Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Musings of a New Bus User in Bogotá, Colombia

We are now riding the bus to work in the morning and walking home in the evening. Let me tell you in a little more detail what our part of the city is like. The area that I am talking about is definitely not the whole city.
This city is laid out on a grid. The streets that run parallel to the mountains (basically N and S) are called Carreras and the streets that run East and West are called Calles. We live on Calle 100 and we work on Calle 72. There are about 10 blocks to a mile so we live about 3 miles from work.
We live between Carrara 15 and Carrara 11. Our address is Calle 100 number 13-41. Which means that we live 41 meters from the corner of Calle 100 and Carrara 13. (There is, however, no corner for Carrara 12, 13, or 14 on Calle 100. It is just one long block between the two major Calles 11 and 15. However, right behind us those other streets do exist so they number the houses and buildings by where the corners would be if they went through. Carrara 11 is a one way heading south and Carrara 15 is a one way headed north. Both streets are full of 4 to 6 lanes of buses, taxis, motorcycles, horse drawn carts, and private vehicles. Both have the lanes of traffic separated into 2 main sections with trees and a green belt in between. There is also a bicycle route on both streets that is separate from the car lanes so the bicycle traffic is also pretty heavy and then both sides of the street have wide walkways for pedestrians.
There are hundreds of buses each hour that go down Carrara 11 toward Calle 72. Most of them never turn. They pick up and drop off passengers all along the street.
To catch a bus, you stand on the the edge of the street and stick your hand out and hope they pull over and pick you up. They only stop long enough for you to get in the front door. There is a turn style at the top of 3 stairs up into the bus and you pay the driver or an assistant and then go through the turn style. All of this takes place after the bus has started moving again and while you and maybe 3 or 4 others are precariously jockeying for position on the stairs so you don´t fall out backwards. (you can laugh or cry at this point in your Reading—It really is quite an art to get on and off a bus. We are much better at it now than the first time we tried it.)
Since there are hundreds of buses each hour, Darwin and I have gotten good at looking for one that is not too crowded and that does not have a big group of people waiting for it. We avoid getting on at the corners or bus stops and instead wait in the middle of a block until we can flag one down so we have an easier time getting on. Children are currently not in school. They tell us that once the children go back to school our ability to get non crowed buses will be non existent.
The bus ride itself is like a Disney roller coaster ride minus the up and down. But the bus moves across 3 lanes of traffic sometimes speeding along really fast but always swerving between the 3 to 5 lanes of traffic. It can be in the far left lane and see a person waive it down and swerve over to pick them up. Remember that between that bus and the new passenger may be 4 taxis and two more buses all swerving in and out of the lanes. We never go more than two or at the most 3 blocks without changing lanes and sometimes we miss the bus next to us by 2 to 3 inches. I have been so close to the people on the bus next to us that if the window was open we could not only shake hands we could kiss.
Getting off is also exciting. When you want to get off you stand up and move to the back door. Remember you may be lurching through several lanes of traffic to stop for someone so moving gracefully down the bus is impossible. You move but grace left when you got on. You stand at the back of the bus and when you want to get off you push a button on the bar by the back door and the driver swerves over to the right lane and lets you off. I am always about half panicked because Darwin gets off first so he can take my hand to get down that last step and I am never sure that the bus won't take off while I still have one leg in it. The simulated danger of a Disney ride is nothing compared to every day living in Bogota. (I guess any big South American city). Yesterday I was pointing something out to Darwin across the street and raised my hand to point. I ended up hailing down two taxis and and a bus. I have to make sure not to make any stray hand gestures or I have drivers swerving right into me.
We are beginning to get very comfortable. We have never seen a car accident and we have never seen anyone hit by a car (pushed a Little) but never hit. (Intersections between pedestrians, street venders and vehicles(all types) are really interesting.) Newtons law that says no two things can occupy the same space at the same time doesn't apply here. The cars, buses and taxis do not have dents in them and the bicycles and horse carts fit right in. Everyone knows how the system operates and it works. It absolutely amazes me every time I get off a bus in one piece or make it to a destination in a taxi after having avoided 10 accidents by a hairs breath but we do make it and really do feel very safe.
We only take the bus one way and then walk home. It costs 1200 pasos which is about .75 cents each for our one way ride. Neither Darwin or I are sure our hearts could take riding both ways especially since at night we sometimes end up having to take a taxi to work with Migel at his house or do a training at one of the stakes in the city. So in the evening after work we walk home. We have been walking back down Carrara 11 but with all the traffic it is really smoggy. It is a wonderful walk because there are lots of shops and people and street vendors but our landlord suggested that we take Carrara 13 so we tried that last night. It was like a walk in a park. So peaceful and quiet. There was some traffic but nothing like on the major streets. There were lots of areas that were just like parks. No smoke and smog. There were still lots of people and shops and some street vendors for fruit and other things. There was, however, no bike path so if we get bikes we will have to stick to 11 or 15. However, I think we will walk down 13 from now on.
I am posting this without pictures because this computer at work does not have a port for my camera card. However, I will post some pictures tomorrow.
One more thing before I go.
More of the adventures of the Stulls in South America later. We leave for Mexico City for 4 days on Sunday and then next weekend we will be in Cartagena.


Emily Norton said...

You guys are both so adventurous and so brave. I'm glad it has been a positive adjustment and that you are doing so well. You are blessed!

ben&kiki said...

We love your accidentally hailing a cab story. We're glad you are figuring things out there. We hope you have fun in Mexico. We love ya and miss ya. Kate says "Hi" to her abuelo y abuela.

The Millers said...

Sound like quite the adventure. I'm glad you are doing well. I can't wait to see more pictures.