Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dispatch 25 The Buses in Mexico

We can’t leave this great country without at least a nod to our favorite form of transportation. We have taken many buses here and, in general, we love the experience. First there are the day to day, get around town buses. They range from retired tourist buses to school buses to little van type buses. They are occasionally air conditioned (usually costs 10 cents more) but usually they are not. They run often and on time because they are the primary form of transportation for many of the people in Mexico. The bus drivers are often frustrated race car drivers, they race from stop to stop, cut in and out of traffic and obviously love to cut off fellow buses whenever possible. The bus stops are marked, or not, but the drivers have an amazing knack for reading body language and can always tell when someone wants a pick up just from eye contact or a nod. They seem to stop anywhere in most towns both to pick up and drop off.

The drivers judge their passengers and know when they can take off like a bat out of hell the second someone steps on the first step (usually able bodied male passengers) vs. wait to take off until the elderly lady gets part way down the aisle and has a hand hold. They also often don’t even make a complete stop for those able bodied passengers. They make change from a box in front of them and the experienced riders hand them a coin, keep walking and reach behind them to collect the change from the driver. Sometimes there is music playing, but usually not in our experience. The bus is often decorated with personal flare—fringe around the windshield, posters of the Virgin of Guadalupe next to the buxom model poster, something to dress up the stick shift. In PV, Richard noted that the buses often didn’t have instruments—no speedometer, no dashboard instruments to speak of. For sure they don’t have shock absorbers (recall the moment when Richard said, “hell, I’m not even sure there are tires on these rims.”) and the ride is rough. Many of the buses have molded plastic seats. Clearly Mexican butts must be smaller than ours as the molds didn’t really fit the contents in our case which is strangely uncomfortable (and we’re definitely not your overweight riders!) And, as usual, the leg room leaves a lot to be desired. In Acapulco, the busses are privately owned and are painted with amazing murals in a bus one upsmanship contest.

The bus gives us an opportunity to study our Mexicans neighbors. Fancy this—not one woman in Mexico has gray hair—what a lucky stroke of genetics that is, huh? Their hair does come in some suspicious colors of red and streaking however that suggests something other than the hand of nature involved. Answering cell phones on the bus and eating food are perfectly acceptable. Every Mexican seems to have a cell phone. One taxi driver showed me pictures of his 2 daughters and some short video of them on his phone while we were driving through Zihua! Chivalry is alive and well as young men usually give up their seat for old women. The Mexicans take the aisle seat and make anyone who wants to join them climb over to the window seat.

To determine which bus to take, one needs to know the area of destination as the various large landmark stops are painted on the front or side window of the bus. Most often we were taking buses that went to Centro (we quickly learned we better figure out the name of the place for the return trip from Centro!) and past the large grocery stores (Soriana, Comercial, Gigante, Walmart, Sam’s Club) all painted on the bus. It really made it easy to get around.

Finally, it probably goes without saying, that the buses are cheap. We paid a maximum of about $1.20 to take a bus 45 minutes from La Cruz into Puerto Vallarta. Usually the fare was around 50 cents everywhere.

Then there are the long distance buses with several premier bus lines. While they’re not cheap, these buses are unbelievably comfortable—air-conditioned, cushioned seats that recline and have back of the leg rests and tremendous leg room, individual headphones for the movies that are shown continuously and, on the last bus we took, snack packs gratis with a drink and a sandwich. In some ways it’s better than flying anymore since where you end up is usually near the middle of town and, like I said, they serve food sometimes.

So a hearty thanks to all the Mexican bus drivers who conveyed us here and there! We can highly recommend them to all who visit.