The Chicken Bus

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Central America Caribbean » Panama » Chiriquí » David
March 4th 2012
Published: March 8th 2012
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Well, today is Steve's Birthday. We have to take the bus to David, pick up a rental car, then drive on to Boquete. It is going to be a long travel day again.

First, we had to have Jose take us by boat to Isla Colon to Bocas Town. Steve wasn't feeling well, so he didn't eat any breakfast. Then we waited to another water taxi to take us to Almirante on the mainland.

As soon as the water taxi pulled into Almirante, there were brown faces yelling in the boat at people the names of the various places one could go: "David!", "Changuinola!", "Bus Station!". I looked at one and said "bus station to David", and immediately, hands reached down into the boat and grabbed my suitcase. At the same time, the same thing was happening to Steve who was on the other side of the boat, and he had to prevent other hands from grabbing his suitcase so that we didn't get separated. These guys were taxi drivers, and were very aggressively competing for business. Wow! They tried to talk us into having them take us all the way to David for $140, which is not unreasonable, but the other lady we were with didn't want to pay that much, so we said no, just take us to the bus station. $2 per person, and we were there in about 10 minutes. (the bus to David is only $8 per person)

As soon as we got to the bus station, two more guys were yelling at us "David?". We said yes, and they grabbed our luggage and threw it up on top of a van that was sitting there and started to hustle us into the bus. Meanwhile, everyone who had handled our luggage was asking for a propina - a tip. It was all very overwhelming.

Anyway, turns out that this van is the bus to David. Not a rattletrap schoolbus as I had expected, and not too uncomfortable. Except for the fact that it was packed so full that, not only could we not sit together, but they had people sitting on these little fold-down jumpseats which were not comfortable at all, and they had to get up every time someone got on and off to clear the isle. And yes, this bus stopped at every little town along the way to pick up and drop off people. And one guy would climb up on top of the bus, and people would throw their bags up to him so he could tie them on top of the bus. Too bad I didn't get a picture of that. But I was afraid of losing my seat. At one point, I estimated about 35 or so people in a bus designed for about 26. And every time someone else got on, the guy at the door would look back and yell out for the kids to sit in their mother's laps.

At the back, a lady was sitting holding an open bag in her lap with two immature chickens poking their heads out the top. Her daugher sat beside her, or when it got more crowded, on her mother's lap, holding a mesh bag with little chicks inside it. Every time the bus made a sharp turn, the chickens let out loud squawks.

So imagine, we are packed tight in this bus, the driver has his music blaring in the front, somebody else in the back of the bus had different music blasting back there, and one girl with earphones and a music player was singing out loud to her music, and very off key. Combine that with babies crying, and chickens squawking, and it was quite the experience. The road was narrow and winding as it goes from one coast to another it goes through some high mountains and passes the continental divide. Steve was feeling progressively worse. The bus stopped once at a "rest stop", and they said we had 10 minutes. Steve got off and immediately lost last nights's supper on the road side. I was afraid that if I got off to help him that I would lose our seats, as there were a bunch more people piling onto the bus and they took whatever seats were vacated. He got back on and we were able to sit together at least, and I found a large zip-lock bag that Steve put to good use through the rest of the journey. Poor Steve!

Once we got to the bus station in David, we managed to find a bathroom (double yuck!! - worst one yet), get our luggage, and find a cab to take us to the airport where the car rental office was. The cab driver told me my spanish was mal (bad) and didn't talk to me the entire trip. Once he dropped us off, he shook Steve's hand and wished him Buen Suerte - good luck. I wonder what that was about? Maybe he saw Steve sitting on the sidewalk at the bus station and realized he wasn't well. The car rental office was closed - what the heck? - so Steve waited inside the airport where it was a little cooler - David is hot and humid, and crowded and dirty. Finally I found the lady from the car rental - she was in the airport taking a break. She spoke no English and my spanish was getting worse and worse as I became more worried about Steve and stressed out. I managed to get our car, and directions to the hospital in case we needed it and we were off. Once sitting in the car with the air conditioning, Steve felt a little better and just wanted to get to the hotel so he could lay down. The road all the way from David to Boquete is under construction and is a mess of detours, broken pavement and delays. Signage is almost non-existant, so I had no idea of how far it should be, or what the speed limit was, or where the various detours were supposed to take me. Somehow we found our way, after stopping to ask directions a couple of times, and we arrived just as it started to rain. Steve was feeling better by the next morning, but weak. It rained all night and all the next day, so it was a good day to stay inside so he could sleep. So, we had quite the interesting beginning of the last leg of our journey, and quite the crappy (and barfy) birthday for Steve.


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