Riding the Bus

Living carless in Panamá means that I get around with a taxi or a bus. Both the local taxis and buses are independently owned; they are the source of income for the drivers. I see as many taxis in downtown Boquete as I’ve seen in lower Manhattan. I suspect that keeps the prices down but also makes it hard for the drivers to earn a sufficient income. Consequently, the drivers try to build a ridership by passing out their business card which lists several phone numbers and a Facebook contact. I have my personal driver I call when I need a taxi (usually evenings when the buses don’t run).

There are two types of buses in Boquete. There are the large Greyhound-like buses that travel between Boquete and DaVID, Panamá’s second largest city about 35  miles south of me. These are comfortable buses to ride, though demand requires the use of some old school buses, also. These buses serve as local buses, picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. They run frequently in the early morning and late afternoon, less so in the mid-day. I don’t think they stick to any schedule. I have seen as many as 3 buses arrive one immediately behind the other.

Small, white buses serve the outlying areas (and there are many of these). In addition to the driver, there is usually an attendant who opens and closes the door and collects the fare. These buses are designed to seat 12 people, but again, since the driver is  trying to earn the best living he can, he packs the bus as full as he can. He jams 2 people into 1 seat and even adds a box in the aisle for someone to sit on. Panamanians have no sense of personal space and are willing to sit cheek by jowl. Recently, an indigenous woman squeezed in next to me with two children on her lap and began breast feeding the youngest. In my opinion, the most egregious example of packing people in was when the driver asked a small boy to give up his seat, go outside and enter the bus from the back and then lie on the floor under the seats. I am still angry to have witnessed this.

Beside overcrowding, having to wait for a bus is the biggest nuisance. They are supposed to run about every hour, but I’m not sure when they are going to arrive. I have waited between 2 and 50 minutes. Despite these problems, I rather enjoy riding the bus. My bus line serves the coffee and vegetable workers; I am usually the only white person on the bus; sometimes there are white hikers going back into town. Since I live in the only white community on the bus line, they never have to ask me where I want to get off. Once I did tell an attendant where I wanted to get off and he just gave me a look that said it was obvious. On that occasion, some guy in front of me turned his head around so fast I thought he might break his neck. He starred at me for a moment and then turned back. To this day, I wonder what he thought. Did he not know or expect there would be a white guy on the bus? Did he wonder where I was going? Other people in my community either drive a car or take a taxi. I’m all for the adventure of mixing with the locals. I always look forward to riding the bus, except when it is overcrowded.

Fact: Panamá uses no lawn mowers (I’ve seen only 1); all its grasses are cut with a weed whacker.
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Author: Warren R. Johnson

I am a US citizen travelling in Europe. I have retired from two long-lasting careers: an ordained minister with an exclusive ministry in sacred music (organist-choirmaster), and a book dealer (2 stores and Internet selling). Another shorter career was as a data manager in medical research. Today, I am pursuing a writing career.

2 thoughts on “Riding the Bus”

  1. Warren,

    I have found all your pieces absolutely fascinating! What a picture they paint! I admire your adventurous spirit, and am glad you are sharing some of your daily life in this way.

    Tom and I wish you a Blessed Christmas and New Year.



  2. Warren, You tell a great story!! We admire your sense of adventure!! In fact, we felt much the same way when we lived in China. It was fun to be with the locals!! May you have a very nice Christmas, even without a church service!!!!!
    Pat and Kathy

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