Have no idea what the hell I’m talking about? Well now you just sound like my husband. Go here for clarity. (if only it were that easy with my husband…)
Our little band of travelers continued our tour of La Gran Sabana under Julio’s watchful eye. It really was a great trip. Julio took us down a small river in a pongo a traditional type of canoe – and we travelled ever further into the jungle to see all of our allotted waterfalls. The funny thing about natural splendor – it all starts to look a bit the same after a while. Sort of, “You’ve seen one waterfall you’ve seen them all” but it was still fun (and tiring) hiking all around. My imagined romance with Julio never gained traction. Other than the meaningful glance over the cornflake chicken the whole “affair” lived largely in my hyper-emotional romance soaked brain.
We got to visit roadside stands and see how empanadas and cheese were made and I got to practice tamping down my first world over priviledged reaction to overtly unsanitary conditions for cooking and eating. This would prove to be useful practice as I would have many opportunities to quell my gag-reflex over the upcoming months.
Finally on our last night Julio invited Alexander, the leader of the local village to speak with us about his homeland. Alexander was very small and wizened – his handsome face heavily lined by a life spent working under the hot sun. He spoke quietly in halting English about being a small boy and seeing the shadow of an airplane over the Sabana grasses for the first time. And how soon after the first plane came the first settlers and then the tourists. He spoke of how there was more money for things to buy but less of their community because the young people now wanted to leave the Sabana and go instead to the cities to earn more money. And here we were – a group of relatively wealthy and smug travelers; a living example of the forces that had changed his community and shifted its priorities.
Finally the time came to leave the Sabana and continue our travels. Julio graciously offered Paul and I a ride to our next destination – Brazil. Well, he didn’t offer to drive us all the way to Brazil. But he did bring us to the bus stop. Up until now we had travelled on buses but the trips were reasonably short – maybe 8 hours or so. Now we were getting serious – the bus ride to Manaus Brazil would be a staggering 30 hours.
To make this epic journey required two buses. The first looked a little dodgy. Like maybe it had been abandoned on the side of the road and some entrepreneurial types decided to start a bus company. This feeling was enhanced by the overly casual approach to who was driving the bus. One guy started out and then a few hours in he made a gesture to a guy a few seats back – that I swear had only recently boarded – and then that guy hopped up and took over. This “round robin” approach to driving the bus continued for 10 hours until no less than 5 guys had had a go at the wheel. I was mentally preparing myself for Paul’s turn at the wheel as the criteria for driving the bus seemed only to require 1. being a dude 2. being on the bus – when finally we reached…the next bus stop.
Here we switched to fancier accommodations as we would now be travelling through the night and would be on a “sleeper’ bus.
It was more like a tricked out school bus than a luxury Greyhound but at least it was better than the last one. Luckily the radio worked – a crucial element in South American bus travel – and my eardrums were treated to the pounding and relentless disco beat that accompanied us into the night.
It was weird being on the bus at night – there was no camaraderie and we had been cautioned by the driver (who thank god was wearing an actual name tag – so damn official!) not to go to the back of the bus alone at night – like it was back alley in a rough city. Unsettling. Paul and I huddled up front in plain view of the drivers (there were 3 guys with name tags – what a pro operation!) and slept fitfully as the miles rolled by.
Near dawn we hit a snag. Literally. We hit a snag in the road in the form of a fallen tree. Professional name tag aside the driver had failed to notice the tree in the road and had driven over it. Sort of. Mostly he just sort of parked on top of it waking up the bus inhabitants with a violent jolt. Team Name Tag piled out of the bus to have a stand around. That’s my name for it because that is what it was. The 3 drivers and eventually ALL the men standing around the beached bus, hands on hips, cigarettes dangling, just puzzling over what the fuck could have possibly gone wrong. I personally felt the tree was a dead give away – but no. This problem required careful consideration. Approximately 90 minutes worth.
Nearly hyperventilating with frustration (oh my little American heart used to order and…schedules) I finally ventured out of the bus to look for a bathroom (ha ha hee hee ho ho). My arrival seemed to shock the men into action and I was quickly shooed away from the bus/tree and into the nearby field. The other woman from the bus (and Paul) were invited to join me and then the show began. The drivers sagely decided that driving the bus in this condition was not ideal. They had all the men – maybe 30 or 40 – push against the bus to get it off the tree and once they had cantilevered it up 8 or 9 men wrested the tree out from under the bus. It was quite impressive.
Nametag #1 hopped back into the driver seat and turned the engine over with a loud roar and the women in the field burst into applause. Then he slowly put the bus into gear and edged forward when KACHUNK – The. Fucking. Wheel. Fell. Off. It actually fell right off the bus and lay there on it’s side in the street like a dead dog. After a brief hands on hips, cigarette dangling stare about (maybe 45 minutes) the bus drivers retrieved their machetes (from where I don’t know) and began hacking the tree apart. I got it. I was pretty pissed at that tree too. But No! They had a plan! They actually fashioned a fucking axle or something out of the tree and put it in the wheel well and put the tire back on (no, I am not a mechanic – what was your first clue). I’m not making this up – they fixed the bus with a tree. A fucking tree.
And then we all piled back on and headed to the nearest restaurant/rest stop (thank god) to enjoy some well earned refreshment. Sort of. I would show you a picture of the “restroom” but I wasn’t able get a shot of the hole in the ground next to a bush under the watchful eye of a pissed off rooster – I had other things on my mind.