Our theme for the month of July is “stunt journalism.” Writers were asked to try something new, take on a challenge, or perform some other interesting feat strictly for the purpose of writing about it.
When I want to think, I’ll go for a walk. But when I want not to think, I’ll take the bus. There’s something about watching the city rushing by through the windows that’s like white noise, or meditation. I can sit still for twenty minutes, and just be.
I take the bus to work almost every day, and I started to wonder what it would be like to spend more than just a few minutes—to follow the buses to their routes’ ends, to watch where people swarmed on, and where they swarmed off, to devote a whole day to nothing more than rattling around through the streets of this city I call home.
This week, I decided to do it. I set a few rules—my “day” on the bus would last eight hours, but would include walking to, from, and between buses. I would stick with routes I knew well and knew to be safe. I would notice as much as possible and I would write everything down.
I took only a notebook, a pen, a cheap brick phone, and about $10. At 8:00 a.m., I set out to grab my first bus of the day.
- Carrizal – UNAH – Sosa – Metro Mall
My first bus, a short walk from my house, is the one I usually take to work. Like most of Tegucigalpa’s buses, it’s a rounded Hyundai minibus that seats about thirty, but can pack almost fifty if they squeeze (and they often do).
The buses here don’t run on numbered routes, they’re differentiated by the landmarks or neighborhoods they pass by. This one passes by a hospital, a university, and at least three malls.
In the stop and go traffic, I see men in suits and men walking barefoot. I see roadside stands hawking breakfast to commuters. Then the bus breaks out of the thick of the city, and I begin to see the mountains.
- Metro Mall – Sosa – UNAH – Carrizal
After getting off the first bus, I cross the street and immediately get on a second. After less than two minutes, it takes off, bumping reggaetón on its tricked-out sound system. “Despacito” comes on, and then three more songs that sound exactly like it.
The fare-changer on this bus is a boy of about fourteen. He hops out of the bus whenever it stops or slows to beckon people in, naming in hoarse, rapid sing-song all the landmarks the bus will pass. When the bus starts moving again, he runs and jumps back on, hanging out of the open door by one arm and swinging back and forth as the bus jolts.
As the bus slowly fills up, I lean my head back and look out the window. When I walk in the streets, I get stares; in coffee shops, people sometimes try to approach me; but for whatever reason, on the bus I can be anonymous. No one talks to me, no one asks me where I’m going, or what I’m doing here, and I’m free to stare and take everything in.
Two stickers grace the front of this bus—“The Lord guides me” reads one. “Sexy chicks only” reads the other.
- Nueva Suyapa – UNAH – Mercado
I get off the Carrizal bus early to catch a different bus downtown. More of the city passes by—more of its nicer malls. Sometimes I forget that Tegucigalpa is a city of a million people. Though many live in poverty, hundreds of thousands don’t—and they’re clogging the roads on their way to Cinnabon, Forever 21, Office Depot, Johnny Rocket’s…
Baja! people shout when they want to get off the bus. This is a busy route, and soon the aisle of the small bus fills with people, who grip the sides of the seats to stabilize themselves.
I ride this bus to the end of the line, which is the heart of the downtown market. Here, street after street is clogged with vendors’ stalls, choked with the mingled smells of roasting meat, exhaust, and garbage. People hawk their wares with the same loud, hoarse voices of the fare-changers—Lycra leggings, plastic sandals, pineapples, mangos, fresh cuts of pork, cell phone chargers, used clothing, toothpaste. Everyone is selling something and everything is being sold.
The streets are so filled with families shopping, or selling, or chatting, or laughing, or begging, or just walking, that they press against me as I walk. I walk two, three, four blocks and climb on another bus.
- Rio Grande – Loarque – Aeropuerto – City Mall
This bus is decorated with the following stickers: the Israeli flag, Bart Simpson, the Monster energy drink logo, and a simple one that just says “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
- El Hato – Robles – Centro – La Puma
I don’t have to take the bus in Honduras. A private taxi doesn’t cost much more than a New York metro pass. But I protest when anyone suggests I change my commute. Part of it is the anonymity, the mental white noise. Part of it is a belligerent independence that wants to know I can get wherever I want or need to go on my own, if I have to.
Part of it, too, is knowing that however different my life and my privilege from the majority of Hondurans, however distant my experience—for twenty minutes every morning and every afternoon, at least I’m sitting next to them.
A woman gets on the bus balancing an enormous wire bird cage on her shoulder.
- Parque Herrera – El Hatillo
The bus dumps me back downtown. I walk to the next stop, and pass a clown selling balloon animals, a toothless street pastor shouting to no one, and a man in frayed clothing selling fidget spinners, turning one around and around and around on his thumb.
I get on a different bus, this one a yellow school bus with “Warwick County Schools Corporation” printed on the side. Old school buses are often auctioned off and driven down through Mexico to Central America for a second life. The long, lumbering buses are slower than the minibuses on Tegucigalpa’s sharp corners and steep hills, but almost as common.
As I sit and wait for the bus to leave, its aisles become markets. A teenage boy sells ice pops, a woman sells mango slices and nance fruit, there’s cheese popcorn for sale, and salty crackers. I buy a bag of barbeque-flavored plantain chips for twenty-five cents.
This bus takes forever to leave the heart of the city. But at least we have entertainment. The driver has installed a TV monitor and a bass-thumping sound system, which together broadcast a dubbed version of the movie “Chips,” a buddy cop movie with more explosions and innuendos than I would think appropriate for a bus full of children, and—I’ll discover later—an abysmal sixteen percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
- Hato – El Centro
This bus takes me to right outside one of one of the city’s most famous public parks, but I don’t go in—I just wait at an oddly-built bus stop with a bench that can’t be more than eight inches across, perched so high that my legs dangle like a child’s.
I catch a bus after an eleven-minute wait (my longest all day).
- Rio Grande – Kennedy
It’s been almost six hours now, and I’m starting to feel sick. I realize it’s long past lunch, and try to get off where I remember an amazing food stand, but I miscalculate and have to walk almost a kilometer to where the next bus passes. In desperation I stop at Popeyes (in Spanish: poh-PAY-yays) for chicken tenders, a biscuit (BEECE-kweet), and water. Once I walk into the air-conditioned building I don’t want to leave.
I feel hot, sticky, and nauseous.
“Why am I doing this again?” I ask myself,
“Because it occurred to me” is the only answer, but it’s a good enough answer. I can stick out for a little bit longer.
- Kennedy – Centro
I could probably have walked a few more minutes and found a stop that would have taken me someplace else, but instead I got on the first bus I saw, which took me back downtown for what is now the fourth time today.
Perhaps it’s the newly full stomach, perhaps it’s the fog of riding buses for seven hours, but suddenly everything around me seems like poetry. I see a woman through the window who crouches in the shade of her yucca and plantain and green mango stand to read a book, her lips moving as she reads. A little girl behind me is excitedly telling her friend about tectonic plates.
“Would you look at the traffic,” says a woman to no one in particular: “What traffic we have today!”
- Carrizal – Centro – Sosa
I get on the bus back to my house and I know it will be the last one of the day. I feel tired, and maybe a little woozy from exhaust fumes, but content. I think I understand why people go on long drives—there’s something about movement that can help us to be still.
For eight hours, I didn’t worry about language, or social cues, I didn’t worry about how I looked, or how to respond when someone took me by surprise. I was surrounded by people and I was completely alone. I was in my own thoughts and I was in the middle of everything.
Throughout the day I had crisscrossed and zig-zagged across this city, and, in a far deeper way than any tour that I’ve taken, I felt that I really saw it.
Total buses taken: 10Total bus fare spent: 109 lemipras (about $4.65)
Time spent on buses: 4 hour, 31 minutes
Time spent walking between or waiting for buses: 2 hours, 35 minutes
Would I do this again? Not a chance
Am I still glad I did it? I think I am
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).