Been there, done that, etc.

I feel it helpful to reprint these testimonials; often, when I tell friends and those concerned that folks from all over have been commenting on these pages, they rarely believe me. 

"I mean," they'll say, "who's gonna take time out of what could be a very pleasurable surfing experience to write in about a bunch of horrible, third-world catastrophes?" (I'm paraphrasing here.) 

"I'll show you," I'll say (that's pretty much verbatim). "I'll post them someday, and take up an entire page with nothing but people's own, bone-chilling experiences of bus travel over spindly bridges and blind curves in rickety buses through lesser-developed parts of countries that few people have ever heard of, much less taken mass transit in." (paraphrasing, again. I'm not very eloquent when pressed.) 

"You're an idiot." (verbatim.) 

Unfortunately, this conversation invariably comes around to, "Yes, I suppose if someone was fool enough to take the time to create these pages, than I suppose that there are people out there who would take time – for whatever reason – to respond to them." (They always think their so very clever when they say that.) 

So. The comments are printed, at right. If you'd like to add to them, by all means. 


Mercedes bends
Back in the late 1970s I was lucky(?) enough to be living in the Shah's Iran, a few months before the clerics took over. Bus travel in the country was fine, as long as you were travelling between the major cities.

On minor roads, bus drivers had the habit of driving their huge Mercedes buses while standing up, demonstrating their prowess and joking with the passengers as if it was some kind of floor show! On a trip to the Caspian Sea, I recall one silver-haired "handsome devil" of a driver producing a wad of well-thumbed photos from his hip pocket (while driving up a mountainside at maniac speed) and showing them off to passengers at the front of the bus.

The photos were of a mangled Mercedes bus that had plunged into a ravine...very similar to the one I could see through the window. I don't recall any explanation, only his laughter at passenger reaction.

Cheers and good luck.

Minibus chicken
First this story was witnessed by my brother-in-law, and it involved mini-buses... In Xiamen, China on the way to some God-forsaken factory, a trip that involves a perilous 4 hour mountain crossing ... twisting roads next to sheer cliffs ... etc. The driver is of course driving like mad (in between stops to add water to the brake system) They see this other minibus approach, then veer straight at them, and then it goes off the cliff ... They stop, look down at the dead bodies sprawled 300 feet below and after detecting no motion, they then get back in the car and leave. After this the driver was much more careful...

Guard duty?
Any and all dolmus bus drivers on the route from Kyrenia to Lefkosa in Northern Cyprus are in a state of terminal sleep deprivation. With temperatures often in the mid 40s, and the road being just about a sraight line - except for the very wiggly bits on the climb across the coastal hills - drivers tend to nod aff a lot.

They wake up only when the dolmus (generally a 10 or 12 seat Mercedes Benz) leaves the road and the clattering of earth and stones on the underside of the vehicle becomes impossible to sleep through. This is potentially even more dangerous than it sounds, cos if you run out of road all too often you'll end up in a militarised area, and the Turkish soldiers take guard duty pretty seriously.

On the other hand, you can travel all day for less than a pound. Churlish to complain really.

  nolo bridgicus
A night bus in southern Nepal, a veritable Saltine cracker box on wheels, no seats except at the very front, nose to the front windshield ... The driver was dozing off, and we had to sing songs to help him keep awake. 3 a.m., and wondering when the next caffeine stop will be...

We come up over the hill, mud-splattered headlights barely illuminating the murky forest. Reaching the summit, the driver jerks awake, wide-eyed: a huge tree is down across the road, and beyond the tree, the road ends at a gully where the bridge has been removed. Removed to where? Sitting with my nose to the window, I wasn't really asking those kinds of questions.

The driver hits the brakes: s-q-u-i-s-h-h-h! Nothing happens. The driver gears down. Nothing happens. All the geometry I thought I'd forgotten comes back to me, measuring the distance between the bus and the tree, and things just don't balance out very well.

The driver does the last thing he can do: he veers to the left, missing the tree. He runs into the brush  and the bus teeters, kicking up dust and foliage. We skid to a stop on the edge of the ravine, one wheel hanging over.

I get out of the bus, along with all the other passengers. My friend, who's coming from the states to visit — I remember I'd promised him adventure.


Moped plunge?
When I was about nine or ten, I was living in northern Italy and going to school on a US army base.  One day my class went on a field trip.  The purpose of our journey, I cannot recall, but somehow it involved piling into an old army bus (our daily mode of transportation to and from school) and travelling for a couple of hours on narrow mountainous roads with hairpin curves through the Dolomites, the "foothills of the Alps."  On the way home (after WHAT??? What was it we did?), our driver was slowly and carefully navigating the oversized vehicle down the mountain. 

We rounded a corner -- not even a hairpin one at this point -- and coming directly at us up the mountain was another vehicle and an old man on a moped.  The old man, about 80, was apparently in some sort of a hurry and he had decided to pass the other vehicle on his way up the mountain, on his mode of transportation which is powered by something akin to a lawn mower motor. The old man and his moped were directly next to the oncoming vehicle, and thus couldn't pull over, and he was right in our path.

Our bus driver swerved to avoid hitting the man, and the front wheel of the bus rolled up onto the little stone "barrier" which marked the edge of the road and "protected" vehicles from the drop down the mountain.  As the front wheel topped the barrier, the bus driver made the decision to sacrifice one old man instead of thirty ten-year-olds, and he pulled the bus back over the barrier and to safety.  The old man and the moped did not survive the incident, but we did.

Get a bigger hammer
In late '89, my wife and I did an 11 day trek in Nepal, starting at the town of Dhunche and hiking up the Langtang Valley.  The 7 hour 30km bus ride from Katmandu to Dhunche was quite something.  First, as expected, it was very crowded.  This wasn't helped (for us) by the fact that we were in the very rear, without a window, and the seatback of the seat in front of us kept collapsing, sending it and all of its occupants into our laps.  At one point, as we navigated turn after turn high in the Himalayas, the driver pulled over.  We all got out for the break, and he and a buddy climbed under the bus and banged on something for a while, with a hammer, I think. 

Then we got back in and kept going.  We were tired enough of our seats that we figured we'd be more comfortable, not to mention safer, if we sat on the top of the bus with the locals.  So we climbed up on top and enjoyed the spectacular views from up there.  (I'm sure it was safer, too.)  Halfway to Dhunche there was a lunch stop in a small town at the bottom of a valley.  When we tried to leave town, the bus simply would not go up the hill.  It was overloaded.  So we and several other tourists simply got our packs and started walking.  I wanted no part of that journey any longer.

Related story:  Another passenger on that bus related that they'd been on a different bus recently -- they'd been driving along, curvy mountain roads, when all of a sudden the driver jerked the bus to a stop.  The passengers all looked on in awe as he sat there, spinning the steering wheel 'round and 'round and 'round in his hands.

Whoa, dude!
Like, when I was 15 I journeyed to Spain for a summer. Riding a fairly modern bus on the narrow, winding, mountain road between Javea and Denia (on the east coast), a tire blew out and we skidded to the right. Fortunately, the ancient stone wall alongside kept us from going down the mountainside, but it also prevented us from getting out the door. We had to use the emergency exits. Not very exciting, is it? I really wanna try one of the ferry plunges next time I'm in Europe...take my scuba gear.

Near-plunge Club
While returning from a whitewater rafting trip in the great state of West Virginia, I almost experienced a plunge. The near toothless driver of a busload of rafters found excitement by fishtailing along mountain roads, spitting rocks with the tires into the woods far below. We were all too tired and drunk to protest at the time, but we later exchanged addresses and we hold reunions on occassion. Sorry, no tales from the banana republics, I've only been to Windsor, Ontario.

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