By Sue Barthelow
My husband, Bob, and I had been busing around Tlaquepaque and Guadalajara for almost two weeks. Our confidence about using the Mexican buses was at its peak. Little did we know that we were about to experience the unknown. After all, we were in Mexico, land of the unknown unknowns.
It was about time to move on, so we caught a crowded Bus 644B and headed to the Camionera Central Nueva, Guadalajara's New Central Bus Station. We planned to purchase bus tickets to our next destination and to return to our lodgings using the same bus, which we'd seen going to and fro along the boulevard.
Having a vague idea where the station was located, we trusted our instincts. My eyes searched from the window as I watched for our stop. The new station was shaped like a horseshoe with numerous bus company terminals laid out along the outside edge surrounding a center parking lot. It would be easy to spot.
The bus pulled up to a stop just in front of a pedestrian overpass. When we didn't move for the door, a young woman near us, who had somehow guessed our destination, indicated that we should get off and use the overpass. “Muchas gracias”, I called out as we pushed our way to the exit. So much for it being easy to spot.
Trusting the woman, we climbed the stairs and headed across the street. The overpass was a perfect place to view our surroundings. There sat the station, just as she'd indicated. We descended the stairs on the far side and paused to see if we'd catch the return bus there. Yes, there came a 644B. Continuing on our quest, we headed down the walkway and through an opening towards the station.
Finding the Flecha Amarilla bus company's terminal was easy. At the ticket counter, our limited Spanish was good enough to purchase two tickets for the Saturday noon bus to San Miguel de Allende.
Tickets in hand, we headed back to the boulevard and jumped on the next 644B bus that pulled up. Away we rode, returning to our lodgings.
It didn't take long to see that we were heading toward the trouble zone. My confidence flew right out the window, blowing away in the breeze as the bus failed to make the expected turn back towards Tlaquepaque. It didn't matter how many of these buses I'd seen on the street near our lodgings. It was clear that this one would not have been one of them. Bob and I stared at each other with brief looks of horror. There was nothing we could do now but to ride on.
The territory ranged by this bus was unknown to us. Finally, the bus entered an intersection with a statue in its center. I knew I'd been there before, but from a different direction. The driver made a turn onto the intersecting street, and the bus headed a few more blocks into downtown Guadalajara, miles from our intended destination.
Having ridden buses into Guadalajara several times, we knew exactly where we were and how to get back. My confidence soared once more. Off we sauntered to the stop for bus 647.
We settled into our seats for the 15 minute ride to our exit in the Parián neighborhood. With this bus, we'd have to walk over a mile to get to our lodgings, but I was happy to be back in known territory. The bus slowed down as expected just before the street it would turn down. The car in front of us turned left. Our bus would follow as soon as the road was clear.
“Hey,” I thought. “What's going on?” The driver had stepped on the gas and continued straight ahead. It was then that I saw the letter A taped at the bottom of the front window. “Oh no,” I said. “There's an A down there in the corner.”
A couple of days earlier, we'd been warned, “When you're looking for bus 647, don't make the mistake of getting on 647A instead.”
We were on the wrong bus. Unlike bus 644B, which had the number and letter prominently displayed, bus 647A chose to prominently display the 647 and to hide the A somewhere else. Today I was learning firsthand some important lessons about traveling in Mexico. Don't ever expect anything. Don't ever think the same two things will actually turn out to be the same. No matter what, always ask first.
I leaned over and said, “We'd better get off at the next stop.”
“No,” Bob replied. “This has already been quite an adventure. Lets ride it around the loop. We don't have to be anywhere. Sit back and enjoy the ride.”
I frowned at his grinning face. On we traveled once again into new territory. The town behind us, we entered a poor small-plot agricultural belt. On we went. We passed a couple of new apartment complexes and a new subdivision. We passed a people graveyard and then a bus graveyard. Finally, we entered what Bob referred to later as a “slum out in the middle of nowhere”.
The bus drove down streets so badly cobbled and full of potholes that they were almost not cobbled at all. By now the bus was almost empty. Bob moved to the seat across the aisle so we'd stop knocking each other as the bus bounced down the street. I shifted over towards the aisle and held on for dear life.
Finally, the driver pulled the bus over and killed the engine. This was the end of the line. The driver stood up and stretched. He looked down the aisle at us and threw out words a mile a minute. Bob and I looked at each other. We hadn't understood a single word. The driver gestured towards us and then swooped his hands towards the door making it clear that we would have to get off.
So, up we got, and off we went. The driver chuckled from behind our backs. “We're in the slums,” Bob stated, keeping his voice low. “I don't like this one bit. It's dangerous here.”
Having experienced some pretty poor towns in my travels of yesteryear, I remarked back, “Oh, calm down. We're perfectly safe here. It doesn't look at all threatening. Just take a good look around.” I paused to give him time to digest what I'd said. “ Let's move away from the bus and go up to the next corner. You'll see. Another bus will come along in no time.”
Bob gave me a look that said I must be crazy. However, he followed me to the corner. The humble dwellings surrounded us as we stood in the almost deserted street. A few minutes later, a bus rounded the far corner and bumped up the street in our direction. I saw 647 clearly displayed. I scanned the entire front window to see if there was any other letter or number visible. Nope. This bus would be our salvation.
We waved to the driver. He pulled up, opened the door, and sat there laughing with us. He knew the drill. We were just another couple of lost touristas.
This time, Bob asked the driver “Va al Parián?” We were learning to always ask if a bus went where we wanted it to go.
“Si,” the driver responded grinning back at us. “Vamos.” He graciously accepted our payment and waited for us to sit down. Slowly, he continued onward hitting every pothole he could reach.
Soon, we were back in Tlaquepaque heading for the Parián area. As the bus pulled over and stopped at a corner I didn't recognize, the driver called out, “El Parián.” Grinning, he glanced down the aisle at us as we jumped up. We quickly got our bearings and headed off on the long trek to our lodgings. Wiser now, we looked forward to our next unknown.