Jumping the Bogotá busetas

Buseta is an all-inclusive word describing the fleet of vehicles made up of dinky little buses, minivans and huge lumbering beasts that were U.S. school buses in a former life. They are all painted in bright colors, with lurid stripes or nice pictures of the Virgin Mary on the side, and the drivers often keep the cellophane wrappers on the seats like a maiden aunt who refuses to take the covers off her new sofa for fear of ruining it.

It is great to slide around on a squeaky plastic-wrapped seat with 30 other people clinging on for dear life as the driver swerves to avoid the taxi that´s just appeared in front of him. Nobody in Bogota ever sits down immediately when a seat becomes free. They always wait for a few seconds, presumably to let the seat air out a little before sitting down. Diving into a newly free seat marks you out as a total tourist.

The majority of buseta drivers seem to be aspiring to a starting position in a Formula 1 race, careering wildly across 3 lanes of speeding cars and taxis to screech to a halt in order to open the doors for a swift 10 seconds to allow more passengers to pile on. From a window seat you are ideally placed to see the beads of sweat appear on the faces of motorbike riders who are suddenly a little too close for comfort to two tons of garishly painted metal. Of course this spectacle is only visible if you have the good fortune to secure a window seat, a very rare occurrence on this glorious method of transport. Every bus has a sign on the back window informing you that foot passengers are not admitted, a prohibition that seems to be regarded as a quaint joke by the drivers who pack as many wilting commuters as possible into their vehicles.

A ride on a buseta is an essential part of the Bogotá experience, however a word of a advice to the taller passenger: these buses have not been built with your average European or North American frame in mind, and most people will find it rather a tight squeeze. If you´re over 6 foot forget it. You won´t fit in the seat and you´ll have to sit at an angle with your legs sticking out into the aisle, and that´s if you find a free seat. If not you´ll bang your head incessantly off the roof as the driver negotiates the capital´s potholed roads.  

Once you reach your destination it´s time to get off the bus. The beauty of the buseta system is the lack of bus stops, meaning you simply ding the bell or shout to the driver and he gently glides to a halt in front of the destination of your choice. However things don´t always go according to plan. In the worst case scenario, when you absolutely MUST get off, vigorously banging on the window and shouting ‘Me va a llevar a la casa de su madre?’ (‘Are you going to take me to your mother´s house or what?’) will undoubltedly result in your swift ejection from the bus. Happy travels!

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