There are a lot of buses - called busetas - driving through Cartagena. All very old and beautifully painted in all colors or the rainbow. They are also very cheap - for about 50 cents you can take a bus to almost everywhere in the city.
But there is neither a time-table nor can you find the routes of those buses anywhere. And no, there are also no busstops.
First thing to understand is, that the words on the fronts and sides as well as the color usually tell you, which direction the bus takes. For example ‚Crespo' in green drives from the center via Marbella with some detours to Crespo and back. ‚Caracoles‘ in yellow and red drives from Tenera to Caracoles and back. There are MANY buses (Campestre, Ternera, Socorro, Vehi-Trans…) and I haven’t seen a map that shows you the exact routes, so your best guess would be to ask a local person before you get on a bus.
So having found your bus, in our case the one to Crespo, how do you find out, if the bus drives from the center to Crespo or from Crespo back to the center? There’s a guy hanging out of the bus shouting either „CREEPO! CREEPO!“ (no, no S here ;-)) or „CENTRO! CENTRO!“
So we actually waited for the one to „CREEPO! CREEPO!“ and gave the guy a sign to stop.
Getting on the bus is not as easy as you would think as it stops just long enough for you to put one foot onto the stairs and then hurries on. Managing to pull yourself up you have to hold on tight then, because the bus would break very hard every 10 meters to pick up another waving person. Not knowing this, we had some issues avoiding to go flying through the front screen.
We paid the bus attendant (the shouting guy) when we finally managed to walk to the front.
The bus to Crespo is painted in a screaming green from the outside. Inside it rather resembles an indian rickshaw. With curtains that my grandma would have used and lots of kitschy decoration it has kind of an atmosphere. I somehow liked the bag of colorful garbage in the front. :-D
Loud music is shaking the bus - in this case traditional champeta music - you can hardly understand your own word. Talking impossible, so we marvel at the decoration instead. The local people in the bus don’t talk either. They pass the time marveling at us instead. I am sitting beside a guy as old as Methuselah who is looking out of the window. After a few minutes he turns his head to me, smiles a very sweet and toothless smile and winks at me, obviously trying to flirt. I grin at my new friend, trying hard not to laugh - I guess there is no age restriction for flirting, is there? ;-)
Then - for what reason ever, because its usually open all the time - the bus driver closes the rear door. A girl doesn’t react fast enough and gets her foot into the door. Hell breaks loose in that moment, as the 10 persons around her shout at bus driver to open the door - the language and names they call him becoming worse and worse. Just he can’t hear them due to the music. Minutes pass. Finally he gets what the enraged crowd in the rear wants, opens the door and the riot calms down.
There are bus stops in Cartagena, but they are meant for the future massive transport system called Transcaribe - under construction for more than 10 years now (actually it works in every other colombian city but Cartagena...). So these busstops are used as hotel (by the homeless) and as a pickup station for the (illegal) moto-taxis. No bus stops there. You stop a bus to get off by shouting „Parada!“. So seeing our home we shout at the top of our lungs - only the driver doesn’t hear a thing because of the champeta music. So we get up, try to reach the front of the bus and almost shout in his ear. That helps. He tries to stop the scary fast drive of the ancient vehicle by jamming on the brakes hard - various times - necessary because the breaks are so bad. Some deafening screeches (metal on metal…) and several shaking later the bus finally stops and we make it out - alive.
Telling this story to my teacher the next day she cannot stop laughing and just says „Yes, I know. I take the bus home every day and had to walk a fair way back several times because the driver didn’t hear a thing. Sometimes they are just late and don’t even WANT to hear you. Welcome to my life“. ;-)
But hey, the systems works amazingly good!
Some guys here really love decoration, it seems. When we hop into a taxi one of the next days, we are welcomed by this view:
Can anyone tell me, how that guy can see where he's going? At all?! :-D
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