Another guest post! Here is a short piece I was asked to write on the theme of “travel horror stories” for the wonderful blog ChasaTravels.
The post is a collection of stories when your travels don’t exactly go to plan and I’m honored to be a part of the series with some other fantastic storytellers. You can read the story below or check out the full post below!
WHACK- went my head.
The sweater and scarf I was using as a pillow did not soften the blow of my head slamming on to the bus window after the vehicle took an aggressive swivel around a curve.
“Oh my god,” I may or may not have said out loud. I was too sleep deprived to know and couldn’t hear my own thoughts over the sound of an infant screaming behind me.
I checked my watch.
I saw the blue shadows of night begging to slither away as the sun began to slowly crawl back up from below the horizon.
I have 8 hours left….
The bus left Cusco at 6pm the night before, a ride I thought would be as innocuous as all the other bus trips I had taken throughout Latin America.
I had been traveling for 5 months at that point. I booked a one-way ticket to Mexico City and slowly made my way down through all of Central America, Colombia, and ended in Peru.
Those 5,000 miles had been broken up between smaller excursions – 6 hours from Mexico City to Oaxaca, 8 hours from Playa del Carmen to Belize City, 16 hours from Guatemala City to Nicaragua, 16 hours from Lima to Peru.
After a while, I started enjoying my long bus rides through the Mexican and Central American landscape- maybe it was a form of transportation Stockholm syndrome- I fell in love with my captor.
I love the feeling of being in motion and having a constantly changing backdrop of lush jungles, deep canyons or the soft peaks of sleeping volcanoes.
I had one last long one to go. I was in Peru and needed to take a 14-hour ride north to Lima from Cusco to catch my flight home to the States. I booked a night bus ( which I always felt was a two for one- why just sleep and stay in the same spot when you can wake up in a new destination!), but was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see what was around me. Nevertheless, I bulldozed my way onto the bus, claimed a single seat, made my cocoon, and curled up for the night.
Everyone else shuffled in, a mix of older men, a woman and her infant baby, and a few Aussies joined our small cabin. I watched them play a standing game of Twister as everyone worked their way through the narrow aisle and attempted to put away their bags in an orderly fashion before they grab a seat.
Once everyone was settled in, the bus took its first lurch forward and we were off. I turned my head and gazed out the window to watch the sun scorch the Andean mountains in red shadows for the last time and when it would return, I would be in the desert.
The bus began the steady incline up the mountains and the sky turned one shade darker.
From the moment we started, we felt it would be rough. The bus caught every pothole, squeezed through narrow passageways, and would jostle back and forth on the zig-zagging inclining road.
It seemed like a road that had no patience for errors.
Now riding on unpaved terrain is one thing, but it’s the driver that’s ultimately in control, and both were terribly mismatched ( or daringly matched) for this hike out of the Andes.
It felt like the driver was living out his dream of being in the Indy 500 and unfairly making the rest of the bus live out that fantasy with him.
I could just imagine what his thoughts were narrating a car race, “ Express bus makes a hairpin turn, makes an aggressive pass at a carbon emitting, rucksack of a car, just nearly misses a tire slipping over the edge of the Andean mountains, and pushes back into its lane- 500 miles to go!”
I could feel how close we were onto the precipice of the mountain when the bus would lean a little too long and heavy on one side, like a newborn baby just getting in its first lopsided steps.
“Holy shit,” I thought. For once I’m glad I can’t see outside.
As I tried to be rational and calm myself over the cultural differences of safety, I heard the beginnings of a soft blubbering.
The infant baby behind me was also not enjoying this ride and instead of keeping its opinion to itself, it let everyone else know exactly how it felt.
It began with restless murmurs, an occasional yelp, and then silence.
“Ok, phew.” I thought. Just a little sleepy whimpering.
Then another yowl, this time longer but followed by an even longer silence.
Then the cries began to build up like the rhythmic pulses of a cat that is about to vomit all over your new shoes….. and then silence, like the feeling of when you think you are going to sneeze and then don’t.
But then, with a sudden swivel of the searing wheel, possibly to avoid a vicuña, who have a penchant for jumping out into the road like their North American brethren I was used to, the baby prima donna began bawling out her aria.
I started counting her screams like a metronome
– 8 beats- pause- 24 beats with a crescendo pause- 8 forte beats- 8 piano beats-32 forte beats long!
There were some points I was impressed with its pitches and ability to hold notes, but there was no talent; it was like going to an opera where the prima donna audaciously believes that she can go onstage without warming up her vocal chords.
I was trapped. There was nothing I could do. The mother seemed to be doing the best she could.
What was once my cocoon now felt like I was mummifying to myself.
Unable to sleep, I felt my body + mind begin to calcify, every joint hardening and crystallizing.
If I didn’t know she was Peruvian, I might have thought she was Italian with that performance.
And by that I also mean, it was an opera that never fucking finished. That baby screamed directly behind me for the remaining 12 hours of our clunky bus ride and needless to say once I got off the bus my chakras were out of alignment.
I was haggard, bags under my eyes and arms, and the screams of the baby reverberating in my skull even when I was finally surrounded by desert silence.
Now, when I’m boarding a bus, I scan for children, babies, obnoxious teenagers and attempt to put a sleeping spell on them for a quiet journey ride.