When the bus breaks down

As an engineer, I understand all too well that failure probability is measured in passenger miles or hours; so the more you ride the bus, the more likely you are to be involved in an accident or a breakdown. Likewise, the longer you live, the more likely you are to have trouble (or adventures), so prepare yourself, unless you want to hide in the safety of your home. Since I have committed to being dependent on the bus for not only my daily needs but also my travel adventures, one of the fears in the back of my mind has been, “What if the bus breaks down?”

The reason I worried about this was because two years earlier, my daughter came to study Spanish and surfing in Tamarindo for six weeks. I wanted her to stay safely in her dorm and classes, but she jumped on the bus to Puerto Viejo to check out the surfing on the Caribbean side. On the trip back to Tamarindo, bad weather forced the bus off the road and the passengers were left to fend for themselves “in the middle of nowhere,” according to her. “Nowhere” was probably a small town, but to a worried father back in the States, it was a jaguar-infested jungle. Fortunately, using the Spanish she acquired from occasional appearances in class, she was able to organize, for herself and bunch of clueless tourists, taxis to take them the rest of the way to Tamarindo. My nightmare turned to joy as I realized my daughter solved her problem using her skills and a calm head. I wasn’t sure how I would react to a problem with the bus. My day finally came on a recent trip from San Jose to Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste by way of Liberia.

I actually live about an hour west of San Jose, and I have dreams about flagging down the bus to the beach as it travels through San Ramon, saving myself the cost and the time to travel all the way to San Jose first. But I don’t want to stand on the bus for several hours if no seat was available, so I always take one bus east to San Jose and catch another one that comes back through San Ramon on the way to Liberia to guarantee I have a seat. Had I tried to flag this bus down at the crossroads on this “fateful day,” it would not only be standing-room only, but it would also have arrived an hour or more late with no warning.

The bus from San Jose to Liberia left on time at 9:00 a.m. as usual from the Pulmitan de Liberia Terminal with no indications of any problems. We had almost arrived at my starting point of San Ramon when the bus pulled over on the Autopista (Pan American Highway), one of the main connections between San Jose and the west coast beaches.

Unlike in the US, the bus driver did not tell the passengers anything, and even if he had, it would have been in Spanish and I would not have understood it. At first, I thought, he might be ahead of schedule and had pulled over to use up some time, but after a while it appeared something else was wrong and I feared a breakdown. After a half hour, the bus driver turned off the AC; but since the windows were always closed for AC, they were either stuck or sealed shut, and the bus became progressively hotter.

I took my cue from the Ticos who seemed mildly perplexed but not overly anxious. I thought about calling our hometown cabbie to come get us and take us the rest of the way (for more money than I really wanted to spend) but decided to stick it out. The good thing about being retired is that we are not in a huge hurry. Plus, as usual, we started our trip early in the day so that we could recover if the journey turned into an all day affair.

Fortunately, the route we were on is popular and busy, so the bus company has a bus leaving every hour for the beach. I don’t know why it took two hours to rescue us, but eventually another bus came by and we all got on it in the same assigned seats and continued our trip. I think we arrived at our final destination of Liberia three hours late, so I am not sure where we lost the extra hour.

So, there you have it—our first breakdown was better than I had expected. No one held our hands telling us what the current situation was at regular intervals. No one offered a complimentary food voucher or a discount on our next trip to retain our loyalty. The passengers did not revolt and start attacking the bus driver or tearing the bus apart in a rage. We all waited patiently until a replacement was available and calmly boarded the new bus and took off again. Pura Vida in action.

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