In the Back of the Bolivian Bus with My Mom

A Midsummer Tale ~ Honorable Mention
Joanna Popper

 An Excerpt from “In the Back of the Bolivian Bus with My Mom”

All of a sudden we must have hit the Big Ditch because try as they would, these men couldn’t move the bus. Everyone got off the bus, all the passengers tried to push the bus together, and it wouldn’t budge. It was getting dark. We had been on the bus all day. I had no idea if we were close to our destination. A pick-up truck pulled up. Everyone watched to see if it could make it through the mud puddle and lo and behold, success. The more experienced Yungas passengers (or maybe those in a rush) ran after the truck, hopped on and fled in the night. Every time a pick-up truck passed, more people scooted off the bus and left with the truck. The man sitting on my lap with the pig departed. I looked around for the driver to remove our luggage from the top of the bus, but couldn’t find him. There was a tarp covering the top, so I couldn’t get to our bags.

“Should I climb on the bus and get our stuff down?” I asked my mom.

“No.” My mother said. “It’s dangerous. Let’s wait for the driver to get it for us later.”

We stretched out in our seat. It felt very luxurious after the man and pig’s departure. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do and we were exhausted from the day’s activities. Eventually we fell asleep.

I woke up when someone yelled “Gringuitas, Gringuitas!” That was us, the “foreign girlies.” I looked up and someone said, “El Padre esta aqui.” The priest is here. Normally this wouldn’t mean anything to me since I am a non-practicing Jew. But it was the middle of the night, I was stuck in a bus with my mother in Bolivia in a mudslide in rainy season and a priest was calling for me. I got off the bus. The priest had come to get us. We were saved! Praise the Lord! I guess the nun took off at some point in the middle of the night and sent the priest back. I felt bad that I’ve always been so critical of organized religion.

The priest found the bus driver, got our bags and drove us in a pick-up truck to a small town on the edge of the river where we planned to embark on the highly anticipated boat excursion in the rain forest. Twenty hours later, but we made it! The priest led us to a hotel, woke up the proprietors, and arranged rooms. We were appreciative, exhausted, and happy to be off the bus. We were also covered with mud from our adventures and hopped into cold jungle showers and ran back to our room just as the town’s electricity went off for the night. We groped our way into bed in the dark. My twin bed felt abundant, so much room. No pigs. No chickens. No one to share with. I never felt so glad to sleep alone.

We woke a few hours later to the sound of the roosters. I rolled over and noticed a familiar image: blonde hair, blue eyes, a perfect smile, a not-so-anatomically correct figure. Barbie sheets. I loved Barbie throughout childhood. I may even still harbor a desire to be Barbie, with her great life, car, townhouse, wardrobe, and boyfriend Ken. She can do anything. Here I was in the middle of the Bolivian jungle sleeping on her sheets. I never had Barbie sheets at home. I was never even allowed to have the Barbie car or townhouse. This was true splendor.

“Look, Mom!” I exclaimed. “You never bought me Barbie sheets!”

She smiled and said, “Well, that makes the experience extra special now, doesn’t it?”


Joanna Popper now lives in Miami, Florida, and mainly travels without pigs and chickens. She still hasn’t convinced her mother to get her Barbie sheets, the townhouse, or the car. She recently completed a documentary entitled The ABC’s of Eating Disorders. E-mail: Joanna_Popper[at]

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