I was the only passenger on a long-distance bus Thursday. I had the entire first-class coach to myself. It was just me and the driver. This was surprising to me considering the high level of bus ridership here, and is an experience I have never had before in Mexico, even though I have traveled a lot by bus.
I make a lot of trips between the Cancún airport and Mérida. This typically has entailed a half-hour shuttle between the airport and the Cancún downtown bus terminal, and the four-hour bus ride between Cancún and Mérida, or vice versa. Recently I have been able to use a newer ADO (Autobuses del Oriente) service that takes passengers directly from the Cancún airport to Mérida, skipping the shuttle and bus station segments entirely. In Mérida it stops in Alta Brisa and at the Hotel Fiesta Americana.
The novelty of riding alone in the big bus this week prompted me to recall past bus experiences. When I first traveled by bus in Mexico nearly 20 years ago, I was amazed by the habit of Mexicans to close all the curtains in order to sit in the dark and watch movies or sleep. As a curious traveler, I always prefer to enjoy the beauties of the countryside and see where I am headed. It frustrated me on several occasions, as we passed through spectacular countryside I'd never seen before, when a fellow passenger asked me to close the curtain to eliminate glare on the video monitor so they could watch a vapid, violent movie. Even after making the trip dozens of times, on these cross-Yucatán runs I still often prefer to watch the countryside pass by, monotonous as it may appear along the toll road, than to watch a movie or read. There is always something interesting to see.
I also recalled my surprise, some years ago, at seeing a Jalisco bus driver hurling his cola bottle, junk food wrappers, plastic plate and bags out of the bus window one by one after finishing the various courses of his on-the-job lunch. No one said a word.
I remembered a couple of long, long rides, when a combination of winding mountain roads, those always-closed curtains, heat and questionable roadside food led to the most disagreeable travel experiences I have ever had. Despite those bad trips, I enjoy taking the bus.
Modern long-distance bus travel in Mexico is a far cry from that long-ago trip and is vastly superior to similar services in the United States. Buses are safe, run frequently, generally run on schedule, and make connections to small towns and pueblos. Buses here are for everyone. Middle-class families and even business executives take the bus. The deluxe buses, such as Platino here in southeast Mexico and ETN in the central part of the country, are more comfortable than first-class airplane cabins, offering roomy reclining seats with full leg rests, snacks, cold and hot drinks, comfortable, clean restrooms, and for those who like that sort of thing, movies -- with headphones -- so the rest of us don't have to listen to movies we have no desire to see.
Second-class and country buses are more interesting, but slower and less reliable. However the people on these buses are wonderful. I can't count the number of times seat mates have offered to share food and drink with me, just as that family did decades ago in Colombia.
I love the bus system here because you can easily go just about anywhere without a car. Taking the bus often costs less than driving, and although it may take longer, it is certainly less stressful. It also affords the chance to really look at the countryside (most of the time), and sometimes to meet interesting people. It's my preferred mode of travel in Mexico.