Wednesday, 28 October 2015

On the Buses

Over the years we've accumulated a modicum of authority and fact on South American bus travel. The best buses are the youngest and are employed on the long haul routes. As they age into decrepitude they progress down the divisions, through inter-town then local, until they end up being battered around on Bolivia's gravel roads. Their panels pop riveted in zinc, their windows star-cracked, their maintenance intervals punctuated by the frequency of the visits from the roadside mechanic. By division four it's best not to inspect the tyres. Yet there's one fact that, every time we consider another trip, that we forget.

What never dies is the video. It might degenerate, get tied in a loop, pixelate into fuzzy obscurity, with the volume control rendered stuck on obsolete. But still it will never die.

I look forward with anticipation to the next bus trip, to allow another to do the driving, the decision making, allowing a continuous scroll of images to flow by. And if we've already cycled the route, a fact that is becoming increasingly more likely, it's an opportunity for a reprise. Still I forget about the Video. Forget about the omnipresent screen, forget about the permeating noise.

Long haul air travel allows me that opportunity to update my social profile, or at least to nod with authority when someone says "you know that bit in....", to understand those pages in the morning newspaper that I never peruse. To watch, to complete The Hobbit trilogy. However, I'm also offered the democratic opportunity of a 'no vote', or at least a 'none of the above'. More importantly there's an 'off' button. On the buses, the selection -there is no choice - is dictatorial. A draconian mash of slaughter-house blood, and horror-house screams. Improbable scenarios and illogical dubbing. Stallone exterminates a regiment with one bullet; Jaa kung-fu kicks dead a clan of gangsters. The sub-title informs that the 'phone is ringing. The body count is always stratospheric. All very predictable. The one idiosyncrasy that I have never associated with the selection was coincidence, nor the operating conductor with clairvoyance.

World Cup Rugby; ten minutes into the quarter-final; Scotland 13 : Australia 3. The last forgettable film has finished and the conductor sets up its replacement. "Corazon Vialiente". Another mangled adaptation of Scottish history, another ultimately failed endeavour. Roll the credits Mr. Gibson.....Scotland 34 : Australia 35. Predictable. Inevitably there will be one sub-editor reaching for the 'Braveheart' sobriquet for the next day's newspaper.

For his next offering, our dictatorial conductor moves from prophet to predict. The entré warning suggests: 'unrated...scary'. The title credits roll as the driver charges into the first hair-pin bend as we climb out of the valley and attack the Cuesta de Lipan. 35 bends, 1900 metres of ascent, an infinity of heart palpitations. We're high-perched, front-rowed, beyond the front axle, an elevated, exposed, exaggerated position. The crash barrier appears to disappear below, the next cliff face rears in front, only for the physics of centrifugal forces to hurl you around the next turn. Moments of recovery before the next bend attacks you.

Mercifully, the mayhem of Hollywood closes down for the night time and only recovers as the passenger deck rouses next morning. So too does our dictatorial 'arbiter of choice'. There's an inevitability about his next decree, given that we're PerĂº bound. It's also atypical, as it has a body count of zero. Possibly his timing could have been better, maybe his powers of divination are on the wane. Maybe he miscued. For we're about to be stranded on the Argentinian Chilean border. It's a fable about the marmalade-loving Peruvian bear stranded in 1950's Lon-Don, where ear-buds and Risk managers are the norm and evil taxidermists stalk the streets. A piece of light hearted comedy, a modicum of dilution from the general cinematic carnage.

It's "Pad-ding-ton".

A tedium of forgettable films follow, my only regret being that I've forgotten some ear plugs, yet again. By Nazca and a kilometre post that suggest it's only a mere 500 km to Lima the populace gets rebellious. We get a music video. Mariachi Music. Four-hundred and fifty kilometres of Mariachi Music. The volume set on head penetrating, the noise set to brain numbing. The monotony. Now I can sleep through anything and I do.

It's the only 'off button' that the dictator can't control.