March 2-3, 2008
My room was next to the road and when the fireworks went off at 5:00 AM, I thought someone was trying to kill me. Later in the day, I must have looked like they nearly succeeded because I had barely gotten any sleep by the time I rolled out of bed at 6:00 to catch the early bus out of the country.
When I walked to the bus station, I got delivered the bad news: At least 200 others had also decided to leave the country and were in line before me. The bus came and the pandemonium ensued as the young men started pushing away the little old pregnant ladies with no regard for their wellbeing. If the driver hadn't broken up the fight for seats, someone very well may have been trampled to death. The driver maintained order, but he still wasn't above taking advantage of the passengers by suddenly tacking on a $2 "service charge" for each checked bag, which of course went directly into his pocket. The bus ended up getting packed to the point that the last few passengers had to stand in the stairwell and nobody even had enough room to fart. Looking back, it was probably a good thing I didn't make it aboard.
Most countries have a simple system for getting on buses. You buy a ticket from the ticket booth, where you receive your seat number. When the bus shows up, you board it and sit in your assigned seat. That's it, it's really that simple. But so far in my travels, I have now encountered only two countries where the system doesn't work that way, and a fight to the death occurs when you want to get on a bus: Costa Rica, and The United States of America.
I walked back to my hotel and figured out my options. Buses to the border left Liberia roughly every two hours, but the hotel desk employee assured me that the chaos boarding the buses would only get worse as the day progressed. When I asked why there were so many people, he replied, "fiesta." I asked him how long the fiesta would last, and he told me, "All of February." I pointed out that it was, in fact, March, but he just shrugged his shoulders and told me, "I guess it lasts through the beginning of March, too." So my only chance of getting on one of the public buses to the border was to act like a five-year-old who had eaten one too many pixie sticks.
I figured I had two other options: Try to cross into Nicaragua at the other border crossing, or take the international bus, which I had just found out existed. The first option would involve catching three buses at just the right times, and maybe a fifty-fifty chance of making it near the other crossing by the end of the day. The other option of taking the international bus wasn't any better because it was booked solid for two days. I decided to minimize the risk and bought a ticket for the international bus, but that meant having to hang out in Liberia's February fiesta for two March days. Then again, when in Liberia...