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Voyages of los Testigos - Part 10, Page 3

Transportation Woes

Having crossed the border, The Four Stooges assumed their difficulties would ease. But Sandinista-led Free Nicaragua was suffering from a proxy war and a US imposed embargo. Given the country's past as a banana republic, the embargo had a tremendous effect on its economic system. Most importantly for the travelers, a shortage of auto parts and the Contra led destruction of Nicaragua's only petroleum refinery had created an acute transportation problem.

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The lack of working vehicles and the gasoline needed to run them was a national crisis. Crowded buses were common in Central America, but until now the travelers had been able to purchase tickets to guarantee them seats. In Nicaragua, wherever a bus or train was scheduled to depart, a line of people double that vehicle's carrying capacity waited to board it. At the new border, there was no ticket office, no reservations, no time schedule, just a long line of people waiting patiently in the fading afternoon sun. Again, the travelers stepped into line to wait.

"When does the next bus come?" Nuco asked the man in front of him.

"Soon," the man responded.

"I hope everyone fits," Nuco said. The man smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

When the bus finally arrived, its driver encountered a line of nearly one hundred people. Wanting to avoid a mad, disorganized rush, the driver pulled up to the queue and opened the door. The bus was a mid-sized Japanese model, with a single entrance located in the middle. It had a recommended capacity of forty. Everyone stood up and the line of package and animal laden Nicaraguans speckled with foreigners began to file in. The travelers, having mischecked the proper boxes during their first border crossing attempt, were the last four people in line.

"We're never going to fit on this bus," Capn observed.

"It's the last bus to leave the border today," Nuco said.

"Oh boy, the Contras would love to capture us!" the BigAmerican said with uneasy enthusiasm.

Despite the group's pessimism, the line of people leading into the bus kept shrinking until it was their turn to board. Capn, Medio and the BigAmerican weaved through the tightly packed mass of humanity, stepped carefully over a couple farm animals, and lodged themselves in the middle of the bus. Nuco jammed his oversized suitcase into a chance opening and stopped at the entrance, standing on the first step and letting one foot dangle outside the bus. He grabbed the back of the seat in front of him for stability. A patrol of Sandinistas joined Nuco, latching on to the windows and the roof rack outside. The overladen bus tilted heavily.

Once everyone had boarded, the bus driver returned to his seat and pushed shut the dead bolt riveted to the outside of his door. It wasn't until then that the driver recognized his mistake; everyone had gotten on the bus before he turned around, so he now had to execute a 180 degree turn on the two lane road. He managed to stay on the highway until the last turn, but as he pulled away, the two right wheels dropped over the curb and the bus started to tip over.

Several people inside screamed. Nuco and the soldiers jumped off. Instead of breaking into a dead run away from what looked like an unfolding nightmare, however, the evacuees stood next to the bus and held it upright.

The support, combined with the loss of weight caused by their bailing out, helped right the bus, and the overburdened vehicle regained its position on the road. The evacuees reboarded on the run. The bus tilted wildly again, but the danger of the initial flip over had diminished and the bus trundled down the highway into Nicaragua, its tires scraping against the tops of the wheel wells with each small bump.

Next issue: Drinking cerveza like machos, border post paranoia, and stuck in the street without rooms.

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