My Own Special Hell: Movies on Buses

The day slipped away from the Valley of the Kings, the last rays of sun passing over the tombs of ancient kings.

We rushed down the street to the two restaurants that fought for our business, trying to out wager each other with offers of free fruit juice, appetizers, desserts. We picked the one with the better kebabs, tender and juicy. Earlier in the day we had taken a feluca ride on the Nile; then spent the hottest hours of the afternoon splashing at the pool in our hotel, a luxury that came with our $7 rooms. Our trip through Egypt was reaching its last days, but before we returned to Cairo, we had one last stop: Hurghada and snorkeling in the Red Sea.

Until this trip to Egypt in June 2004, my international travels had been restricted to Europe—to high-speed rail and rental cars, sidewalk cafes and art museums. Egypt was a revelation. It was mad in a way that made me fall in love with it, all if it, even the incessantly honking traffic and the men who offered Jeff camels in exchange for me and the shop owners guaranteeing that whatever I wanted, they had. Every experience felt new, even ordinary things like bus rides.

Our bus ride from Luxor to Hurghada was to be the first long-distance bus of our Egyptian travels—we’d taken the train south from Cairo—and I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the unmarked station—a mere parking lot, really—I asked and asked and then asked again which bus was ours, none of them seeming to indicate any sort of destination. Upon gaining a consensus answer, I handed over our luggage and then boarded the bus, my friends Kate and Ben behind me, Jeff and my brothers Gregory and Mark in front of me. I’m impressed with what I see. It’s clean. The seats look comfortable (and more importantly, are only required to hold the number for which they were built and not two, three, or four extra people). And best of all, there’s a TV. Hooray for entertainment, I thought. It was, after all, going to be a long bus ride in the dark, meaning there would be nothing to look at.

I hear you laughing now. I hear you laughing at the young, naive version of me, the eager traveler who had no idea what she was about to experience. I expected airplane-style entertainment: a movie, that while not awesome, would by at least mildly entertaining, and, of course, headphones or perhaps minimal volume with subtitles. (Okay, up off the floor. Dry your eyes.)

The bus began to roll—out of the station, out of the city, and into the desert that lay between Luxor and Hurghada. The wheels squeaked on the rode. The low rumble of conversation filled the bus. A kid vomited his lunch into the aisle. And then a deafening wail filled the bus. Movie time. Bollywood time to be exact. Three-hour Bollywood madness at maximum volume to be perfectly clear.

I exchanged glances with Jeff, with my brothers, with Kate and Ben. We craned our necks, waiting for the bus attendant to come back and adjust the obviously too-loud television. We waited in vain. (Seriously, enough with the laughing, Mr./Ms. Experienced Traveler.) For three hours, we endured an epic Bollywood film that seemed to combine Snow White and the Wizard of Oz and then inject it with bloodcurdling screams. It was impossible to talk, to sleep—even to think, except to think about ripping your eyes and ears from your head as a means of saving yourself. When the bus finally pulled into Hurghada—late, as all buses are—I nearly fell to my knees in thanks, if not exhaustion. I had been delivered.

But as every traveler knows, the delivery is only momentary. There is always another bus, another TV, another bad movie played at deafening volume. Sometimes for fun (yes, bus torture does distort your idea of fun) I think back about the bad movies I’ve endured on buses and try to rank them, try to determine which one was really the worst. The Egypt one has certainly stuck with me, but in retrospect I’m not sure it was so bad (though yes, very bad) as it was shocking. I mean, can it compare to the time I was forced to watch License to Wed on never-ending repeat? Or the marathon of five back-to-back Jean Claude Van Damme movies, each different from the other only in regards to what country the bad guys came from? Or the fact that more than one bus thought The Condemned (yes, the WWE film) was quality viewing? I’m not sure. All were terrible in their own very special way—a way that has allowed these bus rides to remain clear in my mind while memories of the precious movie-less rides drift away from me like sands on a dune. That’s the funny thing about travel, isn’t it? In the end, it’s not what’s good or what’s bad that makes a trip; it’s simply what’s memorable.

What about you? What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen on a bus?

9 thoughts on “My Own Special Hell: Movies on Buses”

  1. You forgot to add that we were stopped in the middle of nowhere in the desert in the middle of the Bollywood epic at about midnight, shooed from the bus, separated from the Egyptians by armed guards, and then made to wait about, oh, an hour or so (in my memory) without any explanation. (I thought we were goners.) And THEN we got to finish watching the Bollywood movie. And there wasn’t any airconditioning. And they didn’t clean up the vomit. I think those aspects make it one of my most memorable bus-ride-movie-experiences….

    1. All I remember is how absurdly loud it was.

      More vivid in my memory are the armed guards with the AK-47s.

      Didn’t we endure a pretty bad one in Peru? (I can’t place where else I would have seen it) It was essentially a guy just killing people.

    2. Somehow I blocked out the lack of AC part. I must only be able to bear the weight of so much misery 😉 But seriously, that was quite the bus ride. You guys didn’t try to reenact that one when you went back to Egypt?

  2. Man, hilarious! This describes exactly my first bus journey over here in Thailand. Well it was no Bollywood but some similar thai-style movie. And hell, I hated it. And just when it was finished they started the whole damn thing again. In the middle of the night! Oh lord….

    But lesson learned. Now I always have my mp3 player with me. Put something on my eyes and ears and try to ignore as much as I can 🙂

  3. I totally feel your pain! I was stuck on a 12 hour bus ride through Eastern Europe last year and they kept playing one bad Jennifer Aniston movie after another…The Bounty Hunter was my particular low point!

    Here’s to noise cancelling headphones, I say!

    Woman Seeks World’s latest blog post…My London Top 50

  4. That’s the reason why I always bring with me my headphones so that in case I am stuck in a place where I can’t relate to anyone, I could turn on my mp3 and start listening to my fave music. Glad that you survived in there. Cool!

    Lieza from Over Ear Headphones vs In Ear

  5. I’m one of those amazing people who can manage to sleep through anything, so it really doesn’t bother me. The downside to so much travel now is that I sit on a bus and practically fall asleep as soon as my but hits the chair – this sucks when you’re just on a 20 minute bus ride, haha.

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