It all started with a chicken bus, a missed morning shuttle, and my love of waterfalls.
For those of you who don’t know, a chicken bus, for all intents and purposes, is a repurposed school bus, potentially from the 1960s (I don’t know for sure) dubbed as such because literally anyone can transport anything they can carry on a chicken bus. Including, your very own chickens.
Now, we would not have been on the chicken bus if the family owning the tourist business we had booked the trip with had told us where the shuttle would pick us up for the volcano tour. (This did not happen.) And, if I didn’t love waterfalls, Liz and I may have been satisfied to explore local Ometepe. Instead, we were on a beautifully painted, if crowded, chicken bus.
On this particular day, there were no chickens on the bus, just loads of people. Like, sardines may have been more comfortable in their can than we were on this cheap and cost effective method of transit. Filled to the brim, a little girl perched happily at the window beside the driver, and no less then two gentleman hung tight to the entrance of the yellow, re-purposed school bus while the door hung open. Seats, aisles, and even the staircase to the aisle provided room for passengers. I tried to take a picture but couldn’t reach my phone. My butt had already managed to obstruct the view of several passengers and after numerous apologies of, ‘lo siento,’ it seemed as though it was my destiny to be in the way.
The fare to get on the bus was less than one US dollar, and it was the way local Nicaraguans traveled from place to place. At the first stop, Liz and I hopped toward a seat, attempting to create space for people to get off the chicken bus as quickly as possible. I bumped into a small local Nicaraguan woman. ‘Lo Siento, Senora, disculpame.’
“What the fuck!?” A man got on the bus, yelled in English and loudly began to complain. This random guy had determined that Liz and I were obviously from another country (surprise! We were two of maybe 4 people on the bus speaking in English,) and, clearly his curiosity had been piqued. Let me tell you, as a foreigner there is nothing better than being hit on by a random guy on a crowded bus. (reader, please, I hope you understood the sarcasm). He somehow pushed and prodded to get towards us.
“You know,” he said through a heavy Spanish accent, “I was born in Utah, and I fought in the Iraqi War.”
“You don’t say,” I said quietly to myself in English. The man, of course, may well have been born in Utah and may well have fought in the Iraq war, but seriously?! He was drawing a ridiculous amount of attention to himself, and, because he was attempting to talk to Liz and me, us as well.
“The bus is so fucking crowded, What the fuck!?” The man continued to shout obscenities. Attempting to ignore his behavior, I turned to a woman next to me.
“Buenas, Como estas?” That’s when the 70- year old man in a concert T-shirt began to laugh at me,
“Mind the leg,” he said with an English accent, “it’s broken.” He wore light, white linen pants, had long stringy blonde-white hear, and a white linen jacket over his ACDC concert T. Indeed, his leg was sticking straight out from under the seat and seemed to be in a cast. He had a cane next to him. I barely had time to process this information when-
“Ay, mamacita, come hang out with me I need to practice my English.” The obnoxious man from before tried to get my attention.
“Yo no interesante, tengo un novio.” At which point, he turned his attention to my friend Liz.
“I have a purple heart.” Somehow, the juxtaposition of the scent of alcohol, heavy Spanish accent, and string of obscenities leaving his mouth made me doubt this. Perhaps I was right, because when the bus stopped, somehow, Liz’s bag ended up out of her hands and off of the bus. Luckily, the driver managed to get the bag back and nothing was stolen.
Apparently the a woman close to Liz grabbed the bag, tossed it to the man at the next stop, and claimed that she had thought they were traveling together. Is this the truth? To this day, I don’t know but, nothing was stolen out of Liz’s bag, and the important part is that she got it back.
So when I say, “Ella es mi amiga, y nosotros no interesante,” at this point, it seems completely justified. The irate man finds the only other blonde girl and asks me, “is she with you?”And, honestly, the girl wasn’t but I’ll be damned if I let him harass another poor unsuspecting tourist.
“Si, ella es mi amiga y-” I look at the girl who looks at me, “tiene un novio, estamos occupado.’ I try to whisper to her, “I’m telling him off,” but the bus is noisy and crowded, and the girl just looks confused, so I introduce myself and Liz to her and inform her that she is now part of my friend group, at least for the duration of the bus ride. Liz starts to tell her about the waterfalls, and the British man with the broken leg is giggling to himself, turns around and says,
“Ladies, I live near the waterfall, and if you follow me I’ll get ya there.” I look the guy up and down. A near 70-year old man with a broken leg and hippie garb is clearly less threatening than this young, obnoxious guy who may have already tried to steal a bag.
“All right then! Here’s our stop!” And we get off the bus onto the crossroads with the 70-year old man who has a broken leg, the blonde girl from the bus, and our backpacks intact.
“I’m McClain.” the man says, “And ladies, today w’re going to hitchhike, we’ve got all day, and we will most certainly get to the waterfalls.” We stand together in the shade in the crossroads and wait for our ride. As it turns out McClain, self-proclaimed DMT Doctor, is an experienced UK expat touting the benefits and medicinal uses of DMT after joining a Mexican Payote Tribe. Apparently, DMT only increases a chemical you already have in your system. (Who knew?)
He has been traveling around Central America for several years, and, in addition to his copious knowledge about DMT, is also knowledgeable and helpful concerning political upheavals in surrounding countries.
“Yea, you might want to skip Honduras.” He informs Liz and me as we wait for our ride, “I’ve hitchhiked all across Central America and now is not the time to go.”
The blonde girl from the bus was named Anna, and she was from Germany on holiday. Her boyfriend decided to go hiking, and she decided to spend the day at the beach, and meet up with him later. During the bus ride, she made the decision to come with us and explore the local falls. The four of us made quite a crew.
“We’ve got all day ladies, let’s make ourselves comfortable.” McClain sits back in the shade.
Sure enough, in ten minutes, we are able to hop on the back of a cement truck. Liz, Anna, and I hop on, and the truck begins to drive off without McClain. “Para!” I yell. (It means stop in Spanish). So, the driver stops, and McClain hobbles to the front, using his cane. It takes about half an hour to reach a new set of crossroads, on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.
“Ah, ladies, I apologize,” McClain stretches his arms, “If I’da known that we would end up here, I’d’ve had him drop us off at the last crossroads.” So we find some shade, and wait again. That’s when McClain tells us about his leg,
“I was in a motorcycle accident ’bout a week ago, ” he begins, “but, it didn’t get better, and I hitchhiked my way to the mainland. Turns out it was broken.” he laughs, “and I got me fluid build up in my other leg. The doctor wanted to amputate, but life’s shit enough with two legs in’t it? So I go me’self some antibiotics and a hammock and me two legs, they work just fine.”
It’s incredible to me that a man the same age as my grandparents would still be living in Central America, backpacking about with a broken leg.
“It’s just a better life here dearie,” he tells me when I ask, “the weather, the cost of living… I wouldn’t trade it fer the world.” And, indeed, on this very day, Liz and I spent maybe $20 USD for our lodgings, food, entertainment, and transit. So, McClain is not lying when he says that life’s just better here. And then, we manage to hail down a cheap shuttle ($1/person), and a four-wheeler for McClain (he didn’t want to pay $3 for the shuttle) and are on our way to the waterfalls.
And, that’s when Liz and I began to hitch-hike around Nicaragua. In spite of my questionable Spanish, we managed to have only great experiences, and learned loads about the people and culture in Nicaragua.
Guest Blogger Profile:
Alycia is an educator turned world traveler. Her mission is to learn as much about other cultures, people and places as she can before returning to work with students in the future. She enjoys adventuring, and attempts to speak several languages, mastering at the point only English. She would appreciate it if you checked out her blog at www.1wanderingcuriously.com