I'm a communications strategist and writer with a long history of journalism in Canada, including 14 years of writing a column for the Victoria Times-Colonist. I'm back in B.C. as of May 2016 after almost five years of living and working in Central America with Cuso International.
The wheels on the bus: Sometimes they roll, sometimes they squeal, sometimes they throw you from side to side
Photo by fellow bus veteran Paul Willcocks
This morning I took the city bus that makes
a loud thump somewhere around the rear axle every time it stops. Yesterday
I rode home on the one that has three seat backs broken off, which I’m fond of
because nobody but me takes those spots and it means I always get a seat.
Spend more than an hour on Nicaraguan city buses
every work day and you start to get familiar with their idiosyncrasies. Their
personalities emerge. They drive up to your stop looking the same, but then the
door clatters open and you realize it’s this one or that one, each offering
their own distinct experience.
There’s the one with padded, comfy seats
that must be a retired long-distance bus; I’ve only been on that one once, but its
cheerful yellow and black seats come to mind often when I’m being bashed around
on one of the more typical molded-plastic ones.
Then there’s the bus that always has good
tunes playing, and usually a girl curled up on the engine cover near the
driver. (A lot of the drivers like to bring their girlfriends along, and I
sense a certain status comes from being the woman who gets to sit where no other
passengers are allowed.)
I’ve learned to avoid the bus that has had
a bunch of seats taken out to create more standing room, because it doesn’t
have enough handholds for a rider to stay stable as the driver rockets around
corners and lurches to sudden stops. But I’m always pleased to board the one
with dark-grey, military-feeling seats- old army bus, maybe? - which are
sturdy, fitted, and wide enough that you rarely feel your fellow passenger’s meaty
thigh pressed into yours, as is the case on every other bus.
Bus to San Carlos
If I time my commute right, I miss the peak
of the rush and get a seat, or at least get a standing spot ample enough to
take a wide stance and keep my balance. On the worst days, we are crushed three
deep in the aisle, and I am helpless against unpleasantness turns of event like a tall man’s
sweaty butt pressed into the small of my back, or a short woman’s head prickling
under the arm I’ve got raised overhead to clutch the metal support bar.
(Even seated, you'll likely endure some
uncomfortable moments when travelling by bus in Nicaragua. One of my grandsons
had a woman’s very ample, bare belly pressed into his cheek for a good while on
our trip to San Carlos.)
Everyone puts their bus face on during
transit times, and I’ve come to do the same. It’s a kind of checked-out state
of being – not blank, exactly, but not really there. It lets you survive the various indignities of
bus rides at peak hours without, for instance, saying something rude to the
woman who just tore your shirt by squeezing past you with her giant, bejewelled
purse, or going all Peter Finch on the pushing, roiling mob that is fighting to
get on and off the bus at each stop. When you’re wearing your bus face, it’s
like you’re plankton in the ocean, uncomplaining and accepting as the waves
buffet you here and there.
The rules for giving up your seat are
obviously more complicated here than in Honduras, where any woman getting on a
bus will always find a man willing to jump up to offer her his seat. Here, the
only ones guaranteed to be offered a seat are women with babies in arms, or
super-old and rickety people. Personally, I really feel for short people, who
don’t have the arm length to grab the overhead bar and hold on for dear life,
and thus get knocked around more than most if they don’t get seats.
But while the scene can be a bit chaotic on
Managua’s city buses, the system itself is smooth as glass. There are loads of buses
covering dozens of routes, so you can get yourself pretty much anywhere within five or 10 minutes of arriving at your bus stop, presuming you can figure out the rather busy bus map. The system uses cards that can
be preloaded at any big bus stop; I throw $5 on mine from time to time and
then just tap it on a machine as I enter the bus to deduct that trip’s fare.
And what a deal: You can ride any route
from one end to the other for 2.5 córdobas
- about 12 cents. My walk/bus combination trip to work every day costs me $5 for
an entire month, which is what I would pay in just one day if I went by
So for those kinds of savings, I guess I
can handle a stranger’s hot butt plastered into my back once in a while. I can live with having
my breasts crush into the ear of a seated passenger while I'm being squeezed
airless by an unruly stream of people working their way to the back door of the
bus. I can stifle the scream when I see a vendor with a teetery platter of sticky coconut sweets cram onto a packed bus and push their way through the sea of people, selling as they go.