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The Direct Bus

SAN PEDRO SULA — I am sitting in a small comedor down the street from the Hedman Alas bus station drinking a cold Imperial beer that is sweating as much as I am in the 100 degree heat, contemplating that my bus to La Ceiba doesn´t leave for three more hours and that I should have paid attention to my own maxim of travel here that, ¨No attempted act of punctuality in Central America shall go unpunished.¨
I am on my way to Trujillo to at least graze the edges of the Mosquitia jungle and to visit the grave of that ill-fated American adventurer William Walker. Why I should have been in any hurry is beyond me now. Neither are going anywhere anytime soon.
I caught a direct bus from Santa Rosa about 0900 for the princely sum of 68 Lempiras and settled into my cushy reclining seat to enjoy a swift ride down out of the mountains to the sweltering city of San Pedro. All was going well, as it were, until it wasn´t. With a grinding of metal, a mechanical sigh and a whiff of acrid smoke the nice bus pulled over to the side of the road. After a few minutes of banging and cursing from the direction of the engine everyone was ordered off and onto another, not-quite-so-nice bus that pulled promptly up behind. Ah well, I thought, no problem.
After another 20 minutes we started passing semis, cars and buses stacked up truck-nose to bus-ass along the road and to his credit, our driver kept going as long as he could before stopping. We were ordered off again and made to run a hundred yards or so to be shoved into the back of a chicken bus with the attendant yelling at us to MOVE, MOVE, MOVE like we were dog-faces on the way to the front on commandeered transportation. That bus, for an extra 10 Lempiras, took us at the most one more mile. It was off again and there was a suspicious lack of busses to forward. My fears were confirmed when, after walking some distance, my fellow passengers began fashioning hats out of newspapers. I stopped, pissed by the roadside and thankful I had decided to travel ultra-light, pulled my boonie hat from my bag and told myself, ¨Forward march.¨
We walked about a mile and a half until we reached the reason for all the trouble. Barricades of boulders were thrown up onto the highway and the ashes of brushfires set ablaze over them were still hot and smoking. People holding placards were chanting and I had to push my way through the crowd. My bus-mates were mostly through and resolutely marching off down the empty highway. I was about to pull my Leica out and shoot off a few frames but, despite what you might be picturing, dear reader, it didn´t look that exciting in real life and I had the germ of another idea. An obvious press-photog was checking the shots on the back of his Nikon D1h so I walked over and asked him what was going on, glancing quickly at his press-pass. He scanned me and the Leica M6.
¨You´re with La Tribuna, eh?¨
¨Si, y tu?¨
¨Freelance. On vacation. The bus…¨I shrugged.
¨You were on a bus? he asked pointing back into the miles of jammed traffic.
¨Well I have to get these shots back to the office. Need a ride into San Pedro?¨
¨That would be great.¨
I followed him and got into the backseat of their pickup where he introduced me to the driver and the reporter, an attractive woman, in front. We chatted about work as best as possible in my somewhat rough Spanish and when the finer points failed us lapsed into the old photographer standbye of equipment talk. He handled my little rangefinder and showed me his lenses then the digital shots he had just taken of the protest which was over property rights. He showed me his favorite, which I agreed was the best, shot low though a soldier´s legs, the camoflage pants and boots framing the protest like some militant colosus.
¨But the editor doesn´t like this creative crap,¨he said, shaking his head and rolling his eyes a little and we commiserated about how common that was.
He looked fondly at his camera, running his hand over the prism housing and said, ¨Nikons really are the best,¨in a voice full of incredulity that anyone could possibly want anything else, ¨Canons,¨he continued, ¨They are all right but…¨
I told him my first real camera was a Nikon FM and he laughed, replying that his had been an FM2. They dropped me off right near the station, we shook hands and when they drove off I realized I hadn´t caught his name. And so, photographer for La Tribuna, San Pedro Sula Bureau, Mucho gracias, thank you very, very much for the ride and maybe with the exception of my friend Jane Tyksa with the Oakland Tribune, it goes to show that Nikon people really are the best.