Every PC volunteer around the world has their own fair share of travel stories, I'm sure. And although we don't rely on bush taxis and horse carts to traverse across the country, and the Bulgarian bus system is fairly reliable, I've developed a love hate relationship with the numerous hours I spend on the bus every month going wherever it is that need or want to go.
I love bus travel, because the winding mountain roads and valley straight-aways are gorgeous, and because people are usually quiet enough for some serious thought and God time (not that I don't get enough quiet time living alone in a country that doesn't speak my language, but you know…). I also have FINALLY developed the ability to snooze during travel. Much to my parents chagrin, I'm sure, I definitely did not possess this as a small child as we flew on airplanes around the world or drove across country.
Some stories that could sometimes appear to contribute to a "hate" relationship with buses, but really just make me laugh. Out loud. At random periods of time. All the time.
- The day after Christmas 2008, I was on the bus heading back to Samokov. It was dark out, and the road from Sofia is narrow and winding, with mountains and drop offs on either side. Drivers on this road are known to play chicken (as they are everywhere in the BG, I'm sure), and passing is not only expected, but encouraged. Even on freezing, icy nights like that one. I have gotten into the habit of plugging into my iPod, and trying to not pay too much attention. I was probably listening to the Straight No Chaser Christmas album, when all of the sudden the driver slams on the brakes and the old rickety micro-bus fishtales into the middle of the already narrow road. We all sit there for a second, catching our breath and, in some cases, allowing our hearts to start beating again. All of the sudden, the bus driver throws up his hands, shouts "le le!" (an expression of surprise or astonishment here), and chuckles in a way that only Bulgarian men of a certain age can. We all look out the windshield, and low and behold, someone's Christmas dinner (a big fat, pink pig) is charging across the road into the woods
- I was waiting for the bus to go to a big city about two hours away earlier this fall. I was early to the bus station, so one of the first people in line. Right before we were about to board, someone taps me on my shoulder and starts asking me a ton of questions about America and my work here. Because I see a big part of my job as shining a POSITIVE light on my kids here, I got into a conversation with him, and didn't realize the entire line had gone onto the bus ahead of me. And was officially full. I was supposed to be in Plovdiv that night, and there were no other travel options to get me there before I needed to present at a Peace Corps conference. I begged and pleaded with the bus driver to see if there was anything he could do, and explained I HAD to get there tonight. He looked at me again, grabbed a newspaper, spread it over the stairs in front of the door of the charter bus, and pointed. And there I sat for the next two and a half hours, winding through the beautiful Rila mountains, and bracing myself with every sharp curve in the road.
- There is a bus from my town to Sofia every half an hour. Sometimes these buses are big charter buses, and other times they are these itty bitty scary remnants of communism. Knowing this, I usually get to the bus station pretty early, to ensure that I get a decent seat. This, time, however, I was running straight from work, and had to sit in the shotgun seat that is only used if the bus is completely full. And it was. We stopped about 15 minutes outside of Samokov to because someone was waiting to be picked up on the side of the road. The bus driver pulled over to tell this woman there was no room, so she would have to wait for the next one in another half hour. She said that it was ok, she needed to be on the bus, so she would stand if she had to. Because my mom taught me my manners, and she was older and laden down with what easily could have been a lifetime of possessions, I offered her my seat. I would stand instead of her. She sat down, and I braced myself for the rest of the trip. About 5 minutes later, this woman (this would be a good time to tell you was a… tad… on the bigger side) offered to SHARE the seat. So I spent the next 40 minutes sitting sideways "on" the edge (really – probably even more the SIDE of the seat) with my pushing intensely on the block underneath the drivers seat so I could keep from falling on the floor.
These are just my favorites. :)