The bus was fifteen minutes late. We waited in the rain and when it finally arrived, the ruca and I wrung our hair out, miserably soaked and soggy as spitballs. Although we’d taken a larger tour bus from Santo Domingo to Las Galeras, our tour guide had told us the local mini-bus was the “same” as the other one—just cheaper.
The conductor hopped off and immediately pointed at our bulky brick of luggage. “That suitcase is huge—it’s ridiculous! You’ll have to buy an extra seat for it.”
“An extra seat?” we huffed. (Ah, the price women pay for packing ten pairs of shoes!)
Desperate for dry space, we agreed irritably. Onboard, we were met by three young women in their 20s who were singing—or rather, yelling—along to the bachata blasting on the radio.
“Psst!” I nudged my ruca once we’d settled in. “I think they’re lesbians! And I think they’re drunk.”
“No,” she scoffed. Then, “really?”
We sneaked peeks behind us. One was guzzling down a bottle of Brugal Rum like a frat-boy playing beer pong while the other two were making out when they weren’t hollering out the high notes. All the other passengers shook their heads, chuckling under their breath at the karaoke bar the bus had become.
Through wet windy roads of the mountains, our driver texted non-stop as we pulled over to pick up more passengers. An elder man hobbled on, who the conductor was unusually kind to and addressed as “Papa.” Another man, handsome and seeming a little bit macho, settled into a seat next to one of the inebriated lesbians who was now crying out a song about a broken heart. Next to us, an innocent faced blond boy and his terrified looking girlfriend had sniffed us out as American. “Do you know how long it takes to get to Santo Domingo from here?” the guy asked us, unfolding his map.
We told him what our tour guide had told us: that it’d be the same two and a half hour ride. (Ha! Words we would later come to choke on.) We chit-chatted politely, his terrified girlfriend possibly a mute. Turns out he was a Midwest boy who lived in Puerto Rico with his Russian girlfriend he’d met in Moscow. The globe in my head was spinning when I realized something else; we were stopping way too often. Time was stretching out, long as taffy.
In a major transport city, Samaná, we stopped long enough for the lesbians to go pee. The macho señor turned to the women with a bite in his voice. “You better use the bathroom now before the bus fills up and they put a seat between you.”
I looked at the aisle, which was narrow enough to pass through if you walked sideways. How would anyone fit a seat there?
The young woman fired back. “Uh-uh! No one’s gonna put anything in me! Maybe they’ll put it in you.”
“Are you crazy?! No one’s gonna put that thing in me either!”
“Pero mi amor, maybe you need one in you.”
“No, no, no! I’m sure you could squeeze one in you. Just put a little Baby Oil to loosen it up.”
Baby Oil? I scratched my head, confused at the handfuls of Spanish I was picking up…. Were we still talking about a seat?
“Papi,” the lesbian hollered back. “I obviously haven’t had anything in me in years, and it’s not gonna happen now!”
The entire bus was a roaring laughter as the macho whooped and belted out: “Whoever gets the seat in them is a sucker!”
The Midwest boy had registered enough conversation and turned to his trembling girlfriend. “Oh, I get it. They’re talking about putting a…” he stopped, flushed.
With the energy of punks in a mosh-pit, the bus was still rowdy over who was going to be the sucker with the seat “in” them, until Papa finally spoke, silencing all of us: “Son tan vulgares!”
Later, it seemed like we were on the main road back to Santo Domingo and had gotten more than five minutes of solid speed when the bus stopped to pick someone up. “Wait, I have to use the bathroom!” one of the lesbians cried, even though we’d just stopped. She hopped off and went pee in some bushes. We sighed…checked our watches…she came back. We took off again. The driver answered a few more texts and a few minutes later we stopped again. “Wait, I have to use the bathroom!” one of the other lesbians cried. A couple people snorted. She hopped off and went pee in some bushes. We sighed…checked our watches…she came back. We drove some more. The driver answered a few more texts and a few minutes later we stopped again. “Wait, I have to—” “Hijo de su madre!” the entire bus cried, up in arms. “This is an outrage!” “Ridiculous!” “Absurd!” Dozens of Dominicans shouted all at once, the macho growled like a pit-bull, and the ruca and I froze, beyond baffled. The Midwest boy looked up at me from his map, his flash-light glasses glaring at me. “I think we’ve been misinformed.”
The crowd was worst than a pen-coop of squabbling chickens all pecking madly at each other, the lesbians defensively slurring their laughter back at them until finally Papa spoke. “I’m 83 years old!” he shouted. “I’ve been riding this bus for over 40 years, and I have never experienced anything like this!” He sounded thoroughly disgusted with all of us.
Things calmed down a little bit after that, almost promising a peaceful ride the rest of the way. The lesbians sang until they slumbered into an alcohol comatose, and the Midwest boy was explaining the capital’s population and elevation to his girlfriend. The macho groaned and tapped his feet while Papa behind him began to snore. We passed fields of sugar cane, a plethora of palm trees, shacks and mansions, galloping horses and fat grazing cows. Every single seat in the bus was now full, and still, we stopped and picked up a man. As the macho had predicted, the conductor unfolded a small cushion between him and one of the lesbians in the next seat, who was not only passed out in her girlfriend’s arms, but revealing a huge eyeful of but-crack. The macho fought back immediately. “You’re not putting that seat there! I’m practically touching this girl’s ass as it is!”
“He’s skinny,” the conductor waved at the man.
“I don’t give a shit! No!”
The conductor next tried the seat between the Midwest boy and me. My ruca snapped suddenly to attention. “Uh-uh—no way.”
“I need the space.”
“I’ve already paid you extra money for an entire seat—I’m not giving you anymore space.”
“Your suitcase was huge,” he scoffed.
“Yeah, but you put all those other suitcases on my chair that no one else had to pay for—are you going to give me some money for sharing my seat with everyone else’s stuff?” she bellowed. The ruca was definitely getting streets on his ass.
“No,” he admitted.
“Of course not. And you’re not putting that seat here either! We’ve already given you enough business,” she exhaled firmly.
The Midwest boy nudged his girlfriend. “They wanted to put a seat here, but she wouldn’t let them.”
The fold-out seat, which was about the width of a laptop, was then thrust between a very voluptuous lady and someone else. The man sat there for an entire 30 seconds until the lady started to fuss. “Either this man gets up or I push him!”
“He has nowhere else to sit,” the conductor exasperated.
“Either he gets up or I push him!” she repeated, louder. “Get off! NOW! MOVE!” I elbowed the ruca—I already had five on the lady. She pushed mercilessly until the man got up.
“I don’t think that lady wanted him to sit there either,” the Midwest boy whispered to his girlfriend, who looked like she was about to cry.
“No one wants that seat between them—there’s no room on this bus!” Papa called out from the back. The conductor rubbed his temples, irritated that he was losing money by not being able to fill more people in the seats.
There was standing room only left. The bus sat 26 people, and we had almost 40 riders when we finally made it to Santo Domingo—five hours later (double the time it’d taken us on the tour bus).
Since all rules of normalcy had long been thrown out the window, the ruca and I did not think it strange when we stopped at a random corner and a man handed over a coffee table to the conductor. (The driver must’ve been texting him along the way.) And when another man got on and cut up bits of cheese to sample before trying to sell the tiny wheels of quéso, we hardly thought this unusual either. In fact, the Midwest boy bought a piece to calm his girlfriend and boasted, “Mmm! Quéso!”
The lesbians had woken up and started singing their cruda bachata blues all the way to their stop and the macho pushed past us too, pausing only to slick back his hair. Finally, Papa rose to get off. Raising his hands, he crossed the air as if he were a pope and announced proudly, “It has been a pleasure to spend these last five hours with you. I’m 83 years old and in all my 40 years riding this bus-line, I’ve never been on a ride like this.”
The ruca and I winked at each other. Neither had we. And in another 40 years, we probably never would again.
© Sarah C. Jiménez, All Rights Reserved 2012