If you are the romantic type who longs to experience
one of those rustic, pithy, nerve-chiming bus rides
so vividly described in The Peoples' Guide to
Mexico, then San Felipe, Baja, Mexico will
disappoint you. You are several years too late.
The San Felipe Bus Station's ABC buses are modern,
well-maintained, cushioned, air-conditioned rolling
lounges. They float over potholes like hang-gliders.
I don't know what happened to the old buses, the
ones that rained parts along the highway as if two
men were shoveling them off their roofs. You remember?
The ones that jetted plumes of black smoke into
the sky with each gear shift. The ones that sounded
like a wheel-less BFI bin being dragged over a metal
They've all vanished, only glimpsed
occasionally out of the corner of the eye in the
deepest heart-streets of Mexicali --in that netherplace
of head-bobbing plastic dogs, dingleballs, glow-in-the-dark
Virgins, metal-art cutouts of roosters welded to
bumpers, enormous trumpeting speakers, rainbow graffitti
tattooed to bus flanks and flashing lights haloed
around windscreens. All the acceptable apparel for
Mexico inter-city transportation.
Now we have our ABC's. And a fine
new bus station, a block or so short of the Pemex
gas station on the south road out of town. These
kinds of things are bound to dog the heels of prosperity.
Perhaps it's because San Felipe is something of
a retirement center, conditions are changing and
one doesn't have to be Errol Flynn to survive a
bus trip to the big city.
Bus Depot: 686-577-1516
San Luis Bus Ride, 1972
It was during the mid-term break from university. I was
in Mexico hitch-hiking with two fellow students. Actually
they weren't very fellowish, they were two attractive
young ladies. We were trying to catch a ride into San
Luis where we hoped to board a bus bound for a town called
La Salinas. As it turned out, the town didn't even exist.
You couldn't tell us that, though. Well, you could try.
But part of the rite of passage from high
school to university involves the stopping of the ears
and the screwing down of the focal length of perception
until nothing exists but the end of the student's own
nose and the sound of his own heartbeat. La Salinas obviously
existed because we had seen it on a National Geographic
We weren't having much luck hitch-hiking.
Trucks loaded with paisanos would pass, hooting and whistling.
They were making an odd two finger salute with the index
and little fingers of their right hands. When I was in
gradeschool this same gesture, when aimed at another person,
meant you wanted that person to perform something which,
as far as I know, no one has ever managed to do to themself.
At least not without years of gymnastic training. Of course
being of gradeschool age, we never knew what the sleight
of hand meant, although we could certainly say the words.
A few of us could say them with almost as much invective
as our fathers.
Anyway, I couldn't imagine why these Mexicans
wanted us to perform lascivious acts upon ourselves. I
reasoned the gesture meant something different to them.
And sure enough about a week later, after I demonstrated
it to a savy traveller, I was informed that it meant yes
indeed, those Mexicans were perfectly willing to give
us a ride ---IF they could perform the previously
mentioned lascivious acts upon my attractive companions.
Hands can be so expressive, can't they?
It was only an hour or so before the sun
went down and we began to worry we wouldn't arrive at
our destination that evening. So we decided to flag a
taxi and have it drive us to the bus depot where we could
make the final leg of our journey in style. Or so we thought.
The cab ride was an assault on the memories
of all cab encounters north of the border. There were
already two people in the taxi when it stopped for us
and by the time it reached a roadside bus stop, it was
so packed with people that a video recording of the middle
person (me) trying to climb across the forest of bodies
and limbs to the open door would have needed a PG rating.
On the plus side, we only paid for a portion of the ride,
which was divided up among the crowd.
It was a long wait for the bus and when
it finally rolled to a stop beside us, I was a little
leery about its ability to begin moving again. This thing
looked like a cross between a depression era movie theatre
and the loser of a medeival jousting match. A well-placed
kick would have sent it into a hail of pie plates.
My two companions went ahead of me and I
followed and paid the driver. I noticed a lidless Coleman
chest full of ice sitting where the money-taking box would
normally reside. It was muggy and warm at that time of
day and I thought how considerate it was for the bus company
to provide ice to rub on our necks. And just then an arm
reached around from behind me and plunged a bottle of
brandy into the cooler.
I moved toward the back of the bus, looking
for a vacant seat. I found a space next to a woman, but
an old dusty handbag was in front of it. I nudged the
thing with the end of my foot. A mistake. The handbag
changed shape and let fly with a terrific, ear-piercing
shriek. The woman glared at me and protectively scooped
up the small pig, held it like a child close to her. I
tried to show her my apology, maybe explain about a student's
stopped ears and screwed down perception, but the woman
paid me no attention. She collapsed into a private pit
of resentment and I think the entire left side of my body
was sunburned when I finally got off that bus.
The bus seemed scheduled to stop at just
about any sign of DNA along the side of the road. As the
bus filled, the Coleman blossomed with bottle necks and
the temperature rose inside. A man a few rows behind me
shouted out something in Spanish. The bus driver reached
into the Coleman, held a bottle up and the man shouted
again. The bottle went back into the ice and another rose
into the air.
"Andele!" cried the man behind
I watched the bottle travel to the person
behind the bus driver, then to the person behind that
person and so on. It was a brandy brigade charged with
the mission of dowsing some hidden flame in the throat
of a man two rows behind me. A few moments after I handed
it off to the guy behind me, I heard the twist cap spin
off the glass threads, then the holy silence as the payload
reached its goal. Again we performed the brigade, backwards
this time, until the Coleman received the bottle.
Someone turned on a radio. It was one of
those cheap ones with a glassy, adenoid condition. Mexican
ballads began to pour from it. They sounded like a cup
of pins thrown at a window.
The bus, when it did manage to hijack enough
time between stops to grind into third gear, thumped and
bounced along the road. A noise like a mallet blow on
an anvil occasionally telegraphed through the deck under
my feet. I began to wonder if the vice-grips had popped
off the leaf springs or if the shock absorbers were twirling
like batons behind the differential.
We drove like that for a long time before
I began to doubt the National Geographic map. Finally
I wended to the front of the bus and asked the driver.
He'd never heard of the place.
Thank God Columbus used a Rand-McNally.
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