The San Felipe Buses

San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

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 bridge.

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 Station in San Felipe
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 map.

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 me.

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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