I once read that Mexico has the largest bus system in the world, with something like 800 different bus companies, and it would not surprise me in the least if that were true. Because I think half of them drive up and down our street.
If you haven’t guessed, we live on a very busy—make that noisy—street. At all hours of the day, it sounds as if Ben Hur is racing his chariot around the Roman Colosseum and dragging Marley’s ghost, iron chains and all, behind him, to mix my literary metaphors (What’s a metaphor? That’s where the cows go to graze. Ar, ar).
But, I didn’t come here to rant or to bury Caesar or even Ben Hur, for that matter. I wanted to talk about buses.
As befitting the largest of anything, Mexico offers a veritable food chain of buses, from those bottom-feeding ones you see in the movies, with the A-list star scrunched up next to someone holding a crate full of clucking chickens, to high-class, wi-fi-enabled luxury buses we only wish we had back in the States.
In between those two extremes sit—or drive—the everyday public buses that ferry residents from one part of a city to another. In Mexico, if you want to get from here to there, many people use the bus—it’s cheap, it’s convenient, it gets you there on time… usually.
What’s strange about the local bus system in San Miguel, however, is the bus itself. A bus seems to come with either upholstered seats or shock absorbers but never both, and the distance between the seat behind you and the one just in front of you provides enough leg room for a baby Hobbit.
Still, a bus is a reliable way to get around town. They run constantly, from early in the morning until late at night. You can ride for only a few pesos. And you can usually find a seat, unless it’s just after the school kids are on their comida break. Then, it’s SRO for canned sardines.
Best of all, you never know what to expect when riding a bus here in the middle of Mexico. Occasionally, a man in a tired cowboy hat and carrying an equally tired, beat-up guitar will get on and walk up and down the aisle, enthusiastically singing uptempo tunes for pesos. I relish those moments. Once, when I was on a bus, the driver pulled into a gas station to fill up his tank. The passengers calmly waited on board, as did I. That was another good moment.
I’m convinced the real reason the Tortoise won the great fabled race is that the Hare took Amtrak. Had the Hare boarded a Mexican bus, he probably would have won. If only, ahem, by a hair.
For more stories about traveling by bus in Mexico, check out my humorous memoir, Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak. Actually, I don’t think I said much in the book about buses, now that I think about it. But I do recall saying quite a bit about dust, scorpions, and parasites, and that should count for something, don’t you think? I mean, dust makes me wheeze, scorpions keep me up at night, and parasites, well… I better not say. It’s all in the book somewhere. I’m just not sure where.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, on a bus.