Before leaving Panama City I went shopping and ended up buying WAY MORE than I intended to but was very excited to have found a stick blender randomly at the grocery store Riba Smith. This grocery store is just one more reason to stay at Mamallena since the store is within walking distance and is a haven for raw foodies selling natural products like raw agave, flax and lots of great fruits and veggies as well as a the blender.
So there I was struggling with four bags plus my enormous pack through the bus station. Pretty ridiculous! Pouring sweat and rushing to try to make it to my bus on time. I must have been quite a sight. Anyway, I made the bus and was happy as a clam to have some yummy food to eat when I finally settled into my seat. I was surprised that the bus was mostly Panamanians. I had heard that Bocas was very touristy so this was a happy surprise.
Anyway, the bus ride was uneventful and calm up until about 3:30 am when I heard some branches hitting the bus. Hmmmm…. Probably just some low hanging trees. And then all of a sudden the guy next to me started saying “heeeeeeey. Heeeeeeeeey!!!” getting progressively louder and then other voices chimed in as the sound of branches hitting the bus continued. Soon, almost everyone including me was awake and yelling as we realized that the bus driver had driven off the road.
When the bus came to a stop we were on an embankment as the woman next to me was pretty much in my lap. We all sat calmly looking at eachother waiting for an answer to the unspoken question of “now what.” We all waited. A few people joked about breaking the windows to get off the Everyone was speaking Spanish which of course meant that I had no idea what was being said and could only guess at what was going on.
Then the elderly man who had been seated across the aisle from me started to get very agitated and yelling what I can only assume was open the door. His getting so upset was strange because he was very calm and mild mannered- he had even helped me untangle my ipod headphones with his handy flashlight. So, I was surprised that he was getting so angry. Over the next few minutes, others joined him everyone started to get upset. I was not at all interested in being stuck on a bus with an angry mob at three am. I still didn’t understand what was going on and my thoughts were pretty much “what‘s the big deal we can all just sleep and wait for another bus.” It took the words “muerto” and that mild mannered gentleman motioning the international hand gesture for “bus tumbling down the hill” for the gears to start clicking. I looked behind me and saw that everyone was on my side of the bus. I realized I was not in the states anymore. We were traveling in the land without guardrails to keep us out of ravines. At this angle were in grave danger of this bus tipping and rolling who knows how far into the ravine. It was a blessing that it hadn’t already happened.
So we waited. The door would not open as the bus had stopped just so that the door was pressed against a tree. Eventually, the bus driver broke the driver side window and we slowly began to move to the front of the bus. It was the most beautiful and terrifying thing how calm everyone was like this happened all the time. We milled to the front of the bus and jumped out the window and into the arms of the men who had initiated the escape. The getting off the bus was the worst part because as people got up out of their seats to move toward the front we could feel the bus shifting under us. When it was my turn to jump out of the window I looked back and said a little prayer for those left on the bus that they would make it off safely. It was no joke my friends.
When I got to the window the man across the aisle from me was there he was clearly the leader of this operation. There were many directions being yelled to me to which I could only respond “No habla!!!” and then that same man said “ok baby sit there and jump to me.” Which I did and I was off. Then the rest of us waited holding our breath and looking on as the last people were able to safely get off the bus. Then the poor drivers assistant was directed to get all of the bags people left. He was understandably upset to be the one left to do this job. The bus was tipped completely to one side the wheels weren’t even touching the ground. Eventually, all of the people and the luggage made it off the bus safely and we were happy to be out in the cold on the side of a highway rather than in a ravine.
There was a tiny boy about one or two years old next to me and all he kept saying for the next hour was “ no muerto” which was very funny AFTER everyone got off the bus.
We waited for three hours. The sun was coming up when the empty buses arrived and it felt as though we had been through a war together. So, I have about 100 war buddies out here on the islands getting some much needed rest and relaxation.
The most amazing part was when we were driving away from the bus and in the light of day it was clear that had the bus driver not stopped exactly where he did, if he had gone even 100 yards further we would not have been so lucky (keep in mind that when a bus is traveling 60-70 mph 100 yards might as well be a few feet.) The embankment had worn away and the earth made a steep decline into the ravine. There is no doubt that if we had gone off the side of the road here we would have rolled down the mountain.
So when I say I am truly blessed to be here it is ABSOLUTELY NOT a figure of speech.