VAMOS, FUCKING VAMOS! NOW!! I shouted to the driver from the back of the bus. The dozen or so other passengers were either curled up in their seats, staying low or looking around in bewilderment wondering what the hell was happening.
It’s about 9pm and our Pullman coach had been rumbling through the pitch-black jungle of southern Ecuador when a bullet whizzes through the window about 30 centimetres from my head and then exits through the opposite side of the bus. Both windows simultaneously smash into a million pieces sending shards of glass flying everywhere like a puff of smoke. The deafening sound of the blast plus the wind rushing through what used to be windows provides a rude and scary awakening for the sleepy travellers.
The screams and yelling alerted the driver and conductor to what had just unfolded and the bus came screeching to a halt. A child was crying, its mother was wailing. What happened?
It was supposed to be an easy eight-hour bus from Mancora, Peru to Cuenca, Ecuador. The ticket agent had told us it was “direct”. In fact it was anything but. I’m no princess either; I wasn’t expecting a First Class experience, but the journey started badly when a collectivo (15 people packed into a minivan) pulled up instead of our “luxury coach”. Four different modes of transport including a dodgy cab, plus a border crossing later we finally found ourselves aboard the doomed bus. I settled in and put a movie on the laptop. Then shit started to get real.
Buses in this part of the world are never straightforward, they kind of pull over at random spots to pick up more fares, and it’s normal. We stopped for three young dudes who got on and immediately started causing trouble. It was a Friday afternoon and these kids were wasted on booze and whatever else. Within minutes a scuffle occurred in the aisle next to me and the bus slowed while the conductor came back to see what was up. As we had only gone about two hundred meters since they got on he decided to turf them out, which was a fair call. The kids were calm at first, but they became aggressive near the door and started yelling. Off they went and the bus peeled off. Banging was coming from the right side and everyone got up to see what was going on. These idiots were chasing us and kicking the side panels, who starts a fight with a bus? I stood up in the aisle to get a better look and BANG! A rock came hurtling into the glass right in front of my face sending a spray of the sharp stuff into my face. I was cut above my right eye and I actually swallowed a small piece, but nothing too serious. A woman and her young daughter next to me also received a few cuts and were pretty shaken up.
We kept going to get away from them and stopped a minute down the road in front of a police station. Mister Conductor jumped into a cop car and they sped off to try and nab the little pricks. Twenty minutes later he returned with no luck. Off we went. I must note that nobody from the bus company or the police bothered to check if we were okay. I had blood flowing down my face for god’s sake. This is when I realized where I was – You really are on your own in South America.
The bus sped away from built up areas onto the open road, it was calm again and we tucked back into the movie. Darkness set in. About an hour later the second event happened. We were shot at. A bullet literally missed our heads by inches. If our chairs had been fully upright instead of reclined things could have ended very differently. Nobody felt safe now. Were these angry kids stalking us? Did they call ahead and get their gangster amigos to set a trap? Was it a highway robbery? Or was this a scene straight out of the film Babel and completely random? Too many questions to be asking while you’re stopped in the jungle, miles from anywhere. Another Spanish speaking girl and myself finally conveyed to the driver that we needed to get the fuck outta dodge ASAP, as we were sitting ducks on the side of the road. Off we went again.
Let me try and paint a picture of the bus for you. Three windows have been completely smashed out. There are literally piles of broken glass on the seats, floor, our hair and stuck to our clothes. It’s cold and the curtains are flapping wildly from the wind rushing through the holes in the side of our transport, which is now hurtling through the night at top speed. Some are even crouching low to the floor and staying away from the windows in case it happens again.
We’re still 90 minutes from our destination when I see lights flashing. The cops! Sighs of relief fill our bus that looks more like a war scene then a luxury coach. Captain Cortez climbs aboard and saunters down the aisle. “Que Pasa?” (What’s up) he casually says. The situation is explained. He snaps a few pics of the broken windows on his mobile phone and then leaves. I thought we had been given a police escort. Nope – South America, right?
The sad looking bus finally rolls into our final destination at 11pm. Five hours late, minus three windows, plus a few pairs of soiled undies. We made it. This happened last night and as I’m typing this story there are still bits of glass stuck between the keys of my laptop. I count myself, extremely lucky.
Don’t worry; I’m not going to turn this into one of those “From this moment on, I’m living my life to the fullest” clichés. But, this experience has made me realise that anything can happen. You just never know when some jerks are going to ruin your bus trip.