|One of the many retrofitted school buses that transport people throughout Panama City. They are appropriately called Diablo Rojos (red devils). See, I wasn't lying about the feather boas.|
50 milligrams of Dramamine does wonders to curb the well-measured fatalism always associated with boarding any Central American public transport. But no quantity of motion sickness meds can satiate the anxiety associated with a bus company operating without a timetable and a driver whose priorities rank stopping the bus for 15 minutes so he can kiss and pillow-talk his girlfriend over the need for the 50 passengers to actually reach their destination.
A friend visiting from the US once asked me, “what do you do while waiting indefinitely for the buses?” The best way to handle waiting for a bus that may never arrive is to completely shut down. You must come to terms with the fact that you have zero control over this situation. It is best to just disengage. Panamanians have become so talented at shutting down that they sometimes take it too far. On a recent bus trip I forgot to close my window as the bus charged into a rain shower. At our break-neck speed the torrents entering though the window weren’t hitting me, but when I looked back I realized the passenger behind me was soaked and getting wetter. I quickly shut the window and apologized profusely, but the soggy passenger simply looked at me blankly. He was as content with getting drenched as he was with staying dry. That passenger took his disengagement from the stresses of riding the bus too far.
Thinking back on that illustrative instance, I tried to channel the soaked passenger’s indifference when a cacophony of thumps alerted us that all our luggage was flying off the bus’s roof and being sprayed across the road and bordering ditches. “Just breathe. Just breathe,” I told myself. Ignore the driver’s unapologetic insolence and try to disengage. What does another 45 minutes collecting spilt bags and squished avocados really matter on a 7 hour bus ride? I repress several urges to yell out threats that all start with “if you did that in the United States…!” I calm myself and remember it could always be worse.
Recently a friend on this same bus route was stranded 4 hours into his trip because undercover officers boarded the bus and arrested the driver for automatic weapons trafficking.
Only 3 more weeks and I will no longer be tempted to lecture people about how things work in the United States. I will be in America enjoying and suffering them first hand.
|Peace Corps won't let Volunteers drive. So, the back of this truck is my typically mode of transport.|
|This picture was taken early in my service. This was a time when riding in the back of a truck was a novelty. The romanticism hasn't worn off yet in this picture.|
|For special events we get to travel in cattle trucks. Literally trucks for carry cattle.|
|On our most recent business seminar trip Jack and I traded buses for boats. Seems like fun. We were excited until about hour 3.|