September 1, 2009

Getting around Guatemala City by Bus

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

We try to get around Guatemala City by bus as often as possible. The buses are a lot cheaper than taxis. I also find that riding the city bus is one of the best ways to get a sense of a city. Most people can’t afford cars or taxis, and buses are the mode of transport for the majority of people who need to get around.

People use buses for reasons other than getting around, though. In Guatemala City, like in most Latin American cities, the bus provides an opportunity for informal vendors to find a captive market. I am surprised by how similar the vendors on buses in Guatemala are to those in Peru. People get on the buses to sell candies, chocolates, pens, wipes, stickers, and a host of other things. Crippled people get on the bus to ask for money. Evangelicals preach on the bus. And, former gang members and criminals get on the bus to ask for money, saying that they recently got out of jail and don’t want to go back to their old days. Instead of robbing, they now beg.

Vendors are on buses most times, except for when the buses are too full for them. Yesterday, I picked the kids up from downtown to take them back home by bus. When we got on the bus, it was fairly empty, so we each got a seat. Shortly, however, the bus filled up completely. There were people hanging out the front and back doors, and it was practically impossible to get on or off the bus. Fortunately, by the time the bus got to 12th Street of the Zona 9, where we live, it was a bit less crowded and we could get off the bus. There were no vendors on that bus ride.

Today, I took the bus downtown, to a meeting I had with my research assistants. A few people got on the bus to sell candies, cookies, and other small things, but I didn’t buy anything. I was focused on watching the scenery and keeping track of where I was going. At one point, however, a loud noise in the back of the bus caught my attention. I turned around and there was a man standing in the back door with blood running down his face.

Someone had hit him in the nose and blood was dripping down his nose, over his mouth, and off of his chin. He was mad and yelling loudly. There was another man in the front of the bus, who turned out to be the man who had hit him. Passengers on the bus began to yell at the two men, telling them to get off the bus, as there were children on the bus. A toddler began to cry.

I was a bit nervous, as I wasn’t sure if they planned to continue their fight on the bus. I imagined the mayhem were they to attack each other in the middle of the bus.

Fortunately, however, the bleeding man decided to get off the bus, perhaps because a police officer had arrived near the bus. The other man, however, stayed on the bus. He told everyone that the other man had tried to rob him, and that’s why he hit him.

I have no idea who was telling the truth. But, I was glad they didn’t continue the fight on the bus. The blood coming out of the man’s nose was enough blood for me. I didn’t want to see any more. And, I didn’t want to have to show up at my meeting covered in blood.

A few blocks later, I got off the bus at my stop. I was a bit shaken, but I think I will keep riding the buses in Guatemala City.

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