Take the bus in Mexico!
By Kent St. John,
GoNOMAD Senior Travel Editor
As I pushed my seat back the attendant placed a cold
soda on my table. Opting to forgo the movie I gazed out
the window. The seat is far more comfortable than the one in coach I flew down on, more
I am on a bus in Mexico, traveling "classe lugo" to Cuernavaca.
As I watch the mass of cars eddy around the traffic lights in Mexico City, I feel very grateful that I am sitting where I am. Mexico and Central America are made for bussing and it is the main way the locals travel.
It is also the most inexpensive way to get around the region, considering these countries also have some of the highest car rental rates in the world. In contrast to a $60/day car rental rate, my fare to Cuernavaca from the airport in Mexico City was $7.50 and I am finally traveling first class!
As we arrive in Cuernavaca, I am reminded of one fact to consider when bussing Mexico, the first class bus terminals are usually located somewhat away from the city center. After arriving, I caught a cab to the Hotel Maria Cristina, a small hotel near the zocalo (center) that surprised me with its small pool and lush gardens. The hotels other draw was its proximity to the mercado (market), where I will catch the local busses to visit different sites in Morelos during my stay.
- Tepoztlan I board a local second-class bus for the 35-minute ride to Tepoztlan for 75 cents. Fortunately, I remembered to change some dollars into pesos, asking for a number of smaller denominations. I am also armed with a small pad and pen. Even with some Spanish under your belt, busses to villages with indigenous names are far easier to find if you show the name to the ticket seller.
On the trip, we stop at several spots along the way to pick up passengers, a usual occurrence on local busses. And while the bus was on par with school busses in America, it was not at all uncomfortable for the short trip.
As I get off in Tepoztlan, the market immediately strikes me. The 16th century Dominican Monastery on the other side of the market makes me feel like I have stepped back in time. I walked through the busy market past piles of vibrant produce, leather goods, and live animals. The ancient language of Nahuatl swirls throughout the market.
High above the village is an ancient pyramid called Tlayacapan, dedicated to that all-important Tepoztecatl the god of pulque, "Mexicos first alcoholic beverage." The two- hour hike up just sends me back another few centuries in time. But as I head back to Cuernavaca by bus, my chin sinks into my chest with fatigue and I am very glad I am not driving!
- Bussing on
For the next several days my traveling pattern is set: mercado bus station by 8 AM, the name of my destinations boldly printed on my pad. I take the second-class busses on the convent route to villages such as Tlayacapan, Tetlela del Volcan, and Temoac. All have majestic 16th century Spanish colonial convents and cathedrals. Throughout the day, I frequently pass under the volcano of Popocatepeti. It was made world famous by Malcolm C. Lowry in his book, Under the Volcano.
At this stage I am now down to using collectivos, the vans called burros, a hodgepodge of white vans that continually shuttle people between villages. At this point, transportation is helter skelter, but my note pad pulls me through. For at most thirty cents a ride, I reach all my destinations. My note pad and peso coins become my best friends. Yet the smiles I receive on the vans please me very much! In Mexico, all seem pleased to share space with a gringo, traveling their way! And a vast display of Morelos has cost a total of $9.75.
Further Bus Journeys
The next day, I was to head to the silver mining town of Taxco for the 16th of September, Mexicos Independence Day. The hotel desk clerk in Cuernavaca called to reserve my seat on a deluxe first class bus with the company called Estrella de Oro. By leaving on the 14th of September, I am riding on perhaps the longest Mercedes Benz limousine ever. Its just the driver and me, and I flit from side to side to watch the scenery as we head up the mountainside. As it turns out, I had been outrageously fortunate: the next day there was not a seat available. The cost for my extravagance? $3.50.
Taxco, one of Mexicos most enchanting colonial towns, looks to me like a mountain town in Spain or Italy. The white washed buildings are decked with Mexican flags and the zocalo is being prepared for the next nights festivities. The central square is dominated by the Baroque 16th century Santa Prisca.
I checked into the Hotel Los Arcos, a charming colonial building just two blocks from the zocalo, and at $20 a night a travel treasure. Silver mining bottomed out in Taxco in 1778. The arrival of American William Spratling in 1929 started the towns revival. Spratling opened a silver jewelry workshop and today silver jewelry is Taxcos main business. The town has thrived, yet maintained its charm, especially at night. After a day of visiting the numerous museums in town, I headed to the zocalo to join in the Independence Day celebrations.
The Grito de Dolores (cry for independence) is read from a window high atop the 16th century government building just as Padre Hildago did in 1810. The dancing and singing eventually climax with fireworks exploding over the square. Unfortunately, it also signaled the end of my trip taken by bus. While riding the bus back to the Mexico City Airport, I tallied the total cost of my transportation.
By bussing Mexico, I had spent less than the cost of a one-day car rental on a weeks journey. More importantly, I had traveled the local way, met many interesting people, and arrived at all my planned destinations in a timely, and safe, manner.