Tuxtla to Salina Cruz Mexico by Bus
A child screamed, stomped its feet, and screeched as the bus from Tuxtla was making its long descent down to the pacific coast of Mexico. The passengers on the bus cringed at the sound. I smiled — for it was not my child that was making the ruckus. My daughter, Petra, was curled up in her mother’s arms, looking out the window at the world flying by in the orange glow of the setting sun. I looked down at my daughter, as the three of us quietly watched a truly beautiful landscape of foothills, sky, and cacti call a close to this long day of travel.
The mother behind us was threatening the screaming child with the palm of her hand, “I am going to hit you,” she reminded him in quickly spoken Spanish. The kid kept screaming and stomping his feet in the aisle. The rest of the passengers politely pretended not to notice.
A three month stop in San Cristobal de las Casas was not enough to strip Petra from her traveler’s mettle.
We were now in our seats, set to depart from Tuxtla. A massive wall blocked the doorway to the bus. No wait, it was a woman. A big woman. An old woman. She was stuck on the steps, she could hardly walk. She had made it almost to the top step and into the aisle, but she could not quite convince her feet to move the extra meter. Another woman was pushing hard upon her bottom and yelling at her to move from behind. I think this other woman was her helper.
But the big woman could not move. She seemed to be telling her feet to go only to find them insubordinate. I looked at her feet, they were bare and swollen up like water balloons filled to the crux of bursting. There was something wrong with them.
I started to make a motion from my seat to go help, but then sat back when the man across the aisle from me made a similar motion — These are your people, you take care of them I thought to myself. But this guys initiative also ended up being a bulk, he too sat back in his seat without offering assistance. Nobody else on the bus bulged. Why isn’t anybody getting up to help this poor old woman?
Was there a reason?
There is often a fine line between someone who appears to be in need appreciating your help and them being or embarrassed by it. Would an old lady appreciate you helping her cross a street or would you offend her? Are you a dick if you hold the door to a shop open for a dude in a wheelchair or a dick if you don’t?
My mind, too, has been flustered by modern American PCism.
The old woman before did not seem in danger of falling, she stood in the front of the bus in gridlock. I sat in my seat in a similar gridlock. The woman was brought to a standstill because her legs would not work, and I was brought to a standstill because my sense of logic had me concurrently making two contradictory decisions. We were both like heating systems with our thermostats set to turn on and turn off at the same temperature. We both stood still looking at each other.
Eventually, the pushing and yelling lady (the helper) got the old woman to budge and sat her down in her seat in the front of the bus.
Thank goodness that was over.
There are few things more amazing in travel than dozing off on a bus just to wake up again in another world. I was startled awake and into another landscape, in another place on this planet, by the well placed nudge of my daughter’s foot — who, herself, was sleeping peacefully on the lap of her mother beside me. I looked out the window upon a world of ripply mountains sparsely decorated with trees and cacti awash in the orange of the setting sun. I do not know if I had ever before looked out upon such a colorful scene before in all my travels: I saw orange mountains, red shrubs, and crimson sky. The reddish hues even reflected off the pale white face of my wife. “It is really beautiful out there,” she spoke a much invited Non sequitur.
I had to kick a guy out of one our seats on this bus when we first boarded in Tuxtla. Our tickets had seat numbers on them, and there was a thin little man with a neatly groomed thin little mustache sitting in one of the seats that my ticket specified as being my own leased property for the ride to Salina Cruz. This little man had skin much lighter than most Mexicans, beady little eyes, and was wearing a ball cap.
“These are our seats,” I spoke in Spanish as I showed him my ticket.
He groaned and feigned resistance.
“There are many other free seats on the bus,” I cut him short.
He got up and moved across the aisle.
Later on this bus ride, after he departed at his stop, he left a book behind on his seat. I watched as the woman who was sitting next to him inspected it. I was given a clear view of the title:
The Enigma of Hitler.
Around half way through this five hour bus journey I looked around for someone to talk with. Each face I laid my gaze upon looked comatose: the inherent coma of the bus passenger. I did not have the heart to rudely break anyone out of their incessant rounds of daydreaming.
I returned to daydreaming too.
I struggled to keep off sleep. I have the horrendous habit of falling fast asleep on buses, planes, and trains. I get on them, quickly fall asleep, and then wake up again at my destination. Like so, transportation becomes a form of instantaneous seeming time and space travel for me: I fall asleep in one place, then, seemingly moments later, wake up in another.
This is a horrid habit for a traveler.
Did you ever notice that I seldom write about the actual process of moving between places on this travelogue? It is because I am often asleep during the motions of travel. The humming and rumble of an engine — the Hobo’s Lullaby — rocks me right to sleep.
I need to break this habit. I want to see what is going on around me, I need to watch the landscapes that I pass, I need to record my feelings and impressions, I must talk with people, figure out where I am and where I am going, and I can’t do this while dozing.
I tried hard to stay awake on this bus, I took notes upon notes. It seemed to work. Next bus ride I will take lots of pictures too, I will keep myself constantly occupied to stay awake.
Two and a half hours into a five hour journey the sound that all travelers fear erupted from underneath the bus. This was the sound of errant parts falling off of the speeding bus upon the highway below.
Crash, bang, oh shit.
The bus driver slammed on his breaks but could not stop or pull over as we were going down a steep incline. For around ten miles we coasted down to the terminus of the descent, obviously missing a few parts. The bus stopped and the driver got out to inspect the damage. Without telling the passengers what had happened he got back into the driver’s seat and took off again, this time going at under half speed.
At a turtle pace we chugged down the highway. Other cars and trucks and buses flew past us on all sides. Slowly but surely we crept into night, one half of the bus was bouncing. Around our pre-determined arrival time a passenger yelled up to the bus driver, “When are we going to arrive?” The driver announced that part off the suspension system was no longer attached to the bus, and he had no idea when we would get to Salina Cruz.
Our five hour bus trip just got a whole long longer.
Around 10:30PM on a bus that should have arrived in Salina Cruz at 8:30PM, our driver pulled off to the side of the road. We sat there for around ten minutes, the driver talked on a cell phone. He was calling another bus to come and get us.
This bus arrived, the remaining passengers piled into it. I was down in the luggage hold looking for a misplaced bag.
“These are all your bags,” the bus driver of the first bus told me.
How the f’ck does he think he knows this?
“No, there is one bag missing,” I responded, “We have three bags, there are only two here.”
“That is your bag,” the driver said while pointing to another bag already packed into the new bus.
It was not my bag.
“No, it’s not, my bag is a backpack.”
“There is a backpack,” the helpful driver pointed to another of my bags that I had already obviously counted.
“Yes, that is my backpack but I have another one too.”
We both dug through the bottom of the broken down bus for my missing backpack. This is one of the great risks of overland travel: if you have too many possessions to take with you on the bus, you need to deposit them below. When below, your bags are more or less free game to anyone who may feel like plucking them. You can get out at each stop to make sure nobody steals them — I do this in some countries — but this is a major chore, to put it mildly.
I have not yet lost a bag this way in all my travels, I did not want to admit that this was overdue, so I kept searching — not allowing either bus to depart.
Soon enough, the first driver walked away to return to the baggage stowage with a flashlight. He found my missing bag. I then boarded a crowded bus not too happily.
Nobody wanted to move over to let anyone else sit down on this new bus. I was facing some of the most incongruous people I have yet to find in Mexico. There were free seats available, but these people wanted two seats to themselves rather than the one seat they paid for. I made a guy get up to let my wife and daughter sit next to him. I then went off to find myself a seat.
There was a tote bag on an otherwise empty seat next to an older grumpy looking guy.
“Is there a person sitting in this seat?” I asked him in Spanish, emphasising the word person.
He grumbled something and pointed to someone else that was boarding the bus behind me. I took this to mean that this person had already laid claim to this seat. I went off to find another seat. I got to the back of the bus and then realized that I did not want to sit so far away from my wife, and I noticed that no person in fact sat in the seat with the tote bag.
The ass was putting me on because he wanted two seats.
I returned to the older guy, stood directly over him, staring with incredulity. He would not look back at me, although it was obvious that I was brooding over him. For a moment, I was taken back by this audacity.
So I told on him.
I told on him as if we were fifth graders.
I went and fetched the buses conductor and brought him back to the seat with the tote bag that I wanted to occupy.
“Can I sit in this seat?” I asked him.
“Then will you please tell this man to move his bag.”
The conductor did as I requested, and the older man grumpily complied.
I sat down, victorious.
We then arrived in the dark streets on the outskirts of Salina Cruz around 11:30 facing one of the biggest choices in overland travel:
Station hotel or dirty, run down, and expensive actual hotel?
To be continued.