza by the Catholic church.

So I schlepped up the huge hill, waiting for one of the little tuk-tuk taxis to come buzzing by looking for a fare, but none did. I huffed and puffed my way to the top, eventually found the Catholic church, and headed to the front in search of something resembling a bus stop. No such animal, so I asked several passersby, several times, is this where the buses to Xela leave? Oh yes, right here! This is the spot! OK, good. What time? Blank looks. Eventually I found a guy who said the next bus would leave around 8am, maybe 8:30. It was about 7am by that point, but I figured it was better to be too early than too late.

have turkeys, will travelWhile I waited, I observed townspeople coming and going from church, some dressed in their Sunday finest and some barefoot & carrying chickens. (To be fair, the market was right next door, so the poultry might not have been destined for mass. But you never know.) Around 8:00 a chickenbus pulled up. It said "Guate" on the front, which meant it was destined for Guatemala City, in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go. OK, maybe the Xela bus will be next. As the bus started to fill up, the helpful guy with the time asked if I wasn´t getting on board? Uh, no, I´m not going to Guate, I´m going to Xela. Xela? There aren´t any buses to Xela on Sundays.


At that point all language skills -- Spanish or English or even sign language -- completely fled my brain and I was unable to put into any semblance of words the dark cloud of angry thoughts buzzing through my brain. Why hadn´t anyone told me? Why, mister seemingly helpful little man, did you let me wait here for the past 90 minutes if there´s no hope of getting to Xela?? Is everyone in this town in cahoots against me?

10 out of 10 chickens surveyed would ride this busOK, deep breath. There´s got to be another way. In fact, I knew there was an expensive shuttle because the Big Foot lady tried selling it to me yesterday. So I headed to a different agency (screw you, Sasquatch) and inquired about a shuttle  to Xela. Oh yes, the lady told me sweetly, but it left at 8am. Great. Is that the ONLY one today? Well, let´s see... there may be another one leaving from Panajachel, across the lake. She made a few phone calls and determined that in fact, there was not. OK, how about a public bus? That´s what I wanted to take anyway. Nope, not from San Pedro. Maybe to Chichi! A few more phone calls, and she determined that in fact there was a bus to Chichi at 9:30 and also a bus to Xela at 11:30. I´ll take it!

After waiting an interminably long time for a water taxi to fill up with enough passengers, we finally left for Pana. With a bit of help from a local shop owner, I hopped the "Luna de Oro" chickenbus bound for Xela. It was already chockful of people, so when we stopped to pick up about a dozen more I was seriously unsure where they would go. But they all managed to pack on board, and we hung on for the ride uphill towards Sololá.

Fortunately, at Sololá most of the people piled off, and I had not only a seat but a seat totally to myself! Oh, the luxury! Then a little man got on, and even though there was almost an entire empty bus behind me, he chose to sit on the seat next to me and smushed right up against me as though there were two more people who wanted to fit in next to him. I was a little wigged out for a minute, until I realized that in Guatemala, that´s just What You Do. He struck up some pleasant conversation in Spanish, and for the next hour or so we discussed everything from Hillary Clinton to travel in Guatemala to why Americans hate immigrants so much. (Well, that last one was less of a discussion than an inquiry on his part, to which I had no good answer.)

God bless this bus! (pleeeeeease!)We had nearly reached the final stretch to Xela when an oncoming camioneta lingered too long in the "passing" lane (aka the lane we were driving in) and our driver had to swerve like a madman, nearly driving over the construction barrier on the right side of the road. The Swedish girl in the seat ahead of me screamed and ducked. The driver just smirked, turned around, and said cheekily, "Vamos a morir!" Right, is that supposed to be FUNNY?? I guess that´s why they have all those "Dios bendice a este carro" signs in the front of the bus. Clearly you need all the divine intervention you can get!

I did eventually make it to my destination, the Black Cat hostel in Xela, and collapsed in a heap for the remainder of the afternoon. Time for this travel day from hell to be over!
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