Don’t Stop and Never Run

29 08 2011

Part V: Sleeper Bus

I kept telling myself that this would be really funny someday.

The day we left Da Nang, all of my nervous hallucinations came to fruition. The road to Nha Trang was through the countryside, a dirt road with green jungle on both sides; uneven, steep, dark and, scary. Besides the rusty train tracks that connect the north and south, Vietnam lacks a comprehensive system of direct roadways into dozens of cities. But I had done a great bit of reading about traveling down the coast of Vietnam and was confident that an overnight sleeping bus would be perfect for getting us to Nha Trang. We could spend all day in Da Nang, sleep on the bus for 12 hours and wake up refreshed and ready to explore. How easy this sounded in my head.

The woman at the station was apathetic to our appointment, and didn’t see any problem with us waiting until the following day to travel to Nha Trang. But Mike was determined. He had been pining all week over his ex-girlfriend who was due to arrive in Nha Trang the same day, so the plan was to be there when she arrived and sweep her off her feet. I supported his effort, but his romantic idealism made me want to kill myself. Fortunately I was still high as a kite from taking excessive amounts of  my perception, so I wasn’t in any position to attempt and achieve a successful suicide. A few phone calls later the woman smiled, satisfied with a solution to what Mike was now regarding a problem of national importance. She said a van was on its way, and that the van would take us to the neighboring city of Hoi An, where we could catch a sleeper bus headed for Nha  Trang. Fine. Mike was restless, pacing back and forth, anxious to get to his princess. I was sitting in a chair sweating, staring at a wall, fading in and out of consciousness. I don’t remember the drive into Hoi An.

As soon as I fell out of the van I knew something was horribly wrong. About 30 foreigners speaking in languages from all over the world were spilling out of the booking office. They looked exhausted, falling over their bags, sitting and sleeping on each other. A family with two young children sat close to the desk of the operator, the mother fanning herself and son with a magazine. How long had they been here? By now it was well into the evening, and it was clear we were going to be late. The people in the office offered little consolation. When is the bus coming? Soon, very soon. But when? Soon. I didn’t know where we were, or how long we would be there, so Mike decided-for both of us-to get some dinner. The cafe food was boring and over-priced. The appeal might have been the free WiFi or western nuance, but as I fidgeted over my rice and vegetables, I couldn’t help but wish he had eaten across the street, on the little-plastic-tea-party-tables, lined in front of an outdoor kitchen where I knew the pho was being prepared by a women who didn’t care at all about presumptuous smears of sauce across a plate. Is this ketchup? Probably no WiFi, but I’m easy to please.

As the night wore on, we were making friends with people who like us, had been duped by this travel agency. But unlike us, most of these backpackers had been in Vietnam for sometime and were planning on staying. Two icy girls from France were taking a month-long holiday through the country, which put into perspective-yet again, how absurdly ambitions our itinerary was. But we had come this far, and I wasn’t about to give up just because some French girl in floral cotton pants and Keds was making me feel like a jerk for trying to keep a schedule. But our schedule was beginning to feel pointless, so at about 9:00 p.m. and after a handful of  blue and white pills,  I resolved to be content with the evening, however it went down. We would eventually leave, eventually arrive, and I would be fine; I was already starting to feel better. The medicine was working. From the booking office we boarded two small buses with our new friends and headed to yet another location where supposedly the large sleeper bus was waiting. To my surprise there it was, a double-decker, parked and waiting like an oasis in the desert. My backpack suddenly felt less heavy. After 7 hours of waiting around, we were finally on our way.

The sleeper bus is a unique experience; one I hope to never have again. It smells like hot vinyl and plastic, the ball pit at a Mc Donalds more specifically, and probably just as unsanitary. Down the length of the bus were two very slim isles that separated three rows of bunk beds. The beds are shorter than an adults average height and slant up so that the legs of one person fit under another persons back and head. They are padded like examination tables at a hospital and have the same cold quality. Each bed is set with a blanket and a pillow. Instantly I started telling myself that someday this would be really funny; that someday I would tell my children that I had been a badass in my youth and traveled via slave bus through Vietcong jungles and lived despite a brush with pubic lice and ring worm. But in this moment, I was terrified. I sat down on the bed and looked to my right where an old Vietnamese man was nestled tightly beside me. Hello. Behind me the French girl was wrapping herself in a lightweight sleeping bag, something I’m sure experienced backpackers carry with them. This French girl was really starting to piss me off. I was exhausted, so  instead of  freaking out, I decided to try to relax and make the most of a weird situation. The old man next to me was breathing hard and I could feel it on my neck. Yes. This will be hilarious. Televisions flipped down and played Vietnamese music videos. How do people sleep with these on? I looked at the French girl now reading a book with a light clipped to the hard cover. I really don’t like her. Sometime in the middle of the night I fell asleep.

What’s going on? I had no idea what time it was. It was still pitch black which meant that we hadn’t gone far and that I was still tired. We were on the side of the road somewhere down a straight dirt path with no lights. They were dumping our bags out from under the bus. What time is it? It was 3:00 a.m. and the bus driver was informing us that we needed to wait at this location for another bus that would be coming through to take us the rest of the way. I was so tired and beyond frustration that nothing could surprise or upset me at this point. Whatever. The bus pulled away, and me and about 28 other people were on the side of the road waiting, again. Waiting to live, waiting to die, I had no idea.

And then things got worse. Twenty minutes later, instead of a sleeper bus, two vans rolled up. No fucking way. We still had 8 hours of road to lay down. The men were explaining to us that there wasn’t going to be a sleeper bus to Nha Trang. This was our bus, two small vans that probably could fit 12 people comfortably if they weren’t also carrying backpacks and other luggage. We were 28 people and 28 bags. No way. Even if we could all fit, how were we supposed to endure 8 hours of rough terrain. I shouldn’t have asked that question. I was in the very back between Mike and a girl from western Europe. My knees were almost to my chest, I scrunched up on bags and held my breath when they tried to slid the van door closed. No way. But they just kept shoving people in, forcing us to double up on seats and share our personal space in ways I never dreamed possible with strangers. Mike was visibly in pain. This is going to be really funny someday.

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One response

29 08 2011
Lisa Hall Bates

You are so brave!! I hope it is funny soon!

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