In Defense of Traveling Alone

by John, Tufts 1+4 Participant

My day to day life isn’t a constant battle anymore: I’m officially one month into my bridge year. I’ve settled in with my host family, and I’ve started working full-time at my internship. It isn’t that my life comes easily at this point, but I have reached a point where I want to push myself a little bit further to see where it takes me. So, a couple weeks ago, I threw myself into an uncomfortable situation: traveling to Matagalpa alone.

The rest of the group planned to go up Thursday morning, but I opted to go a night early. Part of me didn’t want to wake up at 3:30 AM to catch the 4 o’clock bus, and another part of me looked forward to trying it alone. I wanted to show myself that I could manage a bus ride with my Spanish skills, and see what that experience would be like. People have always told me, “Growth happens when you’re uncomfortable,” what better opportunity than traveling alone?

I wanted to arrive as early as I could in Matagalpa, so I headed to the bus terminal right after my morning Spanish class, around 1:00. I had originally planned to ride one of the smaller vans, which leave whenever they fill up instead of running on a set schedule, but by the time I got to the station the only choice I had was a chicken bus. When the attendant told me “él chicken bus,” and pointed to the end of the row, I had no idea what to expect. Would there be live chickens on board? No—at least not this time. The bus I was going to ride on was a refurbished school bus, with the added bonus of an area on top for sacks of produce, luggage racks inside, and two bars to hold on to if you ended up standing. The silver lining of showing up over an hour and a half early was that I didn’t have to stand. I sat for an hour, practically alone in the sweltering heat, before the bus even moved. During that first hour, I thought for sure I was going to pass out from heat stroke at some point on my three-hour ride. At about 2:00, more people showed up and things started to get crowded.

By the time we pulled out of the station, every seat was full, and there were well over 100 people on board. As far as I know, school buses have a max occupancy of somewhere around 75 people, and I was a little worried about how safe the ride could be. It took me a while to come to peace with this, but, in reality, this is the go-to mode of transportation for many people. Once I realized that, I was able to calm down a little and not worry about the bus rolling over at every turn. About five minutes into the ride I realized I was most definitely in the wrong seat; I hadn’t even realized that there were assigned seats, but at that point, there was no plausible way I could switch. I was grateful to be sitting next to the window; once we got moving it was a little cooler, but every bit of breeze was appreciated.

I sat through a Russian-pirated, Spanish-dubbed version of “It” (2017), not understanding a single line, until we got to Matagalpa. I got off the bus sweaty, stiff, and gasping for fresh air. I managed to find a taxi pretty easily, and eventually made it to the hotel I was staying at. Settling down, I felt a wave of relief. I sat on my balcony and looked out at over the center of town, asking myself if it was really worth all the discomfort. Breathing in the mountain air, I knew it was. I felt like I had accomplished something, and I was proud of myself. The sense of achievement for navigating Nicaraguan public transit–a system I still don’t understand–on my own, made every moment on the bus worth it. I felt like I had put myself on the line, and it paid off. While in the future I will most likely opt to travel with friends, if not solely for the company, I am glad I took this opportunity to push myself to do something uncomfortable and new.

Matagalpan street; I started to find my way around the city after walking around on Thursday.
Row of chicken buses at the Matagalpa bus terminal, Friday 9/15, as we left Matagalpa.
View overlooking Matagalpa, taken from the top of one of the many hills around the city.

Photo Credits: Nadia Rosales

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