After hiking for about three hours, with nothing more to eat but a few cashews, we 5 decided we were hungry. It was high time to find a bathroom and some sustenance. Since we were not interested in walking any further than we absolutely had to, a bus seemed to be just the ticket back to town, ie: food. It seems lots of others have had this same thought, since there was a little building built especially for folks who are waiting on buses, right down from the hiking trial.
We gladly took refuge on the roomy seats provided, and waited.
The smallest of the group got a diaper change, and the Momma of the smallest one hoped the bus wouldn’t come at the exact moment between wet and dry diapers. It didn’t. So we waited some more.
We listened for vehicles, in hopes they might be public transportation…
And filled our memory cards.
After a while, this exact bus came along:
We all hurried to gather our bags, cameras, child, and selves and piled in. Daniel, Natasha and I sat in the first seat right behind the driver, with Lynette and Melody taking the seat directly behind us. So we settled in for the 15 min drive down the mountain, back to town. You might notice on this road sign that the arrow to town, points left. We didn’t go that direction. We went the opposite direction, and for a bit, I wondered if we’d have to pay extra for the detour. But all we were doing was delivering a fellow to a lane, where his little brother was waiting with the bus fare.
Once we were turned around and headed in the “correct” direction, we ended up back at the little red tiled-roof bus stop. Where we came to a stop and the driver, bus boy and front seat passenger abandoned us. They gathered round back for a smoke break, while we 5 Americans, another foreigner and a couple locals waited in the still running van. After a suitable amount of time, they rejoined us and away we went down the mountain.
Not every bus passenger waits under a nice roofed shelter like we did. If you need a ride, it’s quite common to simply stand near the road and wave or nod to acknowledge your need of transportation to the driver or bus boy, when the bus comes by. We had several folks join us in this manner.
The bus boy is the one in charge of opening and shutting the sliding door, taking payment and dispersing change. He sits right inside the sliding door behind the passenger seat and hangs his hand out the window, inquiring to possible passengers as we fly by, to “speak up quick” if they need a ride, and so on. As the bus fills up, he also has the honor of doing the seating arrangements. It is this last job description that amused us greatly on this particular bus ride.
After the “false start”, we passengers were comprised of an Indian lady with a baby in the back seat and the before mentioned gringo, a somewhat shifty looking guy with a diamond earring, and a random fellow in the front seat. We gradually picked up more along the way, which is the fun part. I don’t really remember who all came in what order, but we accumulated a lady with a 7 or 8 year old boy, a well cologned young Indian guy, a couple coffee pickers, and a tidy dressed coffee farmer. Soon however, all the “normal” seats were occupied, and we were close approaching the issue of infringing upon the ‘personal space’ of proper bus seating passengers.
At the next stop there were at least 3 men in line to get on. This might have also been when I realized that there just really were not enough seats for everyone, but obviously, they still wanted to pile more in. Since I was married to the guy sitting on my left, I asked him if I could sit on his lap. That opened up one more seat. Melody soon followed suit and perched herself on Lynette’s lap, creating about 13 more inches on the seat and enough space for one more person. By this time, Natasha was standing between Daniel’s leg and the side of the bus, *right* behind the driver’s seat.
This is when the bus boy got creative. When we stopped the next time, it was for at least 3 more men who needed a ride and the bus boy asked the lady with the young boy to move over. He wanted to seat 4 people on the seat she was in. (The boy was already sitting on her lap.) She declared this was outrageous, the seat was only meant for 3! So she climbed out and stood at the side of the road with her arms crossed, huffing slightly. She simply stated, “He wants someone to sit on my legs!”
All the while, several coffee pickers were laying on their backs, relaxing at the edge of a coffee field, arms akimbo behind their heads, watching the whole plot. They were certainly amused outside the bus as we were inside! Somehow the seating got arranged, things were smoothed over with the disgruntled bus passenger, and she joined us in the bus again.
We Americans started snickering (politely, of course) at the situation, and rode along quite merrily, carefully watching our heads (not to hit the ceiling, you know) and counting people as inconspicuously as possible. I hope we represented the happier side of things for the Panamanian riders.
Melody counted up a grand total of 25 people in the bus. Now, we know there are amazing records for this type of thing, and we certainly didn’t break any, but it was all rather eventful and memorable to us.
Natasha was keeping herself occupied this whole time by singing quietly to herself, peering out the window, (as much as she could see by standing on tip-toes,) and twisting round and round. She did keep mentioning to us that she was “tuck”…and we kept responding, “Yes dear, we’re all stuck.”
At one stop, (this might have been when one fellow got OUT to walk because there were too many inside) the little boy’s fingers got caught in the seal of the sliding door. He never cried out, but a fellow passenger did, and the bus boy calmly opened the door to release the fingers, and closed it again, never saying a word. The little boy just flexed his fingers and sat quietly.
When we finally arrived in town, we all climbed out, gathering parcels and backpacks accordingly. I crawled out as quickly as possible, but forgot that Daniel still needed to pay, and we had a toddler in there somewhere. So I went back for the toddler to ease Daniel’s responsibility and he handed Natasha out with one hand and her pants in the other. Yep, in all her twisting and being stuck, her pants (and one sandal) had come clean off!
So we dressed our diaper clad girlie right there on the street, with the locals looking on.
And then directly went in search of food, on wobbly legs that come after walking and walking for hours and then sitting for a few minutes, laughing the whole way.