Change Yourself…Change The World.

The Bus Ride from Hell
May 24, 2013, 9:20 am
Filed under: Paraguay

Welcome back to this week’s blog theme: “Things That Have Gone Horribly Wrong,” where I feature ridiculous and embarrassing stories from my Peace Corps Service. Today’s story is ABOUT: the Bus Ride from Hell.

Transportation in Paraguay is definitely on the ‘totally crappy’ spectrum. While buses are the main form of transportation (especially for Peace Corps Volunteers, who can’t ride on motorcycles or drive cars), they are some of the worst in South America. In fact, the majority of them (especially the local Asunción colectivos) are extremely old buses that have failed security checks in neighboring countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. So, they’re all shipped on over to Paraguay, where we deal with completely bent-out-of-shape, dusty, gaping-holes-and-broken-windows, and continuously breaking-down buses.
(Note: not ALL buses in Paraguay are like this. There are a few super-fancy, double-decker buses with plush seats and air conditioning that travel along the main routes of Paraguay and then into neighboring countries. But the grand majority of these buses, to put it realistically, are totally shitty).

Moreover, oftentimes the worst part about these buses is the complete lack of regulation as to how many people are allowed on them. Bus peons try to pack as many passengers as possible onto a bus, until you are trapped like a sardine in a can. If you can’t find a seat, you stand. On the worst days to travel, such as holidays, or rush hour, you’ll find yourself hardly able to breathe.

My bus line to Caazapá, La Yuteña, leaves much to be desired. While there are worse bus lines in Paraguay, it’s definitely up there. Depending on the bus you get (which you will never know until the second it arrives), you can get on a complete hunk of junk with vomit-caked seats and windows that won’t open or close, and that break down 4-5 times before reaching it’s final destination. Sometimes you can get a relatively normal bus that actually has reclining seats and foot rests. There is ONE La Yuteña bus that is oh so fancy, with air conditioning and plush seats- but it is so, so rare (only a few times a year), and comes at the most random hours. Whenever one of us Caazapeño Volunteers actually gets to ride on it, it’s like a trip to heaven. We like to call it “The Great White.”

A La Yuteña bus. This is one of the nice ones.

This story however, has nothing to do with the ever-elusive ‘Great White.’ Nope, this is about being on one of those completely crappy buses with a whopping 102 degree fever, at 1 AM. I was coming back from one of our Volunteer camps, and I had a terrible virus. I was returning to Caazapá because one of my Paraguayan contacts had a big job interview over the phone the following day in English, and I promised him that I would be there for moral support. So even though the Peace Corps medical team offered to cover me for a night in the capital because I looked deathly ill, I decided to brave a mid-night 5 hour bus back to my site to be there for my friend.

My first big mistake? I only had 10 mil in my pocket (the equivalent of 2 dollars). I could have gone to the ATM in Asunción before getting on the bus, but I felt too sick and exhausted. What could go wrong? It’s just a 5 hour bus ride, I thought to myself, as I settled onto a crappy seat, shoved tissue up my nose, and prepared to pass out. This was a bad thing to think, because I totally jinxed myself.

The first half of the bus ride passed relatively normally. I burned up with fever, dealt with a splitting headache, and coughed and sneezed all over the place, which pretty much alerted every Paraguayan in the general vicinity to stay as far away from me as possible. For the first time ever, I had the seat next to me completely open. I should get sick more often, I thought to myself in a dreary, disoriented haze.

Suddenly, the worst of the worst happened when you’re traveling in the middle of the night; the bus broke down. I peered outside to get stock of our surroundings. If this was nowhere, we were in the middle of it. People started filing off the bus, and I seized in panic. It was 1 AM, I felt deathly ill, and I had no idea what was going on or where I was.
“What’s happening?” I asked the bus driver. “How long until the bus will be fixed?”
“The bus is broken,” the driver told me. “We have to wait for the next La Yuteña bus to come along, and then you all can board on that one.”

The next La Yuteña bus was scheduled to pass by 3 hours from now. And with a full bus of people getting onto another full bus of people, I knew this was not going to be pretty. What was worse was that I had no money to jump onto another bus, and all of the nearby Volunteer sites to this middle-of-nowhere-place weren’t home because of the Volunteer camp. And, my phone was about to die.

When faced with some tough situations in the Peace Corps, I have oftentimes surprised myself by handling them with humor, patience, and grace. This was not one of those situations. The most logical thing that I could do in my fever-ridden haze was to start crying. Tears and snot flowed down my face freely. “Please, please just try to help me find a seat on the next bus. I’m really sick, and I don’t think I’ll be able to stand the whole way home,” I pleaded with the bus driver.
The unsympathetic (okay, less fluffy, asshole bus driver, as most on La Yuteña buses are) turned away and ignored me.

For the next three hours, I sat in a pile of dirt, alternating between crying alone and feeling very sorry for myself, trying to sleep sitting up, and talking on the phone to my friend Sam, who was mercifully still awake. Finally, after what had seemed like an eternity, another La Yuteña bus pulled up. Except there was one problem. We were all passengers off of a loaded bus. This La Yuteña bus was already PACKED. To the gills. There were already a whole slew of people standing in the aisle. How in the hell were we going to fit another bus load of people onto this bus? Wasn’t there some better solution?

Well, in Paraguay, there wasn’t. We all started filing on to the bus. Packed does not even begin to describe the misery of standing on this bus. I could have lifted my feet off of the ground, and been fully supported by the weight of the people standing next to me- THAT’S how packed it was. Claustrophobic people need not apply to the Peace Corps: every single possible body part I had was making friends with other discombobulated and foreign body parts.

The bus driver on this current bus seemed to believe that this many people on one bus was a bad idea. YA THINK?! “There’s too many people on this bus, this is dangerous,” he told our bus driver of the bus that had broken down. “The police will pull us over and fine us.”

“IT’S OKAY, SIR!” yelled a bus patron, a lady who’s voice was almost muffled from the over-capacity. “GOD WILL SAVE US! IF WE ARE MEANT TO DIE, THEN WE’LL DIE!”

It was at this point that I realized that if there was a Hell, this is what it would look like to me.

I did eventually make it back to Caazapá (I couldn’t handle the standing in my fever-haze and got off the bus two hours later, collapsing at a fellow Volunteer’s house), and I made it just in time to my friend’s interview the next day.The bus ride from hell continues to be a traumatic memory, but hey- at least I’ll know that short of rolling off of a cliff, I’ll never be on a worse bus ride again in my life. That, and to always carry extra money. Or, just in general, don’t travel on a bus when deathly ill.


Want to read more ridiculous stories? Check out Inappropriate Things I’ve Said In Paraguay, and The Coldest Night of My Life.

Thanks to Jon and Nalena for saving my ass. And thanks to the Great White, for making all of those shitty La Yuteña bus rides worthwhile.

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[…] Want to read more ridiculous stories? Check out Inappropriate Things I’ve Said In Paraguay, The Coldest Night of my Life, and The Bus Ride from Hell. […]

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