Public Transportation in Mexico

I thought old town Puerto Vallarta woke up earlier in the morning, but when I headed out today at 6:45 A.M. the streets were still dark and not many people were out. I walked about 3 blocks until I found a street where 3 busses sat idling, and then approached the bus drivers standing on the corner. I uttered the magic word “Wal-Mart,” and one of the drivers pointed to his bus and said “Un momento” (one minute).

When you enter the bus you hand your pesos to the driver, there is no fancy coin machine that processes your bus fare. The driver stacks your coins neatly in the wooden box to their right.

The seats are hard plastic, which you really feel bouncing across the cobblestone streets of old town. And if you happen to hit a pothole while sitting in the back of the bus, it’s almost enough to knock a tooth filling out.

This bus is like most of the others in town, it is quite old and does not have any air conditioning. It comes to a screeching halt every time it stops, however I could tell by the sound of the engine, and by the way the driver moved smoothly through the gears, that this bus was well maintained.

I had assumed that this was one of the busses that would take a direct route from old town to Wal-Mart, but when he took off he drove through the tunnel and headed out into the burrows that surround the town. When I had boarded the bus there were 2 of us, but gradually we started picking up more passengers, so I moved over to the window seat. We kept stopping so that more and more people could get on. Then the driver asked those standing in the aisle to scrunch to the back of the bus, and more people got on. We were packed in there like sardines, the aisle was completely full all the way down to the last step with the door open. Then he stopped again and let still more people on … and I was the only gringo. When we finally got to the Wal-Mart I expected the bus to empty, but only a few people got off and then the bus started filling up again. I had to squeeze past my seat-mate, then squeeze down the aisle, and finally squeeze down the steps sideways until I popped out.

So here I was at the Wal-Mart, but I still did not know how to get to the orphanage. Bus maps are hard to read in Spanish, plus I am not at all familiar with this end of town. So I decided that the prudent thing to do was approach the taxi sitting there at the bus stop. I showed the driver the address of my destination, and asked “Cuanto cuesta?” (How much?). He said “50 pesos,” and I jumped in. I thought that was a pretty good deal, for about $4 he took me the rest of the way and dropped me off at the gate of the orphanage.

I arrived at the orphanage around 8:15 A.M., and walked up to the door, where I found a man standing and waiting to get in. I asked him, “Usted trabaja aqui? (Do you work here?). He said “Si,” and then said a bunch more that I did not understand. But he motioned to a door on the other side of the building and said something about “diez horas,” which I understood to mean that I should return at 10:00 A.M.

There is a wide alley, probably about 30 yards wide by 100 yards long, which leads from the street to the orphanage compound. And within that alley there is a makeshift “restaurant” (there are lots of those in PV), with a plastic canopy overhead and plastic chairs at card tables. I sat down and the chef immediately wiped off my table, and then placed several plastic bowls on the table before covering them with a towel. There’s no menu, but I figured out that we were having meat tacos for breakfast. A few other patrons showed up, and we waited together for the “carne” (meat) to cook. When she brought my meat taco to the table, she removed the towel that was covering the plastic bowls … each bowl had something different in it, pico de gallo, spicy carrots, marinated cucumbers, hot sauce, etc. All that for a mere 9 pesos (about 75 cents), so after I ate I gave her a 20 peso bill and said “gracias” before walking down the street to find something to do for the next hour and a half.

When I returned at 10:00 AM the door I expected to be open was still closed, and all the other doors were closed as well. I was a little surprised by that since many people in PV leave both their doors and windows open … you can be walking down the sidewalk in old town and practically be in the living room of some of the residents who are sitting just inside. I finally found a doorbell, and was greeted by a Spanish-speaking member of the kitchen staff. I could not pull any Spanish out of me that made sense to her, so I showed her a copy of the email I received from a specific person on staff. She recognized the name, and walked me through the kitchen and led me to Aurora.

When I entered the room, Aurora was surrounded by about 5 kids standing next to her looking over her shoulder. Another 5 were sitting at the table watching what she was writing on the pad, and about 10 more kids were sitting at tables working on their lessons. She said “Hola,” but did not remember that I had (1) corresponded with her, or (2) planned to be there that day. She asked me to wait for a bit (the second time that day I heard “un momento”), and so I just kind of milled around the room for awhile. Then the kitchen staff person brought me a phone and said something about “Hablas Ingles” (speak English), and I felt relieved to be able to explain why I was there. I spoke with a very nice lady who asked if I could return tomorrow at 10:00 A.M. and spend at least 2 hours visiting. I told her I would be happy to return.

Then I started the long journey back to old town, this time all the way by bus. When I finally got back to my room around Noon, I felt like I had been beat up. It was good for me to experience firsthand what many of the working class in PV experience on a daily basis, the daily commute on public transportation to support the tourism industry.