I am at the Guatemala City bus station, and there is a complication. A big one.
I decided to do the Central American stretch of the Pan-American Highway this year because El Salvador is much safer now. The tiny country had one of the highest homicide rates in the world due to gang warfare. The government recently facilitated a truce between the two main gangs and the murder rate dropped like an anvil. And because El Salvador had always been my greatest security concern, I decided that it was finally safe enough to travel through there.
Nevertheless, El Salvador is not violence-free. Ticabus, the bus company I will be using, is very safety conscious. Its policy is to never run at night in El Salvador because of the threat of bus-jackings, robberies, or worse. All of its buses arrive at the San Salvador station before sunset and its passengers are forced to stay overnight in hotels until the next morning. I appreciate this measure.
The complication. The ride between Guatemala City and San Salvador takes around five hours. When I bought my ticket, I had a choice between a 6 a.m. and a 2 p.m. departure time. I wanted to leave in the morning but the bus company representative convinced me to leave at 2 instead. Why would I want to wake up so early? You'll be wide awake to enjoy the scenery during the 2 p.m. ride. Plus, you will definitely make it to San Salvador before sundown.
I bought the 2 p.m. ticket.
It is now 4 in the afternoon, and I am still waiting for the bus. When we finally leave, it is clear that we are going to be on Salvadoran roads late into the night. *Gulp*
This fear was initially erased when our bus slowly pulled out of the bus station driveway and into Guatemala City street traffic. I am riding a long-distance bus again!
And within a city block into our trek, my fellow passengers are bitching. Ticabus tickets are relatively expensive because the buses are safe, comfortable, air conditioned, and provide meals. Well, it soon became apparent that the A/C is broken. Passengers who paid good money are complaining. But there is nothing that can be done except to open the windows.
People often ask why I ride buses when planes are so much faster and safer. I reply that you experience things that you would otherwise miss on a flight. By leaving the windows open, I got to smell the scenery. And on this leg of the journey, that means I got to smell the car exhaust of Guatemala City, the raw sewage of the Guatemala countryside, and the burning trash of El Salvador.
Every long-distance bus ride in a third world country would not be complete without bad movies being played very loudly. From Guatemala to El Salvador, I was forced to watch the new Three Stooges movie; an old Jackie Chan flick; and Ted, which stars a talking teddy bear. The movies were interspersed with Duran Duran videos of all vintages, which I enjoyed. Then, they played this, USA for Africa's We Are the World:
Watching this brought back so many childhood memories. All the stars participated. In fact, Paul Simon quipped at the recording session-- If a bomb dropped on us now, John Denver would be number one again.
We crossed the border into El Salvador in the dark. And other than some very pushy and shady currency exchangers, the crossing was uneventful.
El Salvador's capital appears much tidier than Guatemala's capital, at least in the dark. People are out and about. Nice cars are parked in front of busy restaurants and bars. We pull into the bus station at 10 p.m. Thankfully, there is a hotel upstairs. However, I have to wake up in four hours to catch the 3 a.m. bus to Nicaragua.
At check-in, I buy a bottle of beer and two bottles of water. I down the Pilsener, take a quick shower, and jump into bed. I turn off the lights. I suddenly hear loud scratching. There is a huge rat underneath my bed. What am I going to do?!