We spent the whole day Saturday living out an old El Salvadoran joke. No, it’s not the one about a guy named Montezuma, although Marce has spent a lot of time on my recently repaired toilet but that’s another story. Let’s just say that I’ve been making the 45-minute, fifty cent, chicken-bus run to the supermercado alone since we got back from the States. It’s not far, it just takes awhile to stop at every shack along the way. We need food aboard Escape Velocity and the local sources, at least those that we’re aware of, just aren’t cutting it, and the open market in La Herradura is a long dinghy run up the river.
There’s a town called Zacatecoluca that boasts not one but two Super Big Grocery stores. We’re told that you walk the half mile out to the asphalt road, hop on a #193, which is the direct bus to “Zacate” but it takes longer than a #495, get off at Arcos where you find a path through the woods up to the overpass to connect to a #133 to “Zacate”. Simple. We played the lost gringo card in earnest. Where is Arcos and why isn’t it on any maps? Luckily Marce, being the trooper that she is, decided she’d better go with me or she might never see me again.
The trip started normally enough with just a half hour wait for the bus and after wedging our American-sized thigh bones into an impossibly small space, we soon had a full bus. But wait, more people got on. The press of humanity and heat started to get to us but every couple of stops saw a troop of a half dozen hucksters holding bundles or bowls or round hangers aloft with all manner of food, candy, bags of juice, pink socks and I don’t know what all. Aggressively they pitched themselves up against the paying passengers standing solidly packed in the aisle and with great effort forced themselves through, around, or over the crowd. It was about then that the driver decided that a little booming party music was in order. It was a nice mix of 95 degree heat, pressing the flesh with total strangers and some serious thumpin’ party bass. In five minutes the process is reversed and then the driver crunches into first gear and we go another hundred yards only to repeat the rave up.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Salvadorans think differently than I do. For example when asked, with my most sincere expression, Arcos? They’ll just say no. End of conversation. Donde donde? At this point one either gets a flood of Spanish or a gesture out the front window. I’d assumed that Arcos would have a couple of signs being as it’s a major crossroad of bus lines. Not as such. Not a one. Nada.
The #495 stopped on a dusty road near an overpass and most people got off so this must be the place. We followed everyone up a dirt path to the overpass. Upon summiting, I breathlessly asked the first guy I saw, “Zacate?” No. You see how this works?
I looked around, the entire area was covered with blue bags, food wrappers, and just plain garbage but even the skinny starving coconut hounds sniffing around can’t find anything to eat.
I looked up and a #133 was trundling up to the side of the road. It was already filled up but I thought we could find a little space to stand. The door opened and I was pushed and shoved aside by the press of the crowd and then the crazy hucksters crashed the scrum and it was all we could do to get on, but the driver kept adding fresh meat to the grinder.
Finally we pulled into a small town and the aisle scrum began to move toward the exit. I really didn’t have much of a choice. We were a little bewildered and not at all sure where we were but we were here…where ever that was.
Music was blaring out of every business and the sidewalks were taken over by venders so that one walks in the street. After wandering around for a while we stumbled into the Super Selectos. What luck. Just what we were looking for. We filled up our shopping bags with a little more than we could carry.
Back in the street we bought a Claro SIM card for $3 from a sidewalk vendor, wandered around some more and went in search of the bus terminal.
By the time we found what we thought was the right bus it was stuffed already but we squeezed in with the hope that someone would eventually get off, but once again the hucksters piled on. The driver slowly pulled across the terminal lot while more and more people jumped aboard. It would be a long ride home.
So how many people can a Salvadoran bus hold?