Wednesday, February 1, 2012

how to ride a bus in Belize

I’m in the process of convincing Daniel that it would be a great idea to take a bus trip through central America this summer, and I was looking at some blogs from expats for helpful travel tips.  Then it occurred to me, hey, I’m and expat and could give helpful tips! So, first up, a topic that I’m pretty good at: Riding Buses: more then you ever wanted to know.

-Buses are a really cheap way to get around Belize, and they go everywhere the highway does.  Don’t expect fancy air-conditioned models, you will be riding in an old school bus, which often still sports that little fold out stop sign.  People sit 2 adults to a seat, and add as many kids as can squish.

-You can get on a bus at a bus station in town, or stop a bus as it goes down it’s route.  Buses have boards in the front that display the end destination, but not the stops.  So ask the driver if your town is on the route.  For example, buses headed West out of Belize City will say “Benque” in the window.  These buses will stop anywhere along the western highway when requested, and make longer stops in Belmopan and San Ignacio before the route ends in Benque. 

-There are two types of bus, express or stop-stop buses.  An express bus will not stop to pick up or drop off passengers along the route.  This can be a huge difference—for example, the express bus from Benque to Belmopan takes about an hour.  A regular bus can take anywhere from 1 ½ to 2 ½ hours.  Express buses are usually identified by a sign in the front window.

- To board a bus from the side of the road, stand on the side where traffic is going the same direction you want to go.  Watch for a bus in the distance. When you see a bus, start waving your arm at it.  When it stops, jump on quickly and start moving down the aisle, but hang on tight cause it will start moving right away.  If buses go by without stopping, don’t be discouraged- it might have been a private or express bus.  One will come along eventually.

- If you have a huge huge backpacker backpack, be polite and get in through the back door so you don’t knock everyone on the way down the aisle.  Or give it to the conductor and he will put it away for you.

- You get your ticket AFTER you get on the bus.  The conductor will come down the aisle collecting the money.  Tell him where you are going and he will tell you the price (try to have small bills, less then $20US).  You may not get an actual ticket but the conductor will remember you.

- Guess what? Paying DOES NOT guarantee you a seat!  Sometimes you will have to stand in the aisle.  Sometimes the aisle will be so jammed packed with people that you can’t even move, which is good cause when the bus stops fast you won’t fly too far.  If you are standing, hold on to the seat.  Don’t try to be all suave and think you can just balance.  This is how you end up in people’s laps.  I may know this from experience. 

- Ok, stopping.  This is where it gets complicated.  If you need to stop along the road (instead of at a station where the bus normally stops) you have to signal this somehow to the conductor and driver. This means you yell, whistle, or pound the roof of the bus loud enough to be heard by the driver.  Or you can wimp out like me and always sit near the front of the bus, and then politely ask the driver to stop.  Wait till the bus actually stops before you stand up though, you don’t want to go hurtling through the windshield. 

-That's all! I might continue these posts if I'm bored some day... I could do "catching a taxi" and "grocery shopping in the third world."  I'm quite the expert.  Any requests?

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