The bus arrived at Tapachula near the Guatemalan border early in the morning to find another bus to Guatemala City waiting to take me away, ha ha. So goodbye Mexico, I’ll see you again next week. The journey into Guate City was fairly uneventful, as was the quick change for San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. I got in about 7pm.
After an amazingly scary oh-dear-it’s-dark-I-got-no-map-where-the-hell-is-an-ATM-when-you-need-one walk around the city, I found a bus that was leaving at 3am going all the way through Honduras, Nicaragua and ending up in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. It would get me in at 10pm the same day. All good. I threw my bag in the bus station office and headed out to the pub.
It was in the Irish bar (there’s always an Irish bar) that I met Jorge and Rene, a couple of locals who took me under their wing. Beer was downed, jokes told and stories exchanged and before I knew it, I was being whisked off to a Sushi Restaurant (what’s with all the Sushi on this adventure? It’s becoming a recurring theme). There I met Memo, one of Jorge’s mates…and we decided that since it was getting late (almost midnight), it would be best to head to the beach.
We got there in Memo’s car, screaming and raucous – and it was perfect. Everything the beaches in the Caribbean should be (but aren’t) – free to everyone, wooden huts and hammocks (not concrete and walls) music, people dancing, a bar still serving…
At midnight, I placed my hands in the Pacific Ocean. I’m now thirty. Hear that Pacific? I’M THIRTY!!!! The Pacific was overwhelmingly indifferent. I returned to my beer, whom I know loves me. Memo, Jorge and I drank in the cool night air. We could have been in Thailand. I really couldn’t think of a better way to see in the big three-o.
I had a bus to catch, and – damn! – it was leaving very soon. Memo drove like a maniac. But he drove like a maniac to the wrong bus station. San Salvador has no central bus station, every bus company has it’s own garage. Some, annoyingly, have two.
As the seconds ticked away, we drove around and around the city like Jack Bauer with the squits. Hang on – I recognise that poster! The bus station is over… but then…
The police pulled us over.
Memo was outraged. He had to get this Ginger Gringo to his bus. Why are the police pulling him over? I thought he might have been speeding. Not so. After searching us and the car for drugs or bombs or whatever, they continued talking to Memo, who was getting increasingly infuriated with their intransigence – my bus left in less than five minutes and I was yet to buy a ticket.
If I hadn’t been drunk, I probably wouldn’t have done it, but hell, it’s Central America and I’m thirty. Let’s do something I’ve never done before in my life.
Let’s bribe a policeman.
So I did. Will this make you go away? I ask, hoping he doesn’t speak a word of English as I passed over a 20-dollar bill.
An awkward moment. Was I to spend the rest of my birthday in a prison cell in El Salvador for attempting to bribe a policeman? No. Don’t worry – it’s El Salvador. The policeman stuffed the twenty in his pocket and before he could say adios, Memo was tearing down the highway towards the bus station…
Only to get there five minutes late. The bus had gone. But all was not lost. Memo spoke to the people in the bus station and they said there was another company’s bus that does the same route down to Costa Rica, and it leaves at 4am.
Only – my bag was in the station office, and the only guy with a key had gone to bed in the hotel upstairs. Tonight was turning into a 1980s text adventure. North, north, up. A troll blocks your way. Pay troll $20. Troll shuffles off. Knock on door. Awaken keymaster. Keymaster unhappy. Get key. Down, south, south. You can see the office door. Use key with door. East. Get bag. Drop key. West.
So eventually Memo and I made it to the King Quality bus station at 4am, just in time for the bus. After thanking Memo profusely for such an excellent birthday adventure, I plonked myself down on the back seat of the bus next to a cute Argentinean girl called Sophia. Within 5 seconds, I was fast asleep.