Saturday, March 08, 2014

The wheels on the bus go round and round: Tips for a better Honduran bus experience

Spend enough hours on a Honduran long-distance bus and you will end up boarding them with the seasoned eye of a veteran seat-assessor, able to take in the available options at a glance and make the best choice with barely a moment of additional anxiety to the passengers jamming in behind you. Having been up, down and around this country on all manner of public transportation, here are my recommendations for how it's done:

1. Do I have control of the window? Unless you're on a first-class, air-conditioned bus - in which case none of this matters, because you'll have an assigned seat - this is perhaps the most important issue for your comfort. Without control of the window, you forfeit your right to get a little cool air in your face during a hot time of year or stop the passing storm from pouring in on you in more inclement times of year. Plus you're not going to be able to buy snacks and drinks from the vendors who come rushing up whenever the bus stops if you're not near a window that opens.

2. Is this seat back in good shape? There are a lot of busted seat backs in the lower classes of Honduran buses, and if you don't check this out you could find yourself slowly sinking into a reclining position no matter how many times you try to get the damn seat to stay straight up and down.

3. Did I just pick a seat over the wheel well? Classic error - you see the empty seat at the back, you rush to grab it, only to discover that the wheel well is right below your feet and you will now have to sit with your knees at your chin for several hours.

4. Did somebody spill something on this part of the floor? Unless you want your shoes lightly stuck to the floor and making that strange ripping noise every time you adjust them, stay away from any seat that appears to have borne the consequences of a sugary drink having been spilled two seats further up and then spread through a thousand or so stops and starts of the bus.

5. Am I sitting near anyone who gets motion sick? I don't know about you, but being too close to someone who is barfing makes me want to barf, too. Sniff the air. Look for evidence of someone clutching a small plastic bag and looking embarrassed. Pay attention to who takes up the bus guy's offer of plastic bags and move seats accordingly.

6. Is my seatmate a Honduran male? It could be that any male seatmate is a problem on this front. Men sit like it's their right to take up as much space as their body feels it needs, and never mind that you are crouching on the edge of your seat trying to avoid having your legs touch as the guy inevitably lets his knees swing open as wide as he likes and claims not just the arm rest but three more inches beyond it. Women, on the other hand, seem much more aware of sharing the common space fairly.

7. Does this mom with her baby in fact have 3 more children in a seat behind her? Children have zero rights on a Honduran bus, which means that if Mom has planted her kids in another seat and the time comes that the seat is needed for another adult passenger, those kids will now have no option but to stand in the tiny slip of space between the mom and the next seat. If you happen to be sitting next to her, count on having a child standing in front of you, too.

8. Am I better off with the seat big enough for 2.5 people that will end up holding 3, or the one big enough for 1.5 people that will end up holding 2? You're on your own for this one. I ask myself the same question every time I get on the refitted school buses that have this seat arrangement, and I've yet to figure out the right answer. I suspect there isn't one. 

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