June 20, 2016
Note: Grandma, if you are reading this, you may want to stop. But if you do decide to keep reading, know that I am safe and having a great time. This is all a part of the school experience in Querétaro, Mexico.
Forget everything that you know about school buses, American school buses that is. Scratch that. Forget everything that you know about public transportation in the United States in general, because all of that information is useless and irrelevant when it comes to using public transportation in Mexico.
Now, our IE3 Global program director tried her best to coordinate our class schedule with the bus schedule of the university that we are attending, however, due to their reduced summer schedule, this did no end up working out. Therefore, we will be using public buses to travel to and from campus. Bus fare is $8.5 pesos which is less than 50¢ one way.
It sounds like a great option right? Very affordable, lots of bus stops, and it gets everyone to and from school every day. But, remember how I said forget everything you know about public transportation, like there being a cute yellow bus to take you to school, a bus schedule, a maximum bus capacity, and the driver stopping for people to get on and off and so on? Well, let me explain to you my first experience and I think you will understand why this information does not apply to riding a bus to school, or anywhere for that matter, in Querétaro, Mexico.
This morning one of my wonderful host sisters, Zusel, met me at my host mom’s house. We left about 7:30am and walked a few blocks to the bus stop. She told me to watch for bus number 24.I asked her how long she thought it would take the bus to arrive and she said she had no idea, because there is no schedule.
If you look at a bus schedule in America, it will likely say that the bus is going to arrive at a very precise time. Well, in Querétaro, Mexico, the buses arrive when they arrive and you better be ready. We stood waiting for over 20 minutes for the right bus. I was supposed to be at school by 8am, but it was clear that we were not going to arrive on time since it was by now 7:50am.
We stood by the curb with many other people watching bus after bus come by. I could not help but realize how fast they approached and how quickly they left. However, I did not even fully realize at the time how fast the buses are.
When we could see our bus coming up the block, I was instructed to begin waving my arms, as many other locals were doing, to signal to the driver that we wanted on. The bus came screeching to a stop at least 30 feet past us. We then began running with a rush of at least six other people towards the front of the bus. I stuck close to my host sister.
As she hoped on the bus, I was right behind her. But, there was a problem, the bus began to leave the stop and I still had two feet firmly planted on the road with a hand on the bus railing. She yelled for me to hop on and I did my best to scramble onto the bus while another person did the same next to me as the bus proceeded to drive off. There was not much room on the bottom step where I stood and the other person stood. And as grabbed my $8.5 pesos from my pocket, I noticed that there was not much room anywhere on the bus. I reached a hand around people to pay my bus fare and listened to my host sister speak very fast Spanish as she told the bus driver something to the effect of him needing to wait longer at a stop when people are still boarding. This he replied with something to the effect that it was not his problem and people need to be faster.
Now, let me make this clear, I doubt if the bus was seriously stopped for more than 20 seconds, and this is being generous. Well, at least it is if I recall correctly. I am not completely sure. It is mostly a really fast blur. But it was surely not stopped long because no one takes their sweet time boarding a bus in Mexico. Everyone was rushing.
My host sister said that bus drivers not waiting long enough is a very big problem with buses in Mexico. She says that if no one says something, it will never change. This is why she is gathering signatures for a petition for this. Since there is no schedule that the buses are attempting to keep, there is no reason as to why they cannot wait for everyone to finish boarding and exiting the bus before leaving the stop.
After her and the drive exchanged rapid Spanish, we were told that we had to move away from the front of the bus to make room for more people to get on. As I looked toward the back of the bus, I did not think it was possible to fit another person. But, sure enough, we did. I took off my backpack and held it by my feet so I could squeeze between people. The term Mexi-packed took on a whole new meaning as we crammed as far back as we could.
As we packed in, I had a death grip on the ceiling bar the entire time. If this is how riding the bus is going to be every day, I am going to have some serious biceps by the end of this study abroad experience. I do not know exactly how long the ride was, but it was at least half an hour, and I felt like I was doing a one-armed pull-up the entire time.
I ended up arriving to campus about 20 minutes late, but most of us did.
My first day of school in Mexico went very well. I am taking a total of 12 college credits over the next five weeks. That is the equivalent to an entire 11 week term at OSU. I have two classes, Spanish Grammar and Spanish Conversation. I have class from 8am to 1pm.
The bus ride back to the city center after school ended up being a bit less shocking. After class today, we had a lunch with all of the host moms, us students, and our teachers and program coordinators. It was my favorite meal that I have had in Mexico so far.
So, I survived my first day of school in Mexico and more importantly, my first ride on public transportation in Mexico. I am so thankful that my host sister was right by my side the entire time. I would have surely missed my bus if she had not grabbed my hand and told me to jump on.
Tomorrow, I plan to meet two of my class mates, earlier in the morning, to catch the bus together. Now I know to run fast to be in the front of the line when the bus pulls up to the curve.