Skip to main content

First World Bus Travel

19.56, I made it!

2 Metro changes...dash through the palpable late August heat in Madrid, an anxious wait on a light rail platform only to find the next train is an express that doesn't stop where I do. Add to that the criminal removal of beer from the vending machines on the platforms, 3 broken escalators, then chatty pearled up women blocking the left-hand walking lane on the ones that do work and of course, a tip of the hat to Jimmy Buffet with a broken flip-flop...yet, the driver is still standing at the door of the bus smoking his last cigarette, eyeing up the girls as they bend down to load their luggage.

Summer in Madrid, you sweat without moving. My ticket literally wilted as I handed it to him, but again...I made it.

The Express bus, depending on your perspective, the lap of leather seated luxury or the last resort for the traveler wanting to get out to Extremadura in the late afternoon. By spending a bit more, you leave exploratory traffic-filled excursions for another day through the charming dormitory cities of Alcorcon and Mostoles. Just slide into the bigger, more comfortable reclinable leather seats and let the A/C slowly dry me off., 17-18, no...Here we are, number 19. Numbered seats have been around here in Spain for a long time. Even still, you continue to get confused looks from people sitting in the wrong seat more often than you'd think. But today my seat was free, time to let the A/C do its work.

Hang on, can't quite squeeze in, even in my sweaty, slippery state. The passenger in front has already put his seat dangerously far back...good thing I speak the language.

"Uh, excuse me," in the politest of tones,"would you mind moving your seat forward a bit, just so that I can get in?"

My fellow traveler slowly turns around and I'm given a sudden start.

Holly Bejeezus! When did the start allowing gorillas onto buses!?

The lump in the seat in front turns into the churlish, molted face of what just might be the missing link draped in an oversized basketball jersey and a haircut that would embarrass a recent lobotomy patient.

"! I paid for this seat and I'm sitting the way I want!"

Ok, Ok, perhaps gorilla was too strong, after all he can speak, if ever so gruffly.

"Quite right, as did I, but perhaps you could move it up just a bit in order for me to actually get my legs in?"

Wrong! Jumped to a conclusion too soon regarding his humanity. Feral grunts are the only response now. Maybe he's sore because I interrupted him from the obviously mesmerizing blinking lights emanating from the mobile phone wrapped in paws that sported suspiciously orange looking 'gold' rings on every finger.

Only option left is to somehow crawl over his seat and into mine and hope he doesn't bite me in the process.

Even the most ardent socialists should take public transport now and then to get in touch with their fellow countrymen; though I do realize that an Express bus can hardly be deemed public. However given the scant (and expensive) service on the supposedly public train service, the masses do tend to gather on the bus here on the Iberian peninsula. Backpackers, immigrants, pensioners, university students, wistful mothers, grumpy fathers, rambunctious kids, parolees and even the odd business man all meet in the equalizing space of two seats side by side.

Seat climbed and now in my crypt-like express seat and I feel like Houdini struggling to get out of a coffin, good thing that even on my best days I'm considered of medium height.

You can learn a lot about a country by riding its buses. Brave a Greyhound ride in North America and you'll quickly learn that everyone doesn't look like actors out of the High School Virgin movies that Hollywood seems to re-release every year under different names.

I can remember a particularly uncomfortable bus ride to Vientiane from the south of Laos. Every available inch of floor space, including where your feet were supposed to go, had been taken up by 50kg bags of rice. Terribly uncomfortable until a kind local showed me that they could be laid upon like giant beanbags.

No room to lie down here, much less inhale deeply as sunset over the Gredos mountains turned the countryside an orange much more beautiful than the orangutan's rings. But the most beautiful sunset in the world couldn't erase the growing cacophony of rival songs being played from mobile phones scattered around the bus.

Finally the bus stops, halfway resting point. All the passengers start to file out minus Trapped in my express tomb, I start to wonder if I'll be forgotten when an older women, akin to the chatty ones who had blocked the escalators, bends down, presses the button and releases me from my crypt.

"Leave it like that and he might not notice when he gets back," she pleasantly chimes...I immediately felt guilty for my murderous thoughts back on the escalators.

Rest stop over and we all file in. I purposely get on early in order to avoid the previous seat climbing episode. Settling in, I then see the primate board, stuffing chips into his maw as he lumbers towards his seat and plunks down.

"Fuck, these are uncomfortable," I hear him mutter under his breath while squirming around into the leather.

Fully expecting my knees to be slammed as he reaches for the button, I brace myself...

More chips crammed into his mouth, more muttering and finally....the mobile phone starts to dazzle him once again.

My guardian seat angel was right, the blinking phone proved too mesmerizing. While maybe not quite a sleep on a 50kg bag of rice, her words of wisdom saved my knees from further bruising the rest of the way home.


I'm 5'10", so life on Spanish buses was hellish. I lived outside of Madrid, and while the bus stop was considerably closer than the train station, I often opted for the long walk. Has the leg room improved at all?
Troy said…
I think that urban buses have less leg room than the 'express' mentioned. In fact, the express does have quite a bit of space, which goes to show the type of person sitting in front of me!

Popular posts from this blog

The 10 Best Places to Swim...?

I read a post the other day listing the 10 best places to swim around the world. Reading through them I realized that I hadn't been to even one of them!

Poor me, but then I thought, wait...I've swum in some lovely places.

Let's narrow them down to 3 in no particular order.

Ginnie Springs, High Springs, Northern Florida

If northern Florida wasn't interesting enough in its own time travel way, these springs are perfect. It's a surreal place to swim among the Spanish moss while the alligators patrol out in the warmer river that the springs flow into (the big toothy grins don't like the cooler water).

Bir Ali, Yemen

Yemen never makes it onto the glossy Caribbean style travel brochures, but the emerald green of the Arabian Sea is a mighty match for hurricane alley. Just outside the town of Bir Ali you can camp on a deserted white sandy beach that seems to extend all the way down to Aden. Behind you the sands of the beach meet and mingle with those of the desert on the vol…

The Statue of Liberated Woman

Last night's Minaret exhibit was not only a chance to share some photos that I've taken on my travels but an opportunity to retrieve and relive some dusty memories that had been lying forgotten in my 1.0 memory chip mind.

During the evening, a few astute visitors were quick to notice an early Soviet-era statue that features prominently in one of the photographs, thus refreshing my memory in regards to one of my favourite emblems in Baku, Azerbaijan.

While living in the city, my wife and I lived just off Nizami square/Metro stop in the infamous 'Beysh Barmak'. Baku's first 5-story building (thus the name) that was stodgily yet sturdily built during the years of Russian rule. The window panes hadn't been changed since the 5 year plans, allowing the winter wind free access to the flat, but it was a handy address that every taxi driver knew...especially given the fact that I speak no Azeri or Russian, no matter how much vodka I drank.

At the time we lived there (2004-…

You Call it Tomato, I Call it Quasi-Legal

Writing in the local paper. Local issues with a global take. I never translate literally and the editor trims at will to make it fit. Here's my version, then theirs.

My wife and I spent some time living on the banks of the Mekong in a country that is known to most Spaniards as Roldan’s hideout. Back then, the first traffic lights were just going up and life moved at a pace that was reflected in that great river. I worked at a University, helping young Laos prepare to study abroad and also provided training for public school teachers. The Lao are some of the friendliest people on earth and my wife and I quickly built up a solid network of friends, both local and foreign. Our social life was either spent by the river drinking beer with icecubes, an acquired taste in the heat and humidity and absence of refrigeration, or having improvised barbeques under the mango trees of our courtyard. In a context as foreign as south-east Asia, you are bound to come across cultural differences and …