On Buses and Language

17 August – Partially written on the bus to Merida

Oi, yesterday was exhausting. I got my airfare, my breakfast, my shuttle to the ADO bus station in Cancun, my bus ticket, and negotiated myself to my hostel (Donde es? Cerca o lejos?) and my 100 peso a night bed in Valladolid – all with my very limited Spanish and in the context of holy crap they speak Spanish much faster here than they do in Mexico City.


The buses don’t always have clear labels, or the labels are for towns beyond where I’m going, and they rattle off the bus destinations all of once and if you miss it because you’re struggling with the turnstile to get into the loo with your suitcase, well. You just have to assume you’re on the right bus because the bus driver took your ticket and he wouldn’t take your ticket if he wasn’t going there, right?

My first bus in Mexico, from Cancun to Valladolid, I spent the first two thirds of it stressed out, worried I had missed it, or was on the wrong bus, and what I would do if I was on the wrong bus. I was running through my mental trouble shooting when I stumbled through a basic conversation with the woman in the seat next to me, whose daughter (Sabrina, an adorable three year old who slept the whole time, at times half on me. But she was sleeping, not wailing, so I’ll take the being half on me in the name of a three year old that sleeps for three hours straight). Turns out this woman was also going to Valladolid. Horrah! A way to figure out which of the many stops my second class bus was taking to get off on. Because the bus driver was definitely not announcing any of them. You just had to kind of know.


There is something simultaneously stressful and freeing about navigating the local bus system when you have a limited grasp of the language. It’s pretty much out of your control at a certain point. If I had been on the wrong bus… well, that’s part of the adventure I suppose.

On language learning… I was asking the guy at the front desk of my hostel if he knew if Chichen Itza had luggage storage. Not in such a graceful way, of course. My Spanish isn’t that good, but I had just started asking and a guy who was staying there interrupted me and was like “What are you trying to ask?” Then proceeded to rattle off the question in Spanish for me. Which, was unwanted. And unfair. How in the ever loving hell am I supposed to learn Spanish if someone else does all the talking for me? I didn’t even get a chance to get through my whole question before he butted in. He didn’t ask if I needed help. I encounter that sort of shit a lot, especially from male travelers. Ask if I want your help, first. And then say it slow enough so I can bloody listen to what you’re saying.


The only reason why I was in Valladolid was so I could take one of the earlier buses out to Chichen Itza instead of coming in from Merida or Cancun and arriving the same time as all of the tour buses (around 11). Valladolid is just 45 minutes away, and because I could pick up a bus from Chichen straight to Merida I brought my bag and stored it at the luggage storage there (it does exist). My gamble paid off. I was there a little before 9am. The merchants hadn’t even finished setting up yet, and I had a good two hours to wander around the complex with just a handful of other people before the Cancun buses started to arrive. The morning light was good, it was cooler than it is later in the day, and I was leaving around the time the masses were arriving. It was, in retrospect, one of my favorite parts about my trip to Mexico.


When I was waiting for the bus to Merida, I met a dude from Mexico City going to Merida and we ended up wandering around Merida together (he was also on holiday). I think he was vaguely disappointed that I have a boyfriend (also surprised that I was as old as I am, something I’ve encountered a lot on this trip), but we spent a couple hours basically playing the language game – what does this sign say, what does that sign say, and in return I tweaked his English a bit (he verbally said Indeed a lot, which, while usually used correctly, made it sound like he was presenting his PhD dissertation.) and gave him words for things he didn’t know. His sense of direction was terrible. The direction of my hostel was “South of the bus station” and he like, goes to pull out a compass on his i-phone and before he had even loaded the app I was walking in the right direction. “How did you know this is South?” he asked. “The sun’s in that direction,” I point and explain you know, how the sun works. I don’t even remember where I learned that, but it was definitely before the age of smart phones and even the internet. It is a skill set that makes me feel quite old. Although much more useful when you don’t have 3G.

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