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Culture —– Sardines in the bus?

by Brandi

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December 31st, 2010

I am from Utah, where the public transportation system is sometimes anything but highly efficient. Most of the people here have cars and usually do not ride the bus. When people try to ride the bus, they (the busses) are typically late, they only come every hour or less, or sometimes they do not even show up.

It was quite an experience for me when while in Latin America for the first time and was able to see their public transportation system. People, especially those in the smaller pueblos, do not have cars so they have to rely heavily on public transportation. City busses usually leave for destinations about every 5 to 10 minutes and are for the most part very efficient at least in regard to keeping a regular departure schedule.

My first experience on a city bus was, to say the least, a real shocker. All the seats were taken so I moved myself to the back of the bus, stayed standing up, and held on to the rail. As I stood there, more, and more, and more, and more people continued to get onto the bus. At first it was not so bad, and then suddenly I was pressed in so tightly I could hardly take a breath. I felt like a sardine and wondered what the fire code enforcers would think if they could see all the people packed into our bus. I did not even need to hold on to the rail anymore; all the people were packed in so tightly, there was no way someone could have fallen down if they tried.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a sign that said the maximum capacity for the bus was 35 people. I knew that we were blatantly breaking a rule of some kind.

I am roughly about 6′ tall and most Latin people are at least 6 inches shorter than me so I decided to count them all since I did not have anything else to do but fight for every breath. Finally, by counting the people I could see, I came up with a grand total number. There were a 72 people on that little bus that was supposed to hold only 35! I was amazed and had never seen so many people fit into such a confined space. It sort of felt like a circus act where a person fits into a very small box by moving their body in all sorts of ways.

As our destination began to get closer, I began to wonder exactly how I was going to get out of the bus. All of a sudden we arrived and the person I was with began to aggressively push and struggle his way to the front and off the bus. For a few moments, I felt like I was in a violent hockey game (where people fight just for the fun of it). Amazingly, we were able to get off the bus without serious injury. I immediately wondered if I would always have the same occurrence riding busses in the city.

The next few times I went into a city I had very comparable experiences.  One day I had a very different experience; I was one of the last people to get on the bus. The bus doors were open and about nine people were on the entrance steps of a completely packed bus. The bus employee hoisted me up onto the last available step. I had just enough space to put one foot on a minuscule area of the step and hold on to a rail outside the bus. My whole body was completely outside of the bus and my life was being supported by one foot and one hand! For any of you that have driven in Latin America, as you know, it can be a little crazy! Car drivers were whizzing by me going top speed. They came within, it seemed like, a fraction of an inch of knocking me off my perch. Fortunately I survived.
Now try to guess the moral of this week’s little story: (multiple choice)

a. Before you get on a Latin American bus, take a long, deep breath first because it may be your last for a while.
b. You should learn how to count to at least 72 in Spanish.
c. Practice pushing people so you will be prepared to muscle your way off when you arrive at your destination.
d. Do not worry about the bus, take a taxi, and life will be much easier.

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