Buses in Mexico are wonderful…except…

Bus travel in Mexico is inexpensive—shockingly so at times—and the buses are extremely comfortable and welcoming. For trips longer than an hour you get a drink, sometimes water, sometimes your choice of a soda, often a cookie or other small snack. The seats are reserved, are often memory foam, they recline, there is space for carry-on. Larger luggage is carefully placed in storage under the bus—no tossing of bags or rough handling. It’s so nice.

However, it is ridiculously hard to ascertain schedules or even which bus company goes where. There are myriad bus companies which often have their own terminals and might have more than one in a single city. Sometimes you seem to be able to reserve seats and sometimes not. Sometimes you can buy a ticket online, sometimes not. In smaller cities there may be several terminals each for just one company, while in Mexico City the terminals are akin to airports in the US. Enormous, with arrivals and departures via separate concourses, restaurants and shops just like an airport.

Our only almost disaster was our trip from Puebla to Taxco. First, Abraham the guest services Superman at Meson Sacristia spent one morning unable to find any company that had a route to Taxco. Then, he found the company but was unable to reserve us seats so urged us to get to the terminal early. The second day of his efforts he got us a reservation, via the city of Cuernavaca, told us the time, and instructed us that we would be able to purchase our tickets to Cuernavaca and on to Taxco from the Puebla terminal. When we got to the terminal we attempted to do so, but the young lady, after checking with a co-worker, told us we would be able to buy the ticket when we got to the Cuernavaca terminal. Phew. All on a single company, Estrella Oro.

We arrived in Cuernavaca and went straight to the counter to buy our second leg.

“We don’t go to Taxco. You need to go to the Estrella Blanca terminal.”

Yikes. We hopped in a taxi and told the driver to take us to Estrella Blanca. He asked where we were headed, we answered Taxco, and he started a long and complicated explanation of routes and roads and different bus terminals as he drove through the city. I was finally able to slow him down as he seemed to be saying we wanted the “other” Estrella Oro terminal. This seemed weird, but okay. Then he assured us that there was a 3pm bus on Estrella Oro to Taxco. I am wondering how he would know this, and whether he was trustworthy as we drove on and on through the city—it was around 2:15 so a tiny bit of worry started creeping into my mind. If he was wrong, and we were at the wrong terminal…

He suddenly turned into an Estrella Oro station, saying again he was sure there was a 3pm bus to Taxco. We paid him and, still doubtful entered the station. There were a few people at the counter so as we waited we watched the rolling list of departures on a screen, which kept flipping from alphabetical to time of day order, back and forth. No sign of Taxco. Now we got really worried, aggravated by David’s discovery he had left his pullover sweatshirt in the taxi. I cautiously approached the counter. Could we buy tickets to Taxco?

Of course—the bus left at 3pm. All was wonderful! Why did the young lady at the other Estrella Oro terminal tell us they didn’t go to Taxco? We will never know.

Another thing about traveling in Mexico, there are surprise inspections that can be disconcerting if you are the panicky type. As we lined up to board the bus we were pulled aside by a federal police officer who wanted to check our passports and entry/departure forms. I had stashed the forms in a safe place but we offered our passports to be admonished, in an officious but not unfriendly way, to keep the forms tucked next to a particular page of the passports. He explained “Immigration!” But then he smiled and waved us on the bus. In 90 minutes we were in Taxco, after being stopped again by an official who wanted to inspect ID for anyone who had a discounted ticket. ?? The same man appeared on the bus out of Taxco to Mexico City, for the same purpose.

The next day when leaving Teotihuacan the bus was stopped by police—two men, one of whom video’d every person’s face, the other strode up and down the aisle looking serious. Then they said “have a good trip” and left.

Oh, one more oddity—the buses show movies, and what a hodgepodge! We laughed with our friend Christina, who lives in Mexico City, about the completely random movies that show up. For example, on the way to Taxco the movie was The Kindergarten Teacher with Maggie Gyllenhaal, an indie remake of an Israeli film about a 5 year old poetry prodigy with whom his teacher, Maggie, becomes obsessed. Hardly a mainstream offering. Whatever, the trip was scenic, fast, and we got where we needed to be.

Someone should start a travelocity-type service for bus travel here. It would make so much sense!

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