Vagabond Dreams Outtakes #3 — Interrupted by Gunmen



Vagabond Dreams Outtakes are “deleted scenes” from my book. Think of them as a “Special Features” disc of outtakes and curios. This incident took place on the outskirts of Managua…

I sat in blank Zen-minded drowsiness as the plush coach sped through vacant pre-dawn streets, letting the rumble of the engine lull me to sleep. I was just dozing off in the shabby outskirts of Managua when the driver slammed on the brakes. He got out of the bus. Voices carried through the open door; one authoritarian, the other desperate.

The passengers froze. I could almost see their ears twitch as they listened with absolute concentration, straining to take in every phrase. I was slower to react, resentful that my sleep had been disturbed. I sat up slowly and rubbed my eyes.

The neatly groomed man in shirt and tie seated next to me asked if I spoke English. He held a red-covered Mexican passport in his hand. He looked exactly like 80’s rock star Falco, but I couldn’t imagine what the fuck Falco would be doing on a Tica Bus.

“We’ve been stopped by the military police,” he said, his voice pitched low. “This could be very bad.” He continued to listen, and the set of his jaw revealed the tension creeping into his face. “The driver apparently went through an intersection. They say we must go back. That we can’t continue today.”

The bus shook with the thump of heavy boots. Two soldiers in fatigues came on, carrying Russian assault rifles.


One stood at the front caressing the blued metal of his Kalashnikov, while the other swaggered down the aisle to glance contemptuously at our documents. He frowned as he flipped the pages one by one, deliberately drawing out that moment of held breath with the sadism of the torturer, before passing it back and moving on.

Passengers held their identity cards with whitening fingers and stared straight ahead as their fate clumped down the aisle in heavy black boots. The soldier finally reached the back and stood opposite me. He riffled through my passport and then glared at me with black eyes filled with spite. I met his gaze until he threw the document into my lap and moved on. I felt no fear, only contempt for this pathetic man who would use the implicit threat of violence to frighten peasants and old people who can’t fight back.

In hindsight, perhaps I wasn’t afraid because I couldn’t comprehend the consequences. Only a few years before, during the Contra reprisals of the 1980s, such a roadside stop would very probably have meant several “disappearances”, or even an entire busload of people massacred with a grim deliberation calculated to send a message those who would find them.

The disappointed soldiers clumped back down the steps. Moments later, with no explanation (a greasing of palms), we were on our way. Passengers collapsed into their seats. Strangers sought the comfort and reassurance of strangers. Conversations broke out throughout the bus, and loud forced laughter that sounded a lot like barking.

I turned back to the Mexican. “Where are you headed, amigo?”

“Colorado. My wife and children are there.”

“Taking the bus all the way?”


“How long is it?”

“About a week. In Mexico there are overnight buses. There it will be faster.”

I thought about what that would mean.

“I took a three-day Greyhound once. I don’t think I could do a week.”

He shrugged and smiled. It was a typical gesture down there in Jungleland.



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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

1 Comment

  • hello,
    coach murdock, agreed about contempt for such individuals. glad you got through it!


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