In the depths of half-asleep dreams on a flight, I was awakened by the serving cart right next to my head. The sounds of scraping ice and the loud pop of a soda can being opened follows next. Then it quiets and I feel myself falling back asleep. But no, that is not possible as then the baby behind me starts screaming. I suddenly feel annoyed and disgusted by this air travel experience and as I write this the baby across the aisle is crying as is the one behind me – double screaming baby torture. As much as I love traveling to different places, I have ended up hating the part where I’m shoved into a tin can in the air with hundreds of other people for hours on end. 14 hours is the longest flight I’ve experienced so far – LA to Taiwan back in 2005 on my way to Thailand. After 8 hours on that flight, I threw up in a paper bag, seemingly having contracted an illness on that flight that manifested itself very quickly.
But then I think of other travel experiences involving other modes of transportation. I’ve traveled by horseback, camel, canoe, train, bus car, boat, airplane and on foot. Many memories come back now with what I’ve experienced.
Oh yes, that 26-hour overnight bus ride in Chile to the Atacama desert. How could I forget that? Sure, the seats folded almost flat so you can sleep more easily than on a plane, but the bus stopped all night every two hours or so and the lights would go on and people would get on and off. Ugh. Then we arrived at San Pedro de Atacama at midnight, the sandy streets deserted and dark. The bus station was not where I thought it was on my Lonely Planet map and I was turned around in where I was and didn’t know how to find the place I had booked to stay. So I followed the other lost tourists who didn’t even have a place to stay yet, carrying my heavy suitcase as the wheels didn’t work on the dirt streets. Finally I was saved by a woman in a truck who said she could take me to the place I booked for a ridiculous fee, but hey, what other choice did I have? I shared the truck ride with one other tourist. It was just a few minutes away from where I had been.
So I learned how to book the double decker buses after that in Chile. Pay a few more dollars and stay on the first level as there are only about 10 seats, while on the second level there could be 40 seats or more. In the end, bus travel in Chile was actually quite luxurious compared to Ecuador and Peru.
Yes, there was the bus in Ecuador that drove through a river because the bridge had been washed out and also couldn’t make it up a muddy hill and had to be towed by a bulldozer that was clearing the landslide nearby. It was much, much less comfortable than the Chilean bus many years later.
Or that memory of the bus trip to Huarez in Peru where we decided to take a day bus instead of a night bus because accidents during the night drives were not infrequent on the winding, narrow mountain roads. Still, someone came on the bus before we left and filmed everyone’s face. I was baffled as to why they did this, but someone at the hostel in Huaraz said they do it so that if the bus sails off a cliff, then they know how to identify the bodies. Kind of not very comforting, but we all happily survived the trip.
Oh yes, and the chicken buses in Peru. There would be a van that should seat maybe 12 people and they would shove 30 people in there somehow. They would keep stopping even when it seemed impossible to fit in more people and the people would sit on each others laps or on the floor, sometimes with animals, like chickens with them. I noticed that the locals did not sit on the foreigners and left them be. I would have been kind of shocked if some dude just sat on my lap. Although, maybe I wouldn’t mind holding a chicken. heh
How can I forget the truck ride through the Sahara desert in Morocco, where maybe 30 people were stuffed into this open truck. I was smart and grabbed a spot on the cab of the truck, balancing there above the heads of the drivers. I had space around me and was sitting, but the others in the back were all squished together like cattle, standing in the open bed. The truck drove slower than a normal walking pace and pieces of it kept falling off and the driver would stop and “fix it.” Finally they stopped and said too many people were on the truck and asked half of us to get off and they would come back for us after dropping off the first group. Um, well, no takers on that idea. I for one was not about to be left in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere in the dark, waiting for the truck to come back. So we continued onward, traveling about 5 mph. We finally made it to our destination. Funny thing is that we probably could just have walked beside the truck at the same speed.
I remember a train ride in Europe from Firenze to Venezia, where there were no seats at all – only standing or sitting on the floor, so we headed to the eating car and lo and behold there was a table and we sat for hours there, the waiter serving us very slowly so we didn’t have to leave (we told him there were no seats) for the entire trip. It was nice of him to do that and this was a very pleasant trip in the end.
When I think about these modes of transportation, I like the ones with less crowds of people in them by far. Yes, it’s slower and open to the elements, but horseback is in some way preferable to me than being stuffed into a small space in an airplane. Unless….it’s an open cockpit of a biplane, doing loops and hammerhead stalls in the air. Oh the joy of that for me! But that isn’t for transportation, that is just for the shear joy of flying.
I wish trains were more common and useful in North America as they are in Europe. In general, I like train travel and you are free to roam around the train if you choose (and hope someone doesn’t steal your luggage if you leave it behind). There’s something about the sound of the train on the tracks and the rocking motion with the landscape whizzing by that is romantically appealing and peaceful. Of course, I have been on annoying train rides too, with people snoring in the sleeping compartments or smoking in the normal cars. So it’s not all a rosy and endearing experience, but it does have a certain charm and appeal, which the other forms of transport do not.
I actually remember the times when smoking was allowed on planes. How could that ever have been allowed in such an enclosed space? You had to hope you weren’t in the last row of the non-smoking section. I’m glad that is not allowed anymore.
I guess noise is the worst thing to conquer and I am really thinking of investing in some noise-cancelling headphones. I say this now as I sit here with two screaming babies on either side of me. But hey, it could always be worse, right? So I guess I shouldn’t complain. A train from Vancouver to Florida would take a hell of a long time.