**WARNING: Some portions of this post may be a little TMI. If you are sensitive to bathroom-related offenses I suggest you stop reading here**
At ten o’clock in the evening, Austin and I boarded an overnight, 12-hour bus to the Oaxacan coast. I didn’t go into the situation expecting complete comfort, but the next 24 hours were so comically unlucky, that I just had to write about it.
It started a few hours into the bus ride. Most of the buses we had been taking were blasting the a/c and uncomfortably cold, so as I settled into my seat and noted the lack of blowing air I felt okay, even happy that I wouldn’t spend the ride shivering as I usually did. I fell asleep almost immediately and awoke a few hours later drenched in sweat. Not only was the air not blowing coldly on my forehead like it usually did, it wasn’t blowing at all. Austin was asleep in the chair next to me. I changed positions over and over again trying to get comfortable. I leaned my head up against the cool glass for respite and popped in my headphones. This was probably karma for complaining so much about the chilly mountain air back in San Cristobal, I decided. Eventually I fell again into a sweaty sleep.
A few hours later I awoke, this time unbearably hot. The bus was parked in a station while the driver took a break. I figured the reason that the bus was so hot was because it had been off for a little while. I considered asking the bus driver to turn up the a/c when he returned, but no one else seemed to be bothered so I decided against it. Just as I thought I would get off to get some air the driver hopped back into his seat and we headed on our way. I settled back into my chair.
I couldn’t sleep after that. I spent hours staring into the dark Mexican countryside, sweating, smelling, starting to feel sick from the heat. Around three o’clock I had to pee. Austin was sleeping so deeply that I couldn’t wake him, so I literally had to climb over him to get to the aisle.
I made my way more gracefully than I anticipated to the back and turned the lavatory handle. The door wouldn’t open. I pushed. I pulled. I turned the handle in every direction. I checked to see if the occupied light was on. It wasn’t.
Meanwhile a hippie-looking guy with a bushy beard watched with a crooked, sleepy smile. I tried to ask him how to open the door. Maybe he didn’t understand me, maybe he was just an asshole. Either way instead of responding he simply closed his eyes and let his head drop to his chest as if taken over by a sudden bout of lethargy.
I struggled a few minutes more before the bus took a turn that nearly through me into the sleeping-hippie-asshole. At that point I gave up and headed back to my seat. I wistfully hoped the driver would make another stop soon. It wouldn’t happen.
When I got back to our row Austin was situated in such a way that there was little chance of my regaining the seat without quite a bit of awkward maneuvering. The two seats on the other side of the aisle were unoccupied so I decided to sit there instead. Much to my delight, upon sitting down I was met immediately by a cold stream of steady air. The a/c in the bus had been on the entire time – it was simply my seat that hadn’t been working. I chuckled simultaneously at my misfortune and subsequent luck, but soon I was cold, and my blanket was tucked under the seat clear on the other side of Austin and his somnolent mountain range. The cold intensified my need to pee as I squirmed in my seat, straining for a position that might take some weight off my bladder while keeping my limbs from turning blue. It wasn’t to be.
Finally the sun started to rise. I decided to take a second shot at opening that lavatory door. I figured with the added light I could see better and discover whatever latch or instruction I had missed before. We were in the mountains now, and the road was windy and steep. I purposefully waited for a straight section and then bounded down the aisle. Three-quarters of the way down I was met with a very long, sleepy stranger who had positioned his legs so that they lay across the aisle and took up all four seats. I considered attempting to climb over him but the movement of the bus made it nearly impossible to do so without falling on top of another sleeping passenger.
“Permiso,” I said quietly, trying to wake only him and not his neighbors. Nothing. I said it a little louder. Still nothing. I tapped his legs. He stirred but never opened his eyes. Finally I threw manners to the wind and gave him a steady kick. He woke, gave me a wide-eyed, offended glare, and withdrew his legs so that I could pass. Whatever, I thought to myself. It’s not like he was a particularly accommodating guy.
I struggled again with the door, but this time with more force and the help of a sharp right turn and an elbow I got it open. As soon as I was inside the bus started leering from side to side violently. We must have been heading down some particularly tight switchbacks and I simply could not stay on the seat. But there was no stopping me now.
I peed and peed and peed. Everywhere.
By the looks of the small space I wasn’t the only one who had had trouble. Every surface of that lavatory was wet with what I sincerely hoped was water but knew by the stench was probably something less sanitary. After adding my own contribution to the mess I stood up to make an attempt at getting clean. But that stupid toilet lid that had been so difficult to stay on just a moment ago refused to let me go and slid stickily along my derriere until we both stood upright.
The bus lurched and I fell forward, pants around my ankles. Suddenly the lights went off. I assumed this meant the door had unlocked itself and frantically reached towards to handle to avoid a situation that might involve the sleeping-hippie-asshole getting an eyeful. No matter what I did or how I turned the handle the light wouldn’t go back on.
The bus turned and I hit the opposite wall hard. At this point I abandoned all attempt at cleanliness, pulled my pants around a very wet backside, and made a move for the door. Just as I touched the latch the light came back on. Panicked, I thought I may be locked in, but it turns out the light and the lock had no connection after all because the door easily opened. It was at that point that I realized I had yet to flush the toilet. Reluctantly, I turned back towards the little room. I had peed so much that the previously empty bowl was now full almost to the rim. It was kind of incredible actually. I looked around. There was no obvious button or lever. I pushed and pulled anything that might empty that toilet, but nothing happened. I recalled from previous bus rides that unlocking the door usually caused the toilet to flush. But here I was, door open, sleeping-hippie-asshole at my back, and the damned thing wasn’t flushing. I looked outside to the occupied light. It was on. It seemed that the locking mechanism wasn’t actually connected to the occupied light, or the lavatory light, or the flushing toilet, or anything that it was supposed to be connected to at all. The bus continued to move as I lost my balance again and again. I hit my head on the door only to turn around and see the sleeping-hippie-asshole laughing, at which point I decided it wouldn’t be all the bad if that toilet bowl overflowed with all the movement and got him a little wet. I gave up, closed the door, and headed back down the aisle.
I didn’t even stop when I met the man sprawled again across the aisle. I simply walked straight into him, hard, and he got the message. The bus was moving so quickly now that I fell into almost every single seat along the way, awaking passenger after passenger and collecting numerous nasty glares. Finally I made it back to my row, and contemplated whether I should choose the cold seat or the hot seat. As not to disturb Austin I decided to go with the a/c, and finally managed a bit of shivering sleep.
I awoke just as we neared our destination, covered now in both my blanket and jacket. What a sweet guy that boyfriend of mine is. Groggy and hungry we set out into the bright sun-lit streets to find our last method of transportation to the small town we were headed to. We ended up jumping into the back of a truck with fifteen other people, but for ten pesos who could complain?
A and I both secured coveted bench seats while people crowded into the bed. Even though the bench was full and no one else seemed to be having any trouble I simply could not keep my seat and slipped repeatedly from one side to the other every time the truck slowed down or sped up. I wondered if my bottom was still lubricated from my earlier, slippery bathroom experience. An older Mexican man sat next to me for the majority of the trip and each time I grabbed the seat in an attempt not to slide into him I would, invariably but accidentally touch his butt. At first he was polite and pretended not to notice, but eventually he started smiling at me. I hoped he was laughing at this dumb gringo and her slick bum and not thinking that I was coming on to him. For once I was thankful for my lack of language skills.
Finally we reached our destination and made ourselves comfortable in a wonderful, seaside room. As I unpacked I discovered three earrings and my only bracelet were missing. Later when I checked my wallet all of my pesos – and since I had just gone to the ATM there were about 6,000, roughly US$500 – were gone. I had been robbed, likely at the hotel we had stayed in our last night in San Cristobal.
To make things worse there was no ATM in the town we were staying in, which meant another ride in the back of a truck to a bigger city. The thief had left all of my credit cards, American cash, and two pairs of cheap earrings – which told me she (the missing jewelry makes me assume it was a woman) was not desperate, just greedy. She also left my most valuable items – iPod cords (my iPod had been with me, thankfully) that could have been sold easily, and my beloved computer. Once again I took this as a sign that this person wasn’t really in need, she was just a lazy thief. Still, I was thankful for that. I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost my computer. It was a valuable lesson in laziness myself – Austin had kept his valuables well hidden and lost nothing.
I was upset at the loss of the money and jewelry – almost all of the stolen items had been gifts from Austin, and I had worked really hard for that money. In any other situation this added on top of the stresses of the day may have been too much for me to handle. But sipping on a glass of rum, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a beautiful, purple sunset with my best friend, it didn’t seem so bad.
All of those things were replaceable. Austin will give me more gifts. I have more money in the bank. I had everything I needed and an amazing view to contemplate that. I wondered about the thief, about the sleeping-hipping-asshole, about the rude man blocking the aisle with his lengthy bulk, about the bus operator who hadn’t bothered to fix the broken a/c shaft above my seat, or the locking mechanisms in the bus’s bathroom door. I wondered about where they all were in this moment, and the stresses of the day melted away as it all became clear: it didn’t really matter where they were, none of them could possible be as happy as me.