I clutch the wheel tightly. The bus shudders as it goes over a bunch of loose rocks. I know that noise. A tyre has blown. In the worst place possible, too. I have 20 passengers on board and a sheer cliff down to the valley floor on my left. This is the narrowest stretch of road on my route in the Andes.
The bus rocks and leans towards the cliff edge. I glance out of the side window to the drop below. I feel a little queasy. I should be used to heights — I grew up on these mountains, after all. I’ve been driving the 12 o’clock bus every day since I was 14, but I still feel that stab of fear. The mountain villagers will starve if their goods aren’t transported. I’m one of the few willing to drive the ranges.
My passengers aren’t worried; this is just another day. For many, this is how they get to work. But they aren’t driving. My mouth is dry and my palms are sticking to the wheel. A good set of tyres would usually last me 10 weeks on the rough mountain terrain, and the lot on my bus are nearly new.
As I drive on, I see the cause of my troubles in the mirror. Sharp new stones have fallen from the cliff above and on to the track. The bus groans as I go over more loose rocks. Up ahead, the road has narrowed and broken away on one side.
Swallowing, I carefully manoeuvre the bus along the track. There is a sickening crack as the stones crumble away beneath the left front wheels of the bus. For a second, they just spin in open air and the bus starts to tilt sideways. I hit the gas, sending the bus forward — fast. With a yank of the wheel, I turn the vehicle closer to the bank. The back set of wheels clears the crumbled stretch of path, and we carry on.
The next village is not far away. They will have a spare tyre and, hopefully, some people who will be able to clear the road. With a sigh of relief, I spot the familiar landmarks of the village. It is all just another day’s work in the Andes.