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February 10, 2016

The Pros and Cons of the Night Bus

Consider this a training seminar on how survive–as a contortionist.

If you plan to fly to Leon (you can’t fly direct to San Miguel de Allende), the cost can get steep. The night bus from Laredo to San Miguel Allende sounded to us like it would be far better in terms of saving buckage. The Writers’ Workshop is expensive enough, plus we had to pay for a room and dinners, so, we decided to take the night bus. Fear of drug lords was not going to stop us!

The night bus sounds a little like something out of Harry Potter. It’s not. It’s easy. We drove to Laredo from Huntsville in a 6 hour trip. It’s a straight shot south on Highway 59 to the border. Since this is Texas, spending 6 or 7 hours to get somewhere is not unusual.

I was in Laredo last October, and I had already programmed the GPS coordinates for the La Posada Hotel. It is right on the border, with the Rio Grande visible outside the back windows. They will allow you to park your car in their protected underground garage for a fee while going off gallivanting into Mexico. Which we did, after changing pesos at a rate of $17.20 pesos to $1.00 dollar.

We ate a nice supper at La Posada (I was thinking perhaps it might be our last),then loaded up with backpacks, shoulder bags, and rolling suitcases and hiked across International Bridge # 1. It cost us $25 pesos but no one checked baggage, passports, papers, nothing at all.

On the other side, we were immediately pigeon-holed by a “guide” who offered any services we needed from dentists to pharmacies to cabs. No, he didn’t offer drugs. But we did take him up on the cab ride. We told him we needed to go to San Miguel and he immediately knew to send us to Omnibus de Mexico, even though he didn’t sell tickets for that particular line.

It seems the buses are so popular and so heavily traveled that the government has divided the country up into sections, each assigned to one or another of the bus lines. There are probably a dozen different companies, all very efficient and timely. No, there were no chickens or pigs tied down on top or riding inside. There may well be out in the countryside, but not here in the cities.

A cab took us to the bus station for Omnibus rather than the Central de Camiones (Central bus station). For whatever reason, Omnibus has their own building. Maybe no room at the other station? We bought the tickets for San Miguel with an hour to spare – the bus leaves promptly at 7:30 in the evening. Even better, we got a 10% discount for buying round-trip tickets.

The PROS: The buses were immaculate and elegant. The bus drivers, mostly young, wore crisp white shirts, neat ties and black suits. They checked our luggage, handed us our receipts, and loaded it into the compartments under the bus. Inside, the seats were spacious and comfortable, although the aisles were narrow to make up for the wider seats. We had the front two seats and shared the bus with maybe ten others. Many more would join us in Monterrey.

The CONS: The driver immediately started a very noisy Sylvester Stallone movie for all of us to ‘enjoy.’ Eventually, since no one was watching it, I asked him to shut it off. Then all we had to contend with was the music he insisted we listen to, even if all of us were trying to sleep.

Here is where the contortionist skills became necessary. Yes, the seats recline at least 8 to 10 inches, much more than the 2 inches allowed in airplanes. And yes, there are padded fold down leg-rests.

It’s the lying down that is hard. If you try to scrunch up and lie down on the seat, you are chewing on your knees. It is impossible to rest your head on the hard-plastic head rest without wadding a jacket on top. No matter how hard you try, you can’t stretch out. Half an hour or less in any position leads to painful cramps. So we snoozed, woke, shifted, snoozed again.

And then the stops. At one stop a young Indian girl got on to sell us tacos and “gorditas.” Of course we bought some, and didn’t even get Moctezuma’s revenge. At another, I jumped out to get bottled water and cookies to share. At Monterrey, we added passengers.

I had finally drifted off when the bus stopped and a bright light shone in my eyes. I was too sleepy to think ‘drug wars’ but I was cranky and ugly to the ‘invader’. Turns out it was the cops, the PRG – the Federales! Have no idea what they wanted, but they went through everyone’s luggage. No one carries drugs into Mexico, do they?

And there were the accidents. Detours around overturned trucks. Stop-and-go traffic through congested road blocks around huge pile-ups. Most of the constant traffic, an amazing amount of it, was heavy trucks. Almost no passenger vehicles. And incredible ability by our driver to pass all those trucks on really narrow roads.

Finally, by dawn, we had reached the Cradle of Independence. These are the towns where Father Hidalgo started the movement for Mexican Independence—Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Leon, and finally, after a quick stop for delicious atole, hot, thick and sweet, bought for us by one of our fellow riders, we reached San Miguel de Allende at 9:30 am. Made it to the hotel in time for breakfast.

Nary a sign of a drug lord anywhere. Don’t know what people are so afraid of.

About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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