A quick trip to New Mexico to show Trang the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta - and while we're at it, the mountains of northern New Mexico at Angel Fire. While I would love to post some pix of the trip, I doubt if we'll be one place long enough to write and process photos.
Think Mexico. Think local bus. Think ordinary people on a local bus in Mexico.
Most likely the image that pops into your head is an old lady sitting next to the aisle with a chicken in her lap surrounded by other colorfully dressed peasants holding animals.
T’ain’t so, folks, as I was to find out when I rode the local bus from the city of Reynosa to Matamoros. I just picked up a bus in McAllen, rode across the border to Reynosa and connected to the bus to Matamoros. Easy – and cheap. The ticket was $6.00 and no hassle crossing the river. The border between the two countries is fluid. It is common for people to live in one country and work in another - maids from Mexico coming north while managers at big factories go south. Shoppers looking for bargains go south while those seeking high end goods travel north. These ladies spent the morning in McAllen, and then were heading back home, keeping a line of chatter going all the time.
Busses are all modern makes – Mercedes and Volvo predominate. The Reynosa central terminal is a busy place but the ticket takers took pity on the old Gringo and made sure I knew which bus to board for Matamoros. Clambering aboard with my photo gear, I was immediately struck by the neatness of the driver – no unshaven bum, but a professional wearing a crisply starched white shirt and neatly knotted tie.
And no chickens – or pigs – or toothless old ladies.
Settling into my seat, I figured out how to recline the back, then I looked around. Air conditioning, reclining seats, quiet bus, even a movie playing on screens distributed around the seats. Most of the passengers isolated themselves just like Americans do by listening to music on their MP3 players or reading a book or avoiding looking at anyone. The only person on board with any energy was the little boy who had a very patient father.
It was a “local” bus, not an express bus, so we made a few stops along the way. But we really didn’t stop many times. Some were in dusty little border towns where the passengers debarked at a restaurant or small shop, but other stops were in larger places such as the bus terminal in the city of Rio Bravo. Here I saw a little bit of the image I had of a local bus – a small and rather rundown terminal that hadn’t seen paint in a long time. I found Victor there, a man who lives in the US, but travels into Mexico to see family on frequent occasions.
There was a wide variety of folks riding the bus. One was a doctor who practices in Matamoros but lives in Rio Bravo. Using the bus is much cheaper and easier than an automobile. There was one gentleman who spoke halting English, wanting to know what the pictures were for. Though friendly, he let it be known that he did not want his photo taken as he had been in the US illegally and didn’t want the Border Patrol to have his picture. The patient dad was on the way to visit his mother so grandma could see the kid. The young man with the ear buds never woke up long enough for me to ask him anything – he just snoozed the whole way.
Traffic not unlike American traffic greeted us as we came into Matamoros – it was rush hour and the wide streets were jammed. The driver deftly navigated through the honking vehicles and we soon arrived at the bus terminal.
Another blow to the “chicken bus” image – the bus terminal was clean and modern. No, it’s not the same as a bus station in America, but certainly not full of chickens and I have certainly seen crummier places in the US. Besides the bus company counters, there were a number of places to eat.
Just like my experiences living in Việt Nam taught me to eschew what most people think is reality, so too did this trip, albeit in a much smaller fashion. Mexico border towns have recently become infamous for the gun battles between the army and the drug cartels, yet it would seem the lives of ordinary Mexicans goes on as they always have – but without chickens in the bus.