Bet You Couldn't Do It

No one likes a rude awakening.

A baby crying or a phone ringing in the middle of the night; a full bladder or a dog barking while you’re trying to take a nap—these bring out the worst in me. If I haven’t gotten enough sleep, I prefer not to speak for at least two hours. Please don’t ask me if I like the blueberry muffins. Please don’t whistle. In fact, could we just sit here and enjoy some peace and quiet because your chipperness feels like roaches crawling around inside my skull. Thanks.

If you let me wake up on my own, you’ll love me.

To date, the worst way I’ve ever been woken up occurred in Guatemala during a ride on a “chicken bus” from Antigua to Guatemala City.

I was told that to even fall asleep on a chicken bus is quite a feat, kind of like the Gallon Challenge or not falling in love at summer camp. Chicken buses are old school buses that have been recommissioned to serve as public transportation. I don’t know if the drivers are also the owners through contracts with the government, but each has a personality all its own with maps, the faces of celebrities, political leaders, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, football loyalties, quotes, and a nickname for the bus itself. Their paint jobs are all so loud with yellows, greens, reds, oranges, and blues that it’s difficult to tell them apart.

Every bus blasted reggaetón, which on the ubiquitous blown speakers, sounds like rapidfire Spanish spoken underwater backed by tinny electronic snares, tuba glissandos, thumping bass you feel in your chest, and stock keyboard riffs off an an 80s-era Yamaha with a twin in your little sister’s closet. Oh, and both male and female singers must throw in a stretched out “Yay-yeah” or “Woah-oh” to prove just how passionate they are about that raw gangsta livin’. If an untalented polka band developed a crack habit and started wearing gold chains and New York Yankees hats, they’d soon be playing reggaetón, just in the Black Forest.

In other words, reggaetón is really good.

If you’ve ever heard Daddy Yankee, then you know what I’m talking about.

At first you think, “Oh, this is fun. Makes me want to dance!” but after eight hours of swirling salsa, electronica, and hip-hop, every song sounding the same, on a tour bus to Rio Dulce, you are certain that Satan’s music of choice is, in fact, reggaetón and hell is a cramped, sticky bus with too few mildewy seats and a pudgy woman sitting on top of your arm on the arm rest making it sweat, squawking incessantly into her cell phone and pausing only long enough to jiggle with a “Ha Ha Ha” that is loud and forced and thus aggravating whether you speak Spanish or not and her ample behind is bouncing inches from your face and you’re just hoping that seam holds and trying to read War and Peace and pretend that you’re happy to be traveling but really you’re playing a film over and over in your mind of what you will do after you’ve finally had enough and have stood up and pushed the people in the aisle so hard that they topple like dominoes but stay stacked up on the floor because they’re too frightened of the gringo de loco to move or complain and that fat harpy has finally shut up, thank heavens, because you were about to do something really ugly.

Hypothetical situation, I promise. I would never respond to such frustrations with violence or weightism.

I must have been very tired because taking a nap on a chicken bus, or any type of public transportation in Guatemala for that matter, required a tenacity and focus typically attributed to samurai, packs of wolves, and Irish women.

Though spending the night in hostels will save you some quetzales, sleeping in a cinderblock room between dirty sheets in a room full of strangers isn’t the ideal environment for eight hours of shut eye. Other than Mona, an Emory student whom I met on her way to language school, I knew no one.

Despite the reggaetón and vendors shouting, “QUE-sa-DI-lla! QUE-sa-DI-lla! QUE-sa-DI-lla!” and the heat and all the people squishing into the seats and aisle, I succeeded in falling asleep on the ride from Antigua to Guate.

What woke me up was the driver slamming on the brakes going downhill. My inert body lurched forward, and my nose making impact with the metal handrail on top of the seat in front of me.

Gosh, if there’s anything I hate worse than being woken up in the middle of a nap, it’s large quantities of mayonnaise, and if there’s anything worse than having a conversation with someone who has a globule of mayonnaise in the corner of his mouth, it’s hitting my nose.

All those nerve endings are just begging to send waves over pain washing over your brain. You can’t do anything but wait for them to pass. It’s like someone pinched you with a hot curling iron or eating too much wasabi or one of those iceberg zits you get on occasion on the edge of your nostril? 25% above the surface and 75% below?

You’d try to pop that bugger, and the pain gathered at the top of your skull and squeezed tears from your eyes. You said bad words. You look at yourself in the mirror to see if you’ve make any progress. Other than some pink indentations from your fingernails and making the now shiny, tomato red zit even more angry, you’ve accomplished nothing. You just have to sit there and wait for the white flickerings of pain running up into your head to subside. Then, you’d have to try again without any guarantee of success. I shiver just thinking about it.

So I was on a bus, my nose throbbing with its own heartbeat, hoping it didn’t bleed, when I saw why the driver had slammed on the brakes going downhill.

Uniformed men with guns.

One of them boarded the bus and gave some sort of command. All the men got up out of their seats, grabbed their luggage, and got off the bus. Sweet. Maybe I’d get held for ransom. What a story!

I wanted no part of this interesting development so I simply stayed seated.

Some of the women turned and looked at me, the uncooperative gringo.

Whatever.

The back door of the bus opened, and I could hear the men unloading luggage.

Another uniform came down the aisle from the back and said something to me in Spanish.

“No, sir, I don’t follow Days of Our Lives, but like you, I’ve wondered, ‘Don’t any of these people work? What’s that? No, I don’t do any professional modeling, although I did wear a tuxedo once in a brochure for a heating and air company and have killed a grizzly with my bare hands.”

We didn’t seem to be understanding one another.

I guessed at his meaning, grabbed my backpack, and followed him to the back of the bus. Outside, two or three men gestured for me to put my luggage on the ground and unzip it.

About this time a man who spoke English came over and explained: apparently, highway bandits ride the chicken buses and once they’re on one of the several isolated stretches of road between cities, they’ll pull out some sort of weapon and rob everyone else on the bus. Then, they’ll simply get off the bus and have a partner in crime swing by and pick them up.

Sounded like a pretty good gig to me. I’ve always wanted to either rob a bank then give the money back or escape from prison. Maybe robbing chicken buses would be just as exciting. I’d be like a reverse Robin Hood—robbing from the poor and using the money to eat more sushi and trick out my mountain bike.

With a little planning and some good old fashioned elbow grease, I bet I could organize a posse of rich white guys to prey upon poor people of other nationalities and ethnicities. Wait a second…why is this starting to sound so familiar?

If you were Robin Hood, what would you wear?

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One Comment

  1. Travis
    Posted August 6, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    And to think, now they’ve stooped to just setting the buses on fire. Your Robin Hood idea sounds like a lot more fun!

One Trackback

  1. By Ordering Fondue in Antigua, Guatemala on May 16, 2011 at 11:31 am

    […] Back in early summer of 2006, my friends Ryan and Lisa were getting married in Antigua, Guatemala. We traveled through and around Guatemala City, San Lucas, Panajachel, Lago de Atitlan, and Antigua on a school bus, and we had enough adventurous, brash, and impertinent people in our group to ensure all kinds of hilarity. After the wedding, I would accomplish a superhuman feat by falling asleep on a chicken bus. […]