Cars are a luxury for rich countries, and most of the common folk in Central and South America don't drive their own wheels. But people in even the poorest, most distant mountain villages are still connected to the world by one thin, chrome-bumpered, garishly painted line.
These are the chariots of heroes.
These big bastards are chicken buses, and they can take roads that would chew your puny jeep up and shit it out onto some rich asshole's Land Rover. The bus operators make money based on how many people they can transport from outlying villages to the cities, and vice versa. The more full trips they make per day, the better their shot at turning a profit. This means dudes in 40-year-old school buses wind up taking roads like this:
At around 60 miles per hour.
I think the best way to illustrate how badass these drivers are is a story about a dude I met who was just training to be one. He was an ayudante (assistant driver), and most of his job involved taking money from the passengers and bringing it back up to the driver. But a chicken bus can fill up fast, and there aren't rules about things like how many people can legally be on a bus in the places these things run. The driver will pack every seat and every inch of floor space. And sometimes that means the ayudante finds himself at the back of the bus with a shitload of cash and no way to push back to the front.
When it happened on our bus, this kid (he was maybe 19) popped the emergency exit in the back and gymnasted himself up onto the top of the bus like an adorable Latin Spider-Man. The bus driver slowed to a more reasonable 50 miles an hour while the ayudante shimmied his way across the top of the bus. After a minute, the driver opened the front door and his little assistant flipped back down inside the bus and handed over the wad.
"Finally, we can afford more chrome!"
Once upon a time I met a crowd of hijra outside a shop in rural India. "Hijra" is the traditional Indian term for transgender individuals. Over the course of my few days in town, a couple of things became clear:
1. The hijra always traveled in large groups.
2. The locals were not big fans of them.
It's easy to be jealous of people who dress this well.
Eventually I managed to strike up a conversation with one who spoke pretty good English, and she explained that they made a living by taking advantage of their unpopularity with the less open-minded members of the town. They'd find the people who were most bothered by them and loiter in front of their shops until paid to leave.
"We're bad for business."
It was kind of sad, but when you think about it, it's also pretty ingenious and definitely evidence of a better grasp of capitalism's finer points than we've ever seen from Donald Trump.
Travel south of the border, make your way somewhere poor and beautiful, and try to look vaguely disreputable. You'll notice a change in the little shoeshine boys the closer you get to the major tourist areas. Rosy-cheeked children ranging from damn-near toddlers to 10-year-olds with bright smiles switch from asking "Shoeshine? Shoeshine?" of every passerby to offering them pockets full of illegal narcotics.
It's less adorable than it sounds, and it sounds awful to anyone with the barest ghost's fart of a soul.
And quickly the chorus changes from "Shoeshine? Shoeshine?" to the moderately less wholesome ...
"Peace out, man, you want weed?"
Flawless hippie lingo, little buddy.
For the record, no, you don't want to buy drugs from a child. I don't care how much you love coke. There's a funny thing that happens to your soul when an elementary schooler tries to sling drugs at you like the dealer in a G.I. Joe PSA: You suddenly want to stay sober, forever. And also cry forever, too.