Friday, 1 May 2015

Snapshots of Barranquilla: Public Transport

The Puerto Colombia bus makes its way into town Photo: Xevi Zafra Torres
When I first arrived in Barranquilla, the public transport system was a mystery to me. Seemingly hundreds of huge, multicoloured buses whizzing around, suddenly jerking to a halt to eject some poor passenger from their nether regions and racing off again at breakneck speed, with a cough and splutter to boot. The inexplicability of it all was heightened by the fact that there seemed to be no stop signs, and therefore absolutely no indication of where the bus was going, or at what time it would arrive there. Now I've been initiated into the ways of Barranquilla buses, I thought it only fair to share this knowledge, partly for educational purposes, but partly for your own amusement (I do hope). Also, I'm pretty proud to have got this far without getting lost. Too many times.

Bus decor - not to be sniffed at Photo: Vera Kristen
So, to start: the decorations. As you can see from the photos, the vehicles are painted all colours of the rainbow (the brighter, the better), and often have graffiti-style designs on the side. In fact, this type of graphic is so typical here that even a local design company took it and decided to make T-shirts with it (see: Todomono). The inside is decorated according to the taste of the conductor, with stickers, quotations, names of family members, drapes and various fluffy items dangling from the ceiling. At night time, the buses are festooned with multicoloured flashing lights: enough for a good party atmosphere, which, coupled with the ear-splitting music that pumps out from the driver's stereo system (with extra bass, naturally), is exactly what you get!
There's always room for one more! Photo: Xevi Zafra Torres
As for the destinations, no signs are needed - these are often splashed across the front of the bus, with a card in the front window detailing more specific directions (blink and you miss it!). Hence the lack of stops also - totally unnecessary. If you see a bus passing your way and you want to get on, you stick out your hand and wave it about a bit, and the bus driver will promptly slam on the brakes and wait for you to hop on before continuing on his reckless way.

A young musician shows us what he's got Photo: Arina Motamedi
On the journey itself, there's yet more fun to be had. Vendors often pass through the buses, trying to sell you sweets or water bags (totally a thing here). There's also the odd self-appointed preacher, come to give you the sermon of the day in return for some small change. However, my favourite moment is when someone comes into the main aisle with a mini stereo and some rap to entertain the crowd. It's basically a Latin American - and slightly more intrusive - version of busking. There are some quite political lyrics to be heard, and they often wrap it all up with a bit of freestyle about each of the passengers - where you awkwardly try to avoid their gaze while concentrating very hard to understand what they're saying about you - great fun!

All in all, a bus journey in Barranquilla is quite an experience - and all that, for less than 2,000 pesos (about 50p). Not bad, eh?

1 comment:

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