Often as you get older, you hear yourself saying things about the younger generation. “It wasn’t like that in our day”, “we would never have done that”, and ripping them to shreds when the occasion is called for.
Its no secret that I’m not fond of small people and babies, but I do adore young adults and teenagers. They are generally IT savvy and have a sense of adventure and entitlement that I wish I had possessed back in the day. On many of my travels over recent years, young folk have often been my saving grace, particularly in the non-English speaking countries I have visited.
Why the hell I would assume I could manage a bus route in a strange country when I get into all sorts of strife navigating the garden city of Christchurch I will never know? Years of solo backpacking have seen me avoiding the taxis where I can – often at the expense of a days travel as I disappear up my own arse trying to figure out the cheapest option. Taxis in my world are often the quickest way to lose a wad full of cash and you have no idea if you are being ripped of on not, so when Penny & I talked about going into Montevideo city I had this light bulb moment that we should take the bus. I had noticed a stop directly across the road from the hotel from hell and so we thought lets give it a whirl.
The concierge at the hotel spoke very little English but managed to scribble the numbers of the two buses we were to flag down that would take us on the 22 km drive to town. To stop these buses as they speed pass you literally walk out in the middle of the road and flag them down.
Lesson number 1 is when they do stop, you need the right change for the ticket here as they don’t stop for long and find you a right pain in the arse as you are faffing about looking for money.
Lesson number two is that you need to know the right cost. We thought the fare was $380 pesos a person, when infact it was $38 a person and the driver got so grumpy when I threw the $1000 peso note at him and said keep the change. I didnt realise that I had handed over the equivalent of $45 NZD, when the fare for the two of us should have been in the vicinity of $4.50 NZD.
Lesson number 3- expect if you catch the bus at 4.30 pm it will be swamped with school kids, elderly folk and workers returning home after a day away. The bus will be packed, you will feel like a sardine and you may fail to notice the correct stop to get off!
Well that’s what happened in our case anyway and after being on the bus for nearly an hour we realised that we had passed the town and were heading back into the boondocks.
Enter Diego, a handsome looking 17 year old who was standing in the aisle of the bus and had obviously been listening to Penny and I as we tried to figure out were we were. He looked at me and asked if we needed some help? I’m not frightened to ask when required so I told him the shopping centre we were looking for. Immediately his smart phone was in business and he searched up an online version map of the bus routes. Within a few seconds he had managed to work out that we had gone on about 8 stops too many and told us we would have to get off and catch a return bus to the city.
We must have both looked horrified because bless the young man – he said he would get off with us and make sure we caught the correct one back to town . As we were crossing the road, we talked and he told me about his life in Montevideo where he has lived for the last few years completing his education. His home is 6500 kms away in gang ruled and violent El Salvador. It’s the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America and is bordered on the northeast by Honduras, on the northwest by Guatemala, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. Its also reputed to be the most violent place outside of a war-zone in the world, where the rival gangs hold the residents to ransom on a daily basis. His family have sent him here with two of his younger siblings be raised by an married sister who is aged 28. Its safer here, he can leave his house, ride a bike and take a bus. Things he could never do in his homeland because he would be recruited by the gangs and his parents would live in fear. His two younger siblings remain with his parents who both have good jobs and work but want a better life for their children. He’s not sure what he wants to do with his life, he knows that he will go home for Christmas to see family, but his career path is yet to be determined. Perhaps something in computer science, he mused.
He saw us onto the bus, made sure we had the correct money and sent us on out way with very explicit instructions on where to find the shopping centre.
He had come to town to buy a coffee pot for his brother-in-law after his younger brother had broke the house one that morning. He said the brother-in-law loved his coffee in the morning and he didn’t want him to have to miss out so had taken the hour ride from out near the airport into town to make the purchase.
I was really surprised when I ran into him in the shopping centre we had gone to about an hour later carrying the coffee pot. I asked him why he was there? He looked straight at me and said he was worried we wouldn’t take the correct bus home so he had come to try and find us to make sure we had got on safety. I was blown away and, in that moment, knew that he had probably been watching out for others for a long time before the relative safety of Montevideo, and before me was a young man whose age and maturity went way beyond his actual years.
Penny hadn’t finished shopping and I had no wifi so felt my arm had been cut off. I hadn’t been able to purchase a sim card because the staff at the phone shop had no idea what I was talking about in English.
Diego sorted that as well. He spoke in Spanish to the sales person and purchased a card for me preloaded with wifi. You need the wifi when you get as lost as Penny and I do, and it does allow me to use the google maps and translate suite. Most times its great but there is still the odd feck up along the way.
Along this trip we have met some great young people and they have saved our butts a few times. The boys on the bus to Pumanahach the other night that informed us we were on the wrong bus, Johanna at the estanscia who took us into town on her day off shopping and the many we have accosted on the street for help and Diego. Thank you to all you beautiful people, your parents would all be so proud of you helping a couple of old tarts crash and bash their way around South America by the seat of their pants.