Public bus rides to Esteli
Two and a half hours standing, groins pressed tightly against each others, my leg nestles perfectly between the arse cheeks of a young guy whilst a large religious man stands before us preaching.
Peppa Pig is my only salvation. She stares at me intently, from the side of a child’s faded rucksack; the innocent cartoon character runs away from this crammed sweaty bus ride with me as I return to the UK to see my niece playing with her Peppa pig toys. Albeit momentarily, it brings a smile to my face as I forget where I am. Darude’s Sandstorm, blasting in my ears, helps too.
The preacher removes his glasses, which are tiny compared to his chubby face, and clips them over the collar of his shirt alongside a pair of sunnys. This guy’s prepared. Does he do this daily, riding from bus to bus? Or perhaps just on the bus journeys he needs to make – it’s a good use of time if the latter… Killing the two birds with one stone… I tend to write notes like these whenever I’m on these long winding journeys down the mountain. A typical Englishman you might say; keeping myself to myself. He on the other hand turns up the volume. I do the same. With my iPod.
Mixi has positioned herself at the very front of the bus. She’s my counterpart in crime; her job is to manage the Nica volunteers whilst mine is the Brits. She has a glow which radiates the goodness you know is within her. Today she wears a little make up which only emphasises her beauty. Her clothes, a pretty, closely fitted top and skinny jeans. If you didn’t know, you could mistake her for the bus drivers’ assistant. She rides the front of the wagon like a magic carpet, her face pressed as far forward as possible, her smile beaming through the window to anyone we pass. She occasionally turns back to check I’m ok. Through the mountain of bodies I glimpse her teeth stretching wide. I nod in her direction to acknowledge that I’m fine. And she turns back to the road, not phased by the bodies hanging out of the door beside her.
As we crawl up a hill we almost come to a standstill as the driver changes gear. The tired bus doesn’t want to pick up its pace; for as long as we’re on this incline we crawl. If I was one of the guys hanging out the door, I’d be tempted to jump off and jog at intervals. If I was one of the many school kids clinging to the ladder at the back I’d make up games to play, like jumping off and seeing who can run the longest before needing to jump back on. It’d make for a fun school journey I’m sure! There was perhaps a dozen people on the roof when I alighted. If I were seated up there, clinging on to the larger luggage which gets thrown up there too, I dare say I’d undo my shirt and top up my tan. Maybe next time I’ll take that option. We normally travel at weekends but today is morning rush hour (I have a meeting in the faraway land of Esteli) … Perhaps this number of passengers is as crammed as it gets? Maybe there’ll be no chance to ride the roof again.
Although flip flops are essential attire for leaving the village (to wade through the river without lasting consequence) they’re not suitable for these bus journeys. Every time someone squeezes past they accidentally clip you. Literally everytime. If I had to make this journey every day I’d be returning home with stumps for toes next year! There’s no resentment. There can’t be. Pressing your crotch against someone’s shoulder whilst they’re sat in front of you is the norm also. As is spending long periods of time with the warmth of somebody’s thigh or back pulsating against yours.
Food sellers break up the mound of merged bodies. They jump aboard and spend half an hour fighting through the bodies whilst carrying food in a bucket on their head. Elephants squeezing through hula hoops would have more fun – I wouldn’t want their job at all. As the girl approaches me and the large lady I’m currently pressed up against, I turn and arch over the two seater chair (which is seating a lady and three children). As she pushes past, my shin gets caught in the metal frame under the chair. I try my best not to squeal.
Halfway through the journey we stop outside a house which doubles up as a shop. The gents climb off the roof and out the front and rear doors and line themselves along the side of the road to relieve themselves. The ladies gather at the solitary long drop, patiently waiting for it to become available. I’ve not drunk much in anticipation of the journey so I’m good. I notice a small boulder positioned behind the rear wheels of the vehicle, I imagine to stop it rolling backwards down the hill. Back on the bus I stand in the same place. I notice Mixi in the driver’s mirror; she’s sitting on the driver’s seat, letting everybody flood back in whilst awaiting the driver’s return. She’s such a doll.
Back on with the journey and I get offered a seat after various people get off. I offer it to those around me first but only I seem willing to take it. Finally I can look out the window and appreciate the tropical scenery; luggage racks hang the length of the bus so, when standing, your only view is that of bags, plants, containers or the back of heads. I look to the front of the bus and a chicken has joined the party – gripped in the arms of a weathered lady; her tone dark brown, face filled with wrinkles. I smile. The chicken is well behaved. It doesn’t stare at me curiously either; a refreshing change.