At the India-Nepal border, two distressed looking travelers approached me. Dust rose up around us and the sun beat down with unbroken ferocity. My hair was damp against my neck, I was weary from three days of traveling, and all of the fight had gone out of me. I wasn’t arguing about ridiculous prices, and I didn’t give a shit when people stared. When the couple approached me, I managed a weak smile and waited to hear what they would say.
“Are you going to Pokhara?” the guy asked.
“No,” I said. “I’m going to Kathmandu.”
The girl shook her head wearily, and the guy ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “Why?” I asked.
They looked at each other, and it seemed like they were silently deciding who was going to speak. Finally she did.
“Look, we paid for this bus to Pokhara already,” she said, gesturing towards a large, piece-of-shit bus that was getting ready to pull out onto the road. “But now the driver is telling us that we have to ride in the aisle the whole way. And it’s a twelve hour ride.”
I shook my head in pity. Lame. I’ve been tricked into such BS scenarios many times in my travels, and I felt sorry for them. “And I bet they won’t give you your money back, huh?” I said. They both shook their heads mournfully. Even lamer.
After a few more minutes of small talk, we parted ways. I went into a local travel agency and dropped my heavy bag, grateful for the fan overhead. I had no business to do there, just wanted to cool off for a bit before I found a hotel for the night. Ten minutes later, I was gathering my things together to leave. Just then, a bus pulled out onto the road. As it drove past, its huge engine roaring and its tailpipe coughing out black exhaust, I saw about ten people piled on top of the roof, shoved in among the backpacks and other luggage. The two weary travelers were among them, their hair blowing in the wind and smiles on their faces.
“I’m glad they’re happier now,” I thought, imagining the twisting, winding mountain roads they would soon encounter, the blind curves that everyone passes on, and the crazy speed that these buses drive at, bumping and jolting passengers with sickening reliability. “But damn, I would not want to be riding on top of that bus for twelve hours!”