It has been a long day – two international borders and seven buses. Crossing countries is never easy when you can’t pronounce the names of any of the places you’re trying to get to and I tongue-stumbled my way from Ruinas, Chiqimula to Metapan and Ahuachupan.
At the border of El Salvador the immigration officer told me he’d heard that Belize and Mexico were much nicer and that maybe I should have gone there instead – always an encouraging start to a journey.
Travelling on the old re-vamped US school buses (called chicken buses) is an adventure in itself. It feels as if worlds will come parade for you if you can only squeeze into a stable spot, if only you can get your bag down off your back, so as to be at liberty to look.
Doe-eyed school girls board in giggling twos wearing demure grey pinafores offset by flashes of bright metallic eye shadow. Three little chickens cheep and chirp indignantly from the narrow confines of a scarf on someone’s lap. Their anxious eyes, kicking feet and ruffled feathers seemingly interchangeable in the tussle of bird with bird.
A young woman waits by the road side with a big plastic laundry basket of tortillas on her head. The conductor hops down to help her manoeuvre it through the narrow door. As she climbs aboard I see a little baby sleeping soundly amongst the rainbow wrapped bundles of warmth.
Boys on mission sit stiffly in their seats, looking too young to look so old in stark white starch buttoned shirts, formulated into types by ties and name tags.
The sun burns down through through the window and I blush and pink down one side, like a chicken forgotten on a spit.
There is no need to get off to explore the colourful crowds in the markets that seethe past the windows. The shops come aboard in miniature, in multiple, the same goods touted only shouted in slightly different tones.
A handsome man sells a magic balm that he claims will cure all, with charismatic zeal and a showman’s aplomb that speaks without needing vocabulary. Vendors snake slide down the packed aisles with racks, buckets, hooks, holding chopped fruit, candied nuts, pop corn, ice cream cones bore-holed through wood, cool drinks that sweat glass tears in the breathless heat.
I envy their boneless ease in this bouncing bedlam.
The bus is porous, permeable, windows and doors wide open, a space that is and is not.
Passengers come and go to the rhythmic pulse of brake jolts and boldly yelled names, repeated for streamed-past places. People climb in, way beyond the point when I assume there is simply no more room. I feel grateful to have one buttock on a hard bench seat, count myself lucky.
Rubbish flies out of the windows as if displaced by the growing tangle of body heat. I worry for passers-by, imagine coke bottle head wounds..
A lovely little girl leans out precariously to clean the outside of her window with a still-moist mango stone, smudging the view out to a sticky mist of fruit juice.
I think to myself that there are many kinds of beautiful, many scenes worth the love of looking.