The Road Home Is Paved with Awful Buses and Military Checkpoints

What do you get when you combine an acute shortage of car replacement parts and military control? Pretty awful bus rides, it turns out.

Photo: Asamblea Nacional

It’s 2:00 a.m. I’ve been in this bus from Caracas to Puerto Ordaz for 10 hours and we’re stopping, again. This is normally a 12-hour trip, but we’ve had to stop three times already. This is the fourth.

It’s common for buses to break down, that’s why they told us they wouldn’t give us new tickets if something happened, they’d just refund the money. You have to cross your fingers during the whole trip in an old carcacha that’s barely working.

It’s the military checkpoints what really slows us down, though. Perpetual deja-vu: we pull over, soldiers chat with the driver, he opens the side compartment, they check random bags, put them back and off we go.

They always check on us, civilians, making sure everyone behaves. Is this our life now? Do men with guns have all the power?

This time I won’t watch them from the window, I don’t have to be paranoid the whole ride. I can use these ten minutes to get some sleep. The bus shakes like crazy when moving, and it periodically rattles aloud, always waking me up. I’ll enjoy the silence while it lasts. As I close my eyes and try to get cozy, the lights turn on and the olive-green asshole shows up:

“Buenas noches señores pasajeros, les voy a pedir que bajen un momento con sus maletas.”

Fuck! They are checking everyone’s bags now.

As the sleepy passengers go down, they form two lines in front of a plastic table: one for men, one for women. Everyone’s familiarized with the drill.

I look around, trying to get my bearings. We’re at the checkpoint in Anzoátegui. There’s a fat soldier patrolling, an assault rifle on hand and the new Simón Bolívar on his shoulder. I grab my backpack and silently join the line.

Everyone is just chatting. What’s going on? Is this the new normal?

The only person who shows indignation is the old man with a cane behind me:

“Look how haughty they are. How’s this possible? They don’t have the right to do this.” Still, he made sure to lower his voice when the armed man got close.

If I could transmit a live stream from my phone and, more importantly, if everyone around me gave a damn, I would have made the biggest fuzz.

It’s finally my turn. Everything is dark and the guy checking the men’s bags doesn’t have a flashlight, so he uses his phone. I thought they’d have a woman check women’s bags, but it’s another man. I put my backpack on the table and open the pocket with dirty clothes, thinking that’ll show him. The man gets his hand in, pats the backpack from the sides and that’s it. Nothing thorough. I’m sure I could have hidden a gun and covered it with a towel, which makes this whole process extra-pointless.

I grab my backpack and walk to stretch my legs. We are probably three hours away from Puerto Ordaz. The fat patroller looks at me:

“Hey, have they checked you?”

“They just did.”

“Who checked you?”

“Ahem, the guy with the phone.”

He went to the guy with the phone.

“Did you check him?”

“No, I haven’t.”

He couldn’t possibly recognize me. He didn’t look at me while he checked my backpack, and it was dark.

“Get in line.”

“Dude, I’m telling you, he just checked my backpack.”

This was my chance to make a big deal out of this. Maybe I would have, if we weren’t in the middle of nowhere at 2:30 in the morning surrounded by armed men and tired as hell. If the bus had left Caracas when it was supposed to (at 12:00 p.m. and not at 3:45 p.m.), if I had eaten something besides breakfast, if the whole country were protesting, if I could transmit a live stream from my phone and, more importantly, if everyone around me gave a damn, I would have made the biggest fuzz.

“Alright, I’ll do it again.”

I just want to get home.

As they go through the last few bags, Fat Patroller goes again.

“Hey! Have they checked you?”

He’s talking to a woman speaking on her phone.


“Let me see.”

She hands him her bag and resumes her conversation.

How can she not care? She’s not even looking! The dude’s probably going through her underwear!

I arrive to Puerto Ordaz at 4:45 a.m. with no more delays. I thought they’d steal something, but these are routine checks. They always check on us, civilians, making sure everyone behaves.

Is this our life now? Do men with guns have all the power? If I can’t do anything about it maybe it’s time I learned to be like everyone in that bus. At least it would have been tolerable.

All I know is, now I really hate traveling by bus.

Carlos Hernández

Ciudad Guayana economist moonlighting as the keyboardist of a progressive power metal band. Carlos knows how to play Truco. 4 8 15 16 23 42