Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Bus Experience

This whole experience can be summarized as letting a mouse loose in a maze; I am the mouse, and the maze is the country of St Vincent; the goal is to find my way home safely via the bus system. 

Step number one: Find the bus terminal. It was about 4pm after Day 1 of Phase II training ended at the Peace Corps office in Kingstown.  My host mom had given me a very brief tour of the city after she picked me up from the Peace Corps office on Saturday when I arrived.  She pointed it out, but between her dialect and all the new sights, sounds, smells and fatigue, it was a bit of a struggle to remember exactly where I was to get the bus.  Luckily every one is extremely helpful.

So after training, another volunteer and I set out for the bus terminal together.  In fact we all (~12 volunteers in all) set out to catch our bus back home, but at different times and different directions.  I’m not quite sure how, but I think 75% of us ended up at the same terminal, but from completely different paths. Anyways, at first we went to the wrong bus terminal; there are two main terminals.  One for buses that go to the Leeward (west) side of the island, and one that goes to the Windward (east) side of the island.  The thing about buses in St Vincent, or any of the Caribbean islands, is that there is no set schedule.  Buses just come and you just pile in, until you can fit no more bodies. 

Step number two: Get on the correct bus. After finally making my way to the windward bus terminal, which happened to be in Little Tokyo, or the fish market, I needed to figure out which bus was the bus going in my direction. I asked a very kind woman who told me where to stand for my bus.  The next major thing to point out is that buses here are not really buses.  They are more like minivans.  They aren’t labeled with the final destination or anything like that, but instead have sweet rims, or have different sayings painted on the front to represent the attitude of the driver or something else. For example, swagger, cash money, krunk, krank, respect with a backwards E, street wize, captain, dogg, bling bling, I could go on and on. So the best thing to do is just to ask where the bus is going.  Luckily, my host sister, who drove me to the PC office this morning, quizzed me to see if I remembered where I lived so I could get back. 

Some of the vans that run from Mespo to Town. Pink=Venom, Yellow=Fusion.

Step number three: Once on the bus, I wasn’t really sure how to let them know when I wanted to get out.  I guess they just know. This seems to be a common theme among my fellow volunteers; we all have theories for how the conductor (the person who opens the van door, collects the money ($2.50 for me, which is about $1 US), and alerts the driver) lets the driver know. It took about a little over an hour to get home.  All of the streets are narrow, but paved, and extremely winding and steep. It’s a wonder there aren’t more accidents.  In fact, from what I hear, accidents are fairly rare.  There really don’t seem to be rules governing the roads.  Cars pass other cars, even on curvy parts of the road, with frequent use of the horn to alert oncoming traffic and the car being passed.  Cars are always swerving to avoid the ginormous potholes.  The driving skills are really quite impressive. I don’t know how the other passengers aren’t falling all over the place.  I am tossing and turning at every turn. I can’t seem to keep myself still.  I guess it will come with practice and being able to know the next turn.

Each bus ride truly is an experience all its own.  Each ride is different.  There is no rhyme or reason.  Some drivers take “short cuts” to avoid all the rush hour traffic leaving Kingstown, and each short cut is different from the last.  It’s a good way to see some parts that I wouldn’t normally venture to. Another thing I should mention is that the vans cram as many people as they can into the tiny and very hot space.  One van I was in had 23 people in it. Kids on laps, tiny babies in the arms of their mothers, packages, bags, groceries on laps, under the seat and feet, bags of concrete, you name it, its on the bus with you.

One after noon on the way home after training, one passenger had a beer.  Once he finished, he requested the bus driver stop at the next bar so he could get another.  So there we waited for a few minutes while the passenger got another beer.  That was quite the entertaining bus ride!

I will be updating this as more interesting bus rides occur!

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