The crew of Pura Vida is still adjusting to being tied securely to a dock. Every time the wind pipes up we both take notice, then our brains catch up and we realize that anything short of a gale is not a concern. We’ve both caught ourselves several times reaching towards the breaker panel to flip on the anchor light as we head out for dinner. Ingrained habits from months of anchoring are hard to break. But we’re getting there, one day at a time. The biggest transition has been learning to get around in a place where only a handful of businesses are within walking distance and provisions are several kilometers away.
In San Carlos, we’ve ridden a public bus for the first time in years. The bus route here is easy to learn, since like many places in this part of Mexico there’s only one road in or out of town. Neighborhoods branch out from the thoroughfare, expanding out in a grid into small dead end streets. They’re interesting to explore by foot, but the bus doesn’t generally venture down the narrow dirt lanes.
The bus comes by every 20 to 40 minutes during the day and picks up right outside the marina. For 14 pesos (about $0.75 each) it takes us towards nearby Guymez, where we can avail ourselves to the wonders of the big box stores and all their amenities. The road runs down the coast and is lined with all the usual convenience stores, hotels, medical facilities, and palapa style beachfront restaurants. While the bus lacks the fabled chickens in cages on top, riding is an adventure for two middle class suburbanites from the states.
Most of the public buses are painted white. Or, they were likely painted white at some point many, many years ago when they were new. They have unfamiliar acronyms printed on their sides in colorful letters, and hand painted signs on the windshield declaring their destinations. We’ve been instructed to find the one declaring its destination San Carlos, despite being in San Carlos. We’ve been in Mexico long enough to know that there’s no point in questioning the logic here, so we board the first one that passes with the appropriate lettering. Most of the hard plastic seats are reasonably well bolted down, but I seem to have a knack for finding the weebley wobblers. Once we pull out onto the road my feet are planted firmly on the floor and hands grip hard on the seat in front to avoid hitting the floor every time the bus lurches through its gears.
We are blasted by hot desert air through the open windows as the bus careens along at 40-50 Kilometers an hour. The bus slaloms from access roads back to the main road, the gearbox gnashing and protesting as the driver struggles to shift the beast while navigating busy streets designed for a much smaller vehicle. The driver is responsible for collecting fares and making change, but he feels no need to stop and count coins on the side of the road as passengers come and go. He shifts the manual transmission, steers through the erratic traffic, and rifles through a box of change on his lap while the latest passenger holds onto the grab rail, lurching about with the roller coaster ride.
Driving here is cavalier, and road signs are more suggestions than rules. ALTO, Stop, is more of a slow down and take a look, unless of course there isn’t anyone opposite you in the intersection, in which case no need to even ease off the gas. No U-Turn? Also a suggestion. It really means no U-Turn if there’s traffic. Otherwise, feel free to hang a 20 point K-Turn in your huge truck on the narrow road. While you’re at it, If you see a friend, by all means hang out perpendicular to the road for a while and catch up.
Somehow it all works, and collisions are rare. Through all the chaos, everyone looks out for everyone else, especially someone in need. At a bus stop, the driver pulls the brake with a loud hiss and opens the hood. Brian and I automatically groan and slouch in our seats, assuming a mechanical issue with the old, rattly bus and a long hot wait for the next one to come by. But none of the other passengers blink. They continue their conversations like nothing is out of the ordinary. Taking our cue from them, we stay in our seats and wait. Several minutes later, the driver slams the hood and climbs back aboard. We are shocked to see that the bus is fine, the driver was jumping a stalled car on the side of the road in front of us. The distressed vehicle is now running, and pulls into the stream of traffic with our bus following closely.
We reach our destination a few bumpy miles later and gratefully duck into the air conditioned lobby of the only bank in town. One ATM transaction later and we are armed with a few Peso’s that we intend to convert into lunch and a few cervezas. Happy to have our errands complete and a little cash in hand we pop into a nearby restaurant to rest up and energize ourselves before joining fellow passengers at the covered stop to wait for another bus to take us home.