Buses and Bolsitas

Everywhere in Central America

Leah: I felt like both buses and bolsitas (small bags) deserved their own mini-post, since they’ve featured so prevalently in our travels thus far. I know we’ve talked about the chicken buses (camionetas) in a few other posts, but they’re really something special. You never really know who or what will be sitting on your lap, breathing down your neck or swapping sweat with you. We alternately amble or careen along any variety of paved/rocky/muddy/narrow roads, packed in like legos, with small children and assorted wildlife thrown in for fun, all of us trying to ignore the bruises we’re accruing on our bums from the potholes and lack of proper seat cushioning. There's usually an "assistant" of sorts on every bus, called an ayudante, who hangs out of the open door calling out the destinations, storing luggage and collecting fares every few stops--they always somehow remember among the sea of faces who needs to pay (although as the only gringos, of course we're the easy ones). 

The soundtrack blaring from the speakers may include Christian/Evangelical hymns, American pop/rap, or my favorite, raggaton, which just makes you want to jump up and shake your money maker salaciously along with the beat, although Steve would disagree (especially if it’s before 8 a.m.). There are often signs affixed near the door that say things in Spanish like “Only God knows if we will arrive”, which is not exactly the type of reassurance one needs while your bus consistently accelerates to pass other trucks on blind turns. And of course at any given time you can find yourself staring into the blinking eyes and ruffled feathers of a giant hunk of live poultry, often tucked under the arm of a small boy or older woman on the way to the market.

And then there are the sudden stops to pick up new passengers and disgorge others, which is really where things get interesting. In addition to people trying to wrestle themselves and their cargo, living and otherwise, off the bus at the appropriate stop, there are mobile roadside vendors selling everything under the sun that push their way on simultaneously. Phone chargers, boxers and gum? Check. Sandwiches of the animal, vegetable or mineral variety? Done and done. Icy cold drinks from a bucket?  You better believe it. And then there are the Bible beaters, beggars, and what I call the “magic men”, all of whom get on at certain stops, give their (incredibly loud) spiel for about 5-15 minutes promising everything from eternal salvation to fruit smoothie recipes and herbal extracts to whittle your waist and eliminate your aches, rove the aisles for donations and sales, and then exit about 10 stops later. Depending on my fatigue and sweat levels, I either enjoy listening as a way to break up the travel monotony, or I want to punch them in the face for making my head hurt even more.

But the bolsitas…oh, sweet, sweet joy. I never knew the amount of things you could put in a small, clear bag to sell, and how much I would come to depend on these pouches of refreshment. We’ve enjoyed bags of fresh fruit juice (the maracuya was the best) and coconut water with bonus hunks of fresh, slippery coconut inside that you munch on afterward. Soft drinks and even water are sold in bolsitas-you simply bite/tear off a tiny corner and then slurp away. Who doesn’t want to drink grape soda from a bag? And then there’s the food sold in bags…assorted nuts, cucumber slices with hot sauce, ice cream, fresh papaya wedges, mango with chili powder,  fried chicken, plantain chips, popcorn, various cookies and breads…a cornucopia of choices at all major stops and you don’t even need to leave your seat! The vendors all climb aboard shouting what they’re selling---“hay fruta, hay sandia, hay mango, hay fruta” (fruit, watermelon, mango, fruit!), “hay frescos, hay agua, hay agua de coco, hay frescos” (soda, water, coconut water, soda!). You get the idea. We just ask for our desired bolsitas and hand over the cash, which works especially well when we haven’t eaten breakfast or lunch yet, or need something icy to sip on to try and counteract the hot, humid, fetid hell that afternoon bus travel in the tropics quickly becomes. 

So there you have it, friends, this is what we’re experiencing each time we travel between cities. Try and envision these scenes when you’re reading our blog; it definitely keeps things interesting and I’m trying to think of ways to bring bolsitas to the US in a big way- they’re just too much fun!    


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