***Note: Flashback Friday is my friend Bridget's idea. I've decided to hop on the band wagon, even so far as to join in on her current theme: flashbacks from Russia.***
During the ride back to Cairo from Hurghada, I couldn’t help but reminisce on the worst bus ride I’ve ever had. Granted, this last bus ride was pretty awful, but nothing can compare with one of the bus rides I took home to Voronezh from Moscow. Both included squishiness, a lot of stopping, and late hours, but the Moscow bus ride was far, far worse.
Our visas in Russia only lasted for 90 days, so at the end of those 90 days we had to leave the country in order to renew our visas for another 90 days. Since our expiration date happily coincided with spring break we planned an extensive trip through the Baltics, hitting up Latvia, Finland, and Sweden. Perhaps that doesn’t sound very extensive, but we were poor and only had 10 days so it was as extensive as we got.
Tiffany was in charge of setting up our buses to and from Moscow. Her host family owned or co-owned a bus company and had helped us set up a trip to Moscow in the past. So we all gave Tiffany our money and she purchased our tickets for us. The rest of our trip was set up by the “cultural coordinator” in Moscow since she was helpful and Nina, our Voronezh cultural coordinator, was not. She emailed us our itinerary, complete with dates, directions, and warnings.
Everything went off without a hitch. We rode into Moscow and caught our bus to Latvia and after a pleasant ride found our way to a cute little hostel overlooking a fruit market. After we’d been dragged through more bureaucracy at the embassy than I’d care to mention, including being forced to use forged insurance cards, and had successfully renewed our visas, we spent the remainder of our time wandering around the city, enjoying the parks, and watching the changing of the guard.
From there we headed off on a cruise up to Sweden and then to Finland. We saw some sights, bought some souvenirs, and headed home. The ferry ride back was rather choppy, but overall it was a nice trip.
…Until we got back into Moscow and presented our bus tickets to the bus driver to get on the redeye bus back to Voronezh.
He refused to let us get on the bus and wasn’t able to communicate to us why. We insisted that our tickets were valid and he insisted that they were not. Finally, with a lot of help from Esther, we were able to figure out that our tickets had been valid for that same bus, only last week. Somehow our tickets had been purchased 3 days apart instead of 10 days apart—quite an impossible mistake on our part since Tiff didn’t speak Russian at the time and merely pointed to dates on the calendar when she purchased the tickets. Somewhere, though, there had been a major mix up.
Before pulling away, the bus driver helped us all get seats on another bus. A rather unfortunate looking bus, but one that would let us get home.
The bus was full of men. It was old, cramped, smelly and dirty. It was not the nice charter bus we were expecting. Most of the available seats were at the front of the bus and wouldn’t lean back no matter how hard we tried. But, as our motto went, it was all part of the experience…so we took our seats. Michelle and I shared a seat right behind the bus driver. Esther and Stephanie (I think) were sitting across the aisle from us. The rest of the girls were scattered around us. None of us were very comfortable, but at least we were on our way home.
Since our seats wouldn’t lean back, Michelle and I took turns sleeping on each other’s shoulders. Sleep was almost impossible. The bus stopped almost every half hour on the dot so that the men could all get out of the bus, relieve themselves, and have a smoke. We never stopped at a rest stop, so the 8 of us were stuck on the bus, holding our pee, and giving the men privacy. At the end of each pit stop, the men would file back on the bus dirtier, drunker, and smellier than before.
In addition to all the stops, the road was quite bumpy. It was April and the snow was just beginning to melt, revealing that the road was made up of more potholes than actual road. Furthermore, the highways there (like the highways here) are really only wide enough for one vehicle in parts so we had to keep swerving to avoid head-on collisions with other vehicles.
With all the stopping and swerving and bumping, and with our seats not leaning back, and with the smell of drunk men, sleep was really quite impossible. Many of us were beginning to wonder if they wouldn’t put in a movie if we asked them nicely.
As I mentioned, this was not a nice charter bus. So instead of having cute little TV stands every few rows we had one giant TV rigged up precariously, balancing on a board, just above where Michelle and I were seating. It was easily a 24 inch screen, perhaps even a 30 inch one (and maybe even bigger), so everyone in the bus would have been able to see the movie, at least as easily as you can see a movie in those miniature screens that nice charter busses have.
We were too afraid to ask, though, so instead we took turns napping. It so happened that it was my turn to use Michelle for a pillow and I was dozing off uncomfortably when the bus suddenly braked and swerved. There was a tremendous crash. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. Something was crushing me and everything was dark. I thought for sure that we had been in a terrible accident and that I was dying.
Esther’s screams confirmed my suspicions.
“She’s going to DIE! Someone help her! Get it off her! She’s going to DIE! She’s going to DIE! She’s going to DIE!”
I can’t remember what she was screaming, exactly, but I do remember hearing, “She’s going to DIE!” over and over again.
And then things started to settle down. The interior lights flicked on, the bus slowed down and stopped, and the assistant bus driver ran over and hauled that great-big-honkin’ television off of me. The rest of the bus ride went along as smoothly as before. We continued to stop every few minutes so that the chain-smoking men could fuel their addiction and it took us much longer to get home than we had planned.
I couldn’t laugh for weeks; not that there wasn’t anything to laugh about, but anything more than simply breathing was painful. Lucky for Michelle, I had been sitting sideways in my seat and had taken the brunt of the force on my right shoulder—the television had me absolutely pinned from my head to my waist. Lucky for me, Esther had enough wits about her to start screaming.
Even though “She’s going to DIE!” wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be hearing when I thought I was dying (just for future reference), I’m glad she was screaming, because I couldn’t. So, thanks, Es!
And that’s the story of my worst bus ride ever. I hope to never top it. In fact, I’d be fine if the rest of my bus rides were comfortable and crisis-free. I doubt that will happen, but it would be nice.