“Caution: The Buses Are Dangerous”
Although Mérida is a pretty big city (about 970,000 people whereas Denver is like 600,000 I believe…?), it doesn’t have any sort of subway, metro, or light rail system. Instead everyone travels throughout the city by foot, by bike or moto, by car, or by bus.
There are several dangers related to each of these travel methods. Allow me to explain what I mean:
Walking: Actually this applies to just about anything you do to get around on your feet. I’ve found it difficult to go running, even at night, so I guess I should say walking/running/skipping/sauntering/etc (just to be fair to all by-foot-traveling preferences). Anyway, traveling on foot in Mérida is not only difficult but also dangerous because there is literally zero respect for pedestrians. Even at major intersections, there is no specified time to cross the street, no walk signs, etc (there are some crosswalks in el mero centro, but almost nowhere else). Basically you have to wait for the light to turn green in the direction you’re crossing and hope any turning cars don’t hit you. Even if you just up and decide to go for it, you’re likely to get hit. Just because you’re already in the street doesn’t mean anyone is going to try to avoid hitting you.
Bike/moto: This is similar to why it’s so dangerous to walk anywhere near the streets. Zero respect for bikers or people on motos. There are no bike lanes and no one will wait for you to go 15 mph on your little moto they’ll just speed past you (often way too close) and be annoyed that you’re in their way. As Diana (the directora of our program) put it, “As you have already seen around the city, there are no bike lanes… for a reason: all bikers have probably been killed already!”
Car: First of all, it would be insanely expensive to rent a car for the semester. But even renting one to pop over a few towns to see an archaeological site is generally a bad idea. Not because it’s expensive but because people here are the worst drivers (For an illustration of this watch this video. Mérida is like Italy in the vid and what we’re used to is like Europe). People cut each other off, drive in-between lanes, make U-turns, don’t stop at stop signs, get way too close to other cars in order to “slip between” them, etc. As a matter of fact, a friend told me yesterday that in Mérida, you don’t even have to pass a driver’s ed exam to be able to drive. Not sure how true that is, but you get the idea…
So. After hearing about and observing the other transportation options in Mérida, we obviously all tend to travel by taxi (because the taxista is driving just as crazy as everyone else, but knows how so it’s okay) or by bus. In order to get to class, I take the camiones several times each day. (Tangent: Even though the school is a straight, two kilometer shot from my house, it takes me 30 mins to get to school because the bus route is so round-about.)
The bus seems like a pretty safe option, right? Well apparently not.
The buses here are ridiculous, infuriating, and hilarious all at the same time. Why?
- They vary rarely shut the doors to the bus. (I’m just waiting for the day someone falls out.) And the one day that they do shut them is the day you choose to sit next to the door to catch the breeze because you’re practically dying from a heatstroke.
- They just decide not to pick people up. Sometimes they aren’t full or anything but the driver just wags his finger at you when you try to flag him down. Once a driver even slowed down for me to catch up and, just before I got to the doors, he took off again.
- They drive like bats out of hell. Always. When turning corners, making U-turns, when they should already be breaking, etc.
- They’ll just decide to cut out part of the bus route for no apparent reason.
- They’ll stop, duck around the sensor that counts how many people get on each day, and get out to buy food in the middle of their route while everyone is sitting there waiting.
- They don’t always completely stop for you to get off or on so you kind of have to prep yourself and just leap on/off.
- They never wait for people to pay or be seated before they slam the gas to the floor. This usually results in people losing balance, falling, or crashing into others.
In relation to this last one… Yesterday I was getting on the bus and, as I was walking to the back to grab a seat, the driver took off at full speed, launching me forward onto my knees.
Proof that buses are dangerous creatures:
Despite my recent minor injury, the buses are a riot and they always make for an interesting time.