The randomness function

“I’m pretty sure the last bus leaves Leon at 2.”

“Nahhh, there is one at 2pm and one at 3pm”

“Are you sure?”


“Sure sure?”

“Yeah, my cousin asked his friend who said so.”

I dug my feet into the hot sand and looked out at the beautiful expanse of crashing waves and blue skies. I could spend another hour here, no problem.

“dale pues – okay”.

It was Sunday at Las Penitas, a beach town by Leon, 3 hours away from Esteli. I had made the trek down there for a weekend of sun and surf and had to trek back to Somoto, via Esteli, by that night. I remember at that exact point that I felt that undeniable tug of two worlds. The German in me wanted utter assurance that the last bus did indeed leave at 3 and we would leave from here, ideally with more enough time to catch it. However I have found that being obsessively German about things like punctuality and schedules is often more of a hindrance than a help and the other part of me was way too full of fried fish and cold beer to care. Plus, by my reckoning, my Nicaraguan friend who is from Leon and does this trip uncountable times should really know the bus schedules by now. So I drowned my German side in another cold Tona, lay back down on my towel, and let the waves lull me into a lazy stupor. 30 minutes later, I am awaked by my friend.

“ermmmm…Sarah. There is a bit of a problem”

“uh huh?”

“So it turns out that the last express bus to Esteli leaves at 2.00”

I look at my watch. It is 1.30 and we are still at las Penitas, a 40 minute bus ride, 20 minute taxi ride  from Leon.

“Oh sh!#”.

By my German calculations we can’t make it. We still have to walk back to our hostel,  pack our bags, get changed, pay, ring a taxi, wait for it, and drive to Leon. What followed was a prime example of how buses, family ties, Nicaraguan politeness and randomness transect.

My friend rings his uncle, who is a taxi driver in Leon but somehow he happens to be close by and agrees to come pick us up. Mind you, he doesn’t arrive until 1.55 but we still jump in the car and race off to Leon anyway. The whole time, my friend is ringing random people on the phone, trying to sweet talk the ticket seller to stall the bus for us. We make it to Leon in just under 20 minutes and come to a halt at the bus terminal. We jump out of the cab and race to where the bus is supposed to be. It’s gone. We run to the express bus going to Matagalpa, which would take us to the main highway halfway to Esteli where we could hitchhike or flag down any northbound bus. Just as we are about to enter, my friend gets a call from his brother, who also happens to be at the bus terminal, and there is this fast transaction with much arm waving and yelling and laughter from which I gather that the bus just left but a distant cousin is working that bus and it would wait for us at some unknown destination. We hop in another taxi to speed off after the bus and just as we are leaving another girl jumps in with us. She had also missed the bus and somehow her cousin knew my friends brother and had told her that she should go with us. So we race to the turn-off in the road where the bus is waiting, an old American school bus that is absolutely packed at this point. As soon as we get out of the taxi the bus starts to rumble forward. They open the back door and we jump aboard. It’s 2. 37.

My friend, still incredibly calm, gives me a grin and a high-five. For him this is just another close call. For me, another incredulous journey which leaves me with a million questions. What if his uncle hadn’t been close by to give us a ride to Leon? How does he have a distant relative working on exactly that bus, how did he know that, and how did he manage to convince him to stall the bus? How did people on the bus not complain about waiting 30mins for 3 random people? How did his brother manage to find us in the two minutes we were at the bus station? How did that girl’s cousin happen to find out that there were two other people trying to get to Estelí and coordinate that she would also find us and recognize us in those two minutes when we happened to be at the bus station? And how on earth does everybody act like this is NOT an extremely fortuitous and lucky situation?

By my German calculations it would have been physically impossible to have gotten on that bus. However, my German side also doesn’t account for a very important element in many interactions and functions here. It is the element of randomness, almost like accounting for a margin of error in statistics. I like to call it the R function. I think situations like these, with a very large R function, seem incredible to people that live where the margin of randomness has been largely reduced or accounted for. Foreigners  are thus not necessarily amazed by how transportation works but rather they are amazed that it works at all. Because the fact of the matter is, in some weird and crazy way, it does.

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