Saturday, April 5, 2014

Buses in Antigua

Bus stopping by Bailey's grocery store
April 4th - Being from Kansas, we did not ride a lot of buses - read none.  As a kid, I didn't ride the bus to school, I walked.  My hometown didn't even have bus service until recently and I not sure it's going over very well.  KC has a bus system.  My friend Kimberly is the only one I know that rode the bus in KC on a regular basis.  We were going to ride it once to a early season K-State Wildcat Football game at Chiefs stadium.  However, the bus was so late (30+ mins) we punted and drove.  Get it? Punted- Ha! Basically, what I am getting at is people in Kansas drive everywhere.

Now if you ride the bus, you might find this blog posting boring.  We have found that taking bus in places that have established bus systems is a great way to see a city or island.  Additionally, the bus is the best social study ever!  E-V-E-R!  There are just SO many interesting human dynamics that take place on a bus ride.

Here in Antigua we have taken the bus twice into the capital city of St John.  Today I took it again to get some cash while Tom worked on the latest boat project.  FYI - ATM hunting is becoming a serious sport for us as not all ATM's work.  We are finding we have to use official bank ATM's or our card doesn't work.  These are getting few and far between.

The bus I caught was a smaller one, holding 12 people plus the driver, basically a large Nissan van.  It was almost empty when I got on.  I  don't think a lot of locals live in English and Falmouth Harbors.  I sat in the front row by the window since it was available plus I was going all the way into St John.  There was one guy in the back row.  The next person to get on was a young lady in her mid twenties.  She sat right next to me.  I mean RIGHT next to me.  Okay.  Now take a minute to think about American personal space.  We always chose the seat one away or in the next row.  Consider the way you pick movie seats and Southwest airline seating, Americans go every other seat if we can.  She did end up going all the way into St John and the bus did fill up, so maybe that was part of her thinking. Actually, her sitting next to me was the logical thing to do.  I just thought it was interesting from the perspective of personal space.

Everyone is friendly but quiet on the bus.  There is not a lot of chatty chat.  Usually the new rider says "good morning or good afternoon" as they get on the bus.  Here in Antigua, the other riders respond back in kind, but quietly.  In St Thomas USVI, this exchange was much louder, bordering on boisterous. Some riders have phones and headphones.  However, we have only heard one person talking on the phone and it was very short "Momma, I am on D-bus." And then they hung up.  Those listening to music keep it very soft as we usually can't hear it.  Most of the buses have music on, sometimes religious, most times Caribbean sounding.  People are polite and help older riders and those with little ones.

All of these buses have small, fold down jump seats that essentially turn the aisle area into seating, thus filling the entire bus.  This includes a jump seat in the middle of the front seat, next to the driver. Interestingly this morning, the bus was still 1/2 empty with one young male rider in the front with the driver when the next passenger, a 30+ lady got on and sat in this front, middle jump seat.  I noticed as the young man got back in the front passenger side seat that he glanced in the back at all the empty spots.  I thought I caught a quick frownie face as if to say "why don't you sit in one of the empty ones back there" but maybe not.  All the seats are small, meaning you are practically sitting on your neighbors lap and vice versa.

There are "Bus Stop" signs along the way but more often than not, the bus stops to pick people up anywhere along the line, any situation, traffic aside. When someone wants off, they say "Bus Stop" or "Stop".  It's usually said in a normal tone of voice.  I have no idea how the bus drivers hear these requests with the bus motor, road noise and radio music but they do.  Occasionally, someone closer to the front will have to repeat the "Bus Stop" so the driver will stop.

These buses race along like Formula One drivers.  Many islands use speed bumps on the main roads to control speed.  Today there were several church vans driving slower -actually what I would consider normal speed.  Our driver, along with other bus drivers and taxi vans zoomed around the church vans, often into coming traffic.  Eeek.  But we survived and arrive in St John at the main bus terminal, which is really just a parking lot with long lanes and covered areas for the waiting passengers to stand.

For the return trip, I got on a bus and sat for a bit.  Then I realized I was on the wrong bus.  D-oh.  I got off and got on the right bus.  Then we sat and sat and sat.  Finally after about 20+ mins the bus was full and we left.  The buses don't leave the terminal until full.  FYI - most buses don't have AC, only open windows so the sitting and waiting is on the warmish side.  This bus was larger, holding approximately 25 plus the driver - think small airport shuttle bus size but with way more people stuffed in.

Remember the jump seats I mentioned above?  Of course the person that needs off the bus first is usually the person in the back, so all the jump seat riders have to get up, fold up their seats and exit the bus so that person can get off.  Then they get back on, fold back down the jump seats and off we go.  On this bus the door didn't close back up on it's own so we whizzed along with it wide open!  This happened the other day on the bus we were on.  It made me nervous and I wasn't even sitting in a seat close by.  Usually people pay the driver when they get off the bus. This has made it tough for us to know how much bus rides cost on the various islands.

People don't carry a lot of bags on the bus.  I saw a sign today that said if you have more than 5 bags then you have to pay extra.  This leads to another topic I recently discussed with Jenny on s/v Over Budget.  How do the locals get their groceries home?  We never see anyone carrying more than one or two small sacks.  Tom and I have come to the conclusion that locals must do their shopping very much like Europeans or New Yorkers, daily on the way home.

Finally, some buses and most taxis have names across the top of the windshield on the outside.  I guess sort of like ships have names but these are a tad odd and usually least to us.  One bus is named "Stone Cold"  Some of the taxis names we've seen are "Disco Inferno" "Sexy Eddie" "Charles in Charge" or just the driver's name.   

1 comment:

  1. We rode in Collectivos like that in Mexico and Guatemala. I agree that it's disconcerting when the side door is wide open, and there are people so close to the opening in the jump seats. Never me, thankfully, but eeek! And yes, it's always the person the farthest in who has to get out first. We were the only "gringos" in the collectivo going to and from the Palenque ruins the day we did that, and it was interesting to be sure. Come to think of it, we were often the only gringos on larger (think old American school-bus style) buses in Belize as well. We found it to be an economical and interesting way to travel!