What the heck are you doing you crazy fool

Michael Wilson


October 13, 2009

Today we commuted entirely alone for the first time ever. Just the five fellows living in Santo Tomas Milpas Altas. The world didn’t seem to like that idea.

Today Zuleika and I left the house twenty minutes late, knocked on Ian’s door to make sure he had left, and got to the bus stop at exactly 7:50. We got lucky and got on the micro bus that was waiting near the stop. If you’ve ever been to the Air and Space museum in Washington DC and seen the miniature van that the McDonald’s stand out front uses to move food around (come on, I know you have), this is what a microbus is. Its like a mini-van version of a golf-cart, and today there were 9 people inside, with 4 on the back row and one standing up bent over near the sliding door.

We got dropped of at the Antigua stop, not needing to walk across the highway this time, what a luxury. Soon the Antigua-Guate bus pulls up, with literally people standing in the stairwell. The ayudante motioned for us to come to the back because there was space (he spoke too but he said something in Spanish that I didn’t understand).

Well, if Doña Yoli had been there she would have known to tell us to wait for a different bus. We should have probably known better. We got on anyway.

Whatever space the Ayudante motioned about was almost non-existant. I found myself standing on the rear ladder clamoring inside while the bus drove off.

When we got to Antigua, we missed our stop, and got off down the street when we thought the bus had stopped. Turns out it was just waiting to make a left hand turn and started driving off just as Ian was about to jump out the back door. Some kind Guatemaltecos silva’d (silvar being Guatemalan slang for cat call) to the driver that the stupid gringos didn’t know what they were doing, and we pretty much made a scene out of things as we got off the bus in the middle of the street, the bus at a 30 degree angle stopping all traffic.

This afternoon, after enjoying nice umbrella shaped chocolate icecream pops with Luis at la parada de busses, we got on another extremely crowded bus. There were 3-4 people to every seat and another dozen or so in the aisle. I found myself literally standing back to back with another person in the aisle between a row of 3 people and a row of 4 people. The whole bus was like this. Ridiculous right?

Well when we got off this bus, we stood for awhile waiting for the bus to Santo Tomas. Two elderly women and a granddaughter walked up carrying large bales of cabbage (Repollo) on their heads, getting in line for the chicken bus.

When the bus pulled up, it was an old American Short bus. Like the ones my school has that have a legal limit (in the USA) of 20 people… Well there were at least half that many at the stop waiting to get on an already full bus. Okay, so maybe THIS was the most crowded I’ve ever seen a chicken bus.

Well every block we stopped to pick up another two or three people, and by the time we got to Santo Tomas, there were literally 9 people standing forward of the yellow line which represents yet another completely disregarded American safety “suggestion”. There were quite literally two or three people hanging out the door being held in by the Ayudante’s arms. We pulled up to my stop, and the other fellows got off, but I couldn’t because the other ayudante hadn’t been able to scramble to the front yet to take my money and I was afraid I would get beat up or something if I got off the bus without paying. As they were crawling out, the other ayudante yelled “andele” from his precarious perch out the front door.

I panicked and started yelling in Spanish because my friends were climbing out the back door, and the bus was starting to take off. I have absolutely no idea what I yelled but it was some combination of the words no, parrada (bus stop), alta (stop), atras(rear), and various incorrectly conjugated verbs and strings of words generally meaning what the heck are you doing there’s people climbing out the back of the bus you crazy fool.

It seemed to work. The bus stopped. But everyone else on board looked at me like the completely out of place gringo I am who really has no idea what he’s doing riding a yellow sardine can in the developing world.

All this after I walked out of the house and left the wonderful lunch my host mom had painstakingly prepared for me on the kitchen counter.

P.S. I wrote this blog last night, and this morning I was one of the people standing in the wheel well of a chicken bus holding on very tight. (Its actually safer than it sounds).

Michael Wilson