Coline Ludwig

Honduras By Bus: Life in the Fast Lane?

As the early morning light filters through the broken glass window, shadows fall upon my face. Sunbeams coax my eyelids to open, prematurely awaking me from my slumber. Hushed murmurs from behind can barely be discerned. Young clusters of school children in their clean blue and white uniforms crowd the streets. The air is muggy and aromatic. While waves of dust, exhaust fumes, and marijuana intermingle.

 A loud obtrusive horn interrupts my dazed state. I slowly move my tired limbs, sticky against the cracked vinyl seat. Emma, who is next to me, dozes off. Her CD player continuously plays track six, a song sung by a Korean pop artist. Around me others engage in muted conversation.

Carlos, our bus driver, indiscriminately honks while driving crazily down the winding dirt and gravel road. Carlos seems to be in pursuit of a pickup truck that contains two young boys who crouch next to a mangy flee bitten mutt harnessed to a metal pole. Carlos soon overtakes the truck but continues to drive with reckless abandonment. He does not make the effort to stop. The horn replaces the brake as he madly acknowledges cows, bicycles, day laborers, road-side venders, and the elderly. It is as if Carlos is telling others: “Hola, soy aquí!," "Muévete”; “Hello, I am coming," "Move!”

Carlos’ pride and joy is an old yellow school bus retired from the Princeton, New Jersey school system. This bus, previously deemed unfit by American transportation standards, not only lacks essential safety equipment but also appears to belch fumes. There is an absence of emergency exits, and the fire exit in the back of the bus is blocked by at least eighteen black crates, several tired students, and four large Styrofoam containers which contain last night’s leftovers of fatty ribs and cold mystery meat. This does not appear to matter. “The bus is our friend” is what Carlos wants us to believe.  The faded rules of the school bus remain laminated and typed in bold letters above Carlos’ head. “No eating or drinking, no standing up, no talking to the bus driver, and please keep all appendages inside the bus”.  Next to this is a first aid kit and “body fluid” clean up kit. The kit, however, is empty except for the bus’ essential documents. Moldy yellow foam and purple colored fluff ooze from my torn seat’s gash. My knees rest against its metal backing that has graffiti vertically scrawled in indelible magic marker across its surface, proclaiming “Mark and Elizabeth 4EVA” or “Natasha and Katie BFF!”

My head rests against the cracked glass. A hot breeze massages my tired, tanned face. Outside, the landscape is marked by dark brown hills, sparse trees, and rocky outcroppings. Occasionally, some patches of green are visible to my eyes. The bus meanders up the Honduran mountainside. Houses crowd the valley, each consisting of a crude tin or tiled roof. These one roomed dwellings appear cramped. Tall metal fences, topped by barbed wire, metal spokes, or broken glass, surround them. Intruders do not appear to be welcome.  Clinging to the rocky facade are political slogans: para el nuevo presidente de Honduras, Mel! The music that pumps through my headphones distracts me from the present commotion aboard the bus. The old bus has an electrical problem that buzzes with a painful humming sound reminding me of a dentist’s drill. Carlos is unfazed by the noise, and mentions to all that he will fix the problem at the next gas station.

 The next gas station could not come anytime sooner. Carlos bounds out of the bus. This gas station is not that much different from our gas stations, in that it is brightly painted and has three self service pumps, but unlike any gas station that I’ve ever been to, two men holding machine guns stare at us menacingly. I decide to stroll through the gas station, which is also a convenience store. I am surrounded by typical American brands of packaged ready to go food interspersed with Honduran items, such as Yummies, pork rind flavored plantain chips, banana flavored cola, cappuccino flavored Pepsi, five cent alcoholic beverages, piña colada ice cream bars, rotisserie chicken, pretzel shaped pastries, and a gaily lit display offering multi-flavored condoms.

While Carlos continues to repair the engine, we mill about under the watchful gaze of the machine gun toting security guards. In the midday sun, my companions begin to complain of hunger. Some eye the four large and previously undisturbed Styrofoam containers. As they lift its lids, a pungent odor escapes and the dripping residue of meat slabs are inhaled and devoured by a ravenous group who gleefully engage in collective gnashing and gnawing. It was a sight to behold, but one that I will not easily forget.


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