As the weather gets cold enough to cause one to contemplate travel south by any means possible, perhaps it is time to relate my most recent trip by bus through Mexico. I left Bahías Huatulco this past January for the DEMA (Dive Equipment Manufacturers' Association) show in New Orleans, confident that I would be back in paradise within a few weeks. Little did I know that cruel fate and my family were to conspire to force an extended residency back in Texas... But that's another story.
At a little before six one Wednesday afternoon, I approached the bus terminal in La Crucecita and found out front a nice, new bus showing a Mexico City destination placard. However, at the ticket office I was informed that no tickets were available; the bus was full. I quickly trotted to the ADO office, only to find that their next bus was the following afternoon. Somewhat dejected, I returned to the first bus station. Spying a driver standing next to the bus, I approached him and asked if there was any way I could get on his bus. After the exchange of a few pesos, it developed that some of the seats were booked by people intending to board the bus a little further down the road. I fear that one of those passengers ended up standing from Pochutla most of the way to Acapulco, because certainly no one asked me to vacate my seat. A little Spanish and knowledge about who to pay goes a long way towards solving almost any transportation problem in Mexico...
About modern Mexican buses: If you're staying in a specific region of Mexico, most of your travel will be by micro (small commuter-mover type microbuses), which are cheap, clean, and crowded; or by second class bus (look like an old school bus), which are cheap, dirty and crowded. But if you are traveling long distances, the first-class direct bus is the only way to go. While high by Mexican standards, a one-way from Austin, Texas to Bahías de Huatulco, Oaxaca can be done for under $100.00 US. The buses are clean; stops are few; the restrooms almost always work; and they even have VCRs showing recent US movies with Spanish subtitles. Including all stops and layovers, I got from Huatulco to Austin in under 35 hours. If you drive yourself, we're talking three days of hard travel each way!
Again, my bus left Huatulco at 6:00 PM. By dawn, we were already between Cuernavaca and Mexico City. I was in Mexico City looking for transportation from the Southern bus terminal to the Northern bus terminal by 8:00 AM. Since the first Primera Clase directo to Nuevo Laredo didn't leave until 11:00 AM, I had plenty of time to take a taxi to the zócalo area, find a nice opal for my long-suffering spouse, and still get back to the bus station in plenty of time to do a bit of exploring.
You can find just about anything you could possibly want or need to buy in the Mexico City bus stations. From food to clothing to gifts to phone cards to literature (from my favorite "Mil Chistes" comic books to novels in all languages) to electronics to hard-core videos, it's all there! I'm surprised that they don't run tour groups through!
By 4:30 the next morning I was already in Nuevo Laredo, experiencing that border crossing feeling. Since I have come to feel more at home in Mexico than in my own country, I must admit to even a higher degree of anxiety than usual when I approach customs. But as usual, the anticipation was worse than the actuality. Since I had ticketed from the Nuevo Laredo side to San Antonio, and since I was the only one on the bus with a US passport, my passage was quick and I only had to watch true torment while the border folks put the Mexican nationals through their paces. It seems silly that such an artificial device as a border, a mere imaginary line drawn by politicians on a map, should cause so much extreme hardship. Cross it enough times, and even the hardest heart becomes a one-worlder.
Strange as it may seem, the Greyhound I rode from Nuevo Laredo to Austin was by far the worst bus of the trip. No video, less room between seats, and if anything a lower class of people. In Mexico, few people have cars. First class buses are the transportation method of choice for the middle class. In the US, where we all have cars, it seems that only the poor ride the bus. So here I am, back in Texas, driving everywhere I used to walk while in Mexico, and facing winter's icy blast. The food here tends to have so much higher fat content, and combined with the lower exercise rate, there goes the waistline. Oh, well. My cry is not "Next Year in Jerusalem", it's "Next Winter in the Tropics"!
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See also Oaxacan Bus Adventure