Transportation in another country can be an adventure in and of itself. My first introduction to it in Nicaragua came early on in training, as my fellow aspiring volunteers and I found our way in microbuses to and from our host homes and training sites.
Microbuses were 15-passenger vans that held an indefinite number of people. If you could pay the 16-cordoba fare, you could ride. I would guess that on one particular ride coming back from the capitol, they fit in 25 people. Of course, not everyone had a seat. Some had to stand, bent over because those roofs aren’t very high — they aren’t buses, after all.
Buses can hold an infinitely larger number of persons. I don’t even think I could count them all. Once in my two years there I was on a bus that denied a passenger a ride because it was too full. But every other time, they found a way to squeeze you on there. Even if you had to hold on to some lady’s bag and the hand rail, standing on the first step inside the bus with the wind whipping the back of your clothes.
Somehow buses were the scene of a lot of good stories for Peace Corps volunteers. Stories about getting vomited on and holding other people’s babies and getting accidentally left behind because of a desperate need for the bathroom. Fortunately, my bus stories aren’t worse than sitting next to a rooster and some mysterious creature flapping around above my head in a cardboard box.
But there’s no doubt that an American in Nicaragua will see some unusual sights. Like when my father, visiting me one summer, saw a few people put a dog in a sack normally used to transport corn or beans, secure the opening where his head stuck out so he could breathe and then tie him down on top of the bus with the cargo. I can only hope, for the dog’s sake, he didn’t have very far to go.
In my site, taxis were another option for travel. They made the journey from the departmental capitol to my site in half the time. Though the local police tried to cut down on the number of people crammed into a car, the “taxistas” would be as obliging as they could if they knew there was no patrol. That would normally be seven people, including the driver: four people in the back and three in the front. A taxista would never think of leaving until he had six passengers. Sometimes a man or two would ride in the trunk with the door open. A friend in a site close to mine said she once rode in a taxi with 13 people inside — seven adults and a child on everyone’s lap but the driver’s. I think that’s a record.
Once out on the road, there were other things to worry about, like donkeys that mozied their way from one side of the road to another, or the boys from a neighboring town who played soccer on the highway in the evenings.
Getting from place to place off the highways could be a challenge, particularly when the rainy season created small lakes in the middle of roads and sludge that tires easily sank into and got stuck. In the dry season, those dirt roads seemed to be made of rocks and pot holes, which is why sometimes the best form of transportation was a horse or a donkey. Many people, however, went on foot.
The health post where I worked serviced a wide geographic area, many of the towns being located along poor roads. The women who brought their small children to monthly doctor check-ups left at four or five in the morning to make the two- to three-hour walk to the health post.
Ox-pulled wagons were used sometimes when large items needed to be transported, but those were mostly used for shorter distances and smoother roads.
Bicycles were fairly common, in spite of the rocky, bumpy roads. They were cheaper than a horse or donkey and got you where you needed to go faster than your feet, so it was a pretty good compromise.
Transportation there is not as fast and convenient as it is in the States. But walking or riding a donkey gives you time to notice where you’ve been and where you are. It gives you the chance to hold long conversations with people you just met. I made friends in the long stretches of time waiting for the bus to come. I think there’s something to be said for the communal experience of riding a public bus or taxi. There’s a feeling you get on a run-down school bus that can sometimes get lost in our hurried culture. You stand hanging on to the bag rack above the seats, your hands touching the hands of the person next to you. As the woman with the woven bag slides past you, she smiles, and you both know that everyone’s in this together.