Going Guatemalan

Very little planning,but sure to me lots of fun!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tomar el bus

Imagine your school bus from elementary school without rules, and thats what the local mass transit system is like here. Always exciting, crazy and a tad dangerous, bus rides are one of my favorite parts of Guatemala. Public transit buses are old school buses that have been slightly modified. They are painted with bright bold colors and are ornately decorated. There is usually a luggage rack welded onto the top with a ladder in the back for access. Inside, there are added handle bars along the ceiling for standing passengers, and sometimes another luggage rack for smaller bags.

In Namibia, buses didn't leave for their destination until they were full. Usually that meant at least 25 passengers, and its possible to wait 4-5 hours for that to happen. In Guatemala however, buses are much more convienient and efficient. Guatemala has a larger population, and therefore the demand to sustain a steady, near constant stream of buses. Even at 5am, I was able to allow two buses to pass before flagging a better looking bus. And although only about half the seats were taken when I got on, within a few minutes, it was standing room only. A few mintues more, and it was packed full. Buses are not considered full until people are quite literally hanging out the doors.

On the road, these buses are monsters, bullying other cars and not stopping for anything that won't pay. The bus I rode accelerated and decelerated quickly (I was pretty car sick at the end of the ride) and honked its monstrous horn at anything in its way. Even when the bus picks up a passenger, there is only a milisecond pause for the patron to jump on, usually having only one foot in the door before the bus is leaving again. I think drivers would prefer their customers get a running start and jump on the bus as it drives by. And you had better move towards the door a least a block before your stop. Calling out "next stop please!" or ringing the bell won't work; you have to be ready to move when the bus stops. As I was leaving, my feet hadn't even touched the ground when the driver started going again. If the bus is full and you're sitting in the back, just use the back door, also known in your school days as the emergency exit.

Perhaps my favorite part about the bus is the drivers assistant, the conductor if you will. This is a little man (Guatemalans are short in general, most men are an inch shorter than I am) that hangs out the door calling out the bus' destination, spotting passengers and collecting money. Once everyone's feet have cleared the ground, he calls out "Sale!" (pronouced sahl-ey) in a not-too-loud, scratchy, almost nasal, small man voice that unfortunately can't be played back here. He holds on to the "e" just a little bit and it makes me think of how someone might start up a roller coaster ride. "Saleeee!"

The whole thing makes for quite a ride. Jump on, accerlarte, decelerate, "sale!" Accerlarte, decelerate, "sale!" Accerlarte, decelerate, "sale!" While all this is going on, I'm lost somewhere in a mass of bodies. There are the rumbles of the disel engine, and the frequent horn blowing, and loud bumping music. Absolutely fantastic, an adrenaline rush at its finest.


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