This article is from the December 1997 - January 1998 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Bus Adventures in Mexico

by Deborah Miller

Deborah Miller is a MF subscriber and travel writer who hails from Vacaville, California.

Take a bus? Me? Make that suggestion in the USA, and I’ll promptly ask you what the alternatives might be. I hate buses! At least I thought I hated buses — that is, until I started riding buses in Mexico. Fortunately for me, I am more open to new experiences when traveling in a foreign country. I say fortunately because riding on Mexican buses turned out to be the single most pleasant surprise in yet another rewarding trip to Mexico.

There is nothing quite like a ride on a Mexican bus, not that they are all alike. In fact, it is the variety of the experience that first caught my attention. Not only are no two alike, but each bus trip is a new adventure. And I assume from the quick smiles on the warm, handsome faces around me that Mexicans like them too. This may seem hard to believe, but regardless of my mood at the outset of the ride, I was always in good spirits by its conclusion — and that in the face of bumpy roads and hard metal seats!

Each bus is stamped with the personality of its driver, beginning with a display above the windshield. His (and I say that advisedly because I have never encountered a female bus driver in Mexico) name may be painted in an elaborate signature — or just as likely one will see an image of the Holy Mother, or even that of a big breasted woman! Some drivers have family members accompany them on their route. One driver had a his wife and young son situated on a broad shelf just below the windshield, a shelf which had apparently been designed for just this purpose. Another brought along his elderly grandfather replete with uniform, medals and drum from a distant war. Another, and this was on a trip of some distance, was accompanied by a young woman who I first mistook as his daughter but later determined to be an object of romance...this deduced from the expression of bliss which did not leave his face from the beginning of the trip to its conclusion seven hours later. The object of this driver’s delight sat on a small stool just to his right. Though possibly less enthralled by the experience than her admirer, she was dutifully entertaining. The trip was such a pleasure for the driver that we arrived at our destination an hour behind schedule — but then what is a schedule when one is in love?

It is not unusual for the driver to play his radio en route...generally lively Mexican music. Additional entertainment is provided by street musicians who, at the driver’s discretion, may be permitted to board the bus and play or sing to the passengers for a short distance. One young ventriloquist boarded and shared the limelight with a wooden boy reminiscent of Charlie McCarthy. Following a show the performers pass through the bus and accept donations from those who care to contribute.

Vendors of sweets, fruit, and snacks are also permitted to pass through the bus to offer their wares, again at the driver’s discretion. One might think that buses must be terribly crowded with so much traffic, but no difficulties are ever apparent, perhaps due to the driver’s good judgment.

Depending on the time of day and the destination, however, there can be jam-packed rides with people pressing and squeezing aboard as though surely this must be the last bus on Earth and bound for Utopia — women, children, and men...a mass of bodies indiscriminately meshed. The doors of the bus remain open when the bus is this crowded and those who are sturdy and brave hang from the entry bars at angles defying death. For a culture which closely monitors contact between young people prior to marriage, the participants are curiously unperturbed by the physical intimacy thus encountered. In fact, the body heat of one’s neighbor is simply ignored as if it did not exist. My daughter and her roommate, who take such a ride each morning into the University, refer to them as "violation rides." Upon reaching freedom, an assessment for possible damage is irresistible. Furtively assuring that all body parts and items of clothing have survived intact, stunned by serviceable, one proceeds with the day.

On one memorable ride I took, this on a second-class bus (no recommendation is at all intended!), the driver whizzed along like the Grinch delivering Christmas as he traversed a winding mountain road. Despite the twisting turns, I felt oddly confident of our safety. Perhaps the images of Pope John XXIII and the Holy Mother gazing down from the windshield reassured me. Sure enough, the driver avoided mishap until the approach to the bus station on the edge of town — at which point he rear-ended the hapless vehicle in our path! Fortunately, the only discernable sign of injury was reflected in the pained expression on the driver’s face.

If the bus experience is not unique to Guadalajara and surrounding areas, and I truly hope it is not, I have a country full of bus adventures to look forward to. And I wish you the sheer delight of an experience so readily accessible.