By Andrea Tauta Hurtado (undergraduate FIGRI student)
One of the few things that remain global these days (at least aside from the internet) is the public transportation system. It’s something so common to all of us that sometimes we ignore all those tiny little things that make our own cities unique. In Bogotá, the public transportation system is one of those things that I believe are incredibly remarkable and particular to this city.
We have all gotten on a bus before and we can all agree we know the drill almost by instinct, I dare say. You wave your hand as it passes by and when it stops you get on and pay the fare and grab a seat if one is available. In most places, that is as much action as you are going to get for the rest of your journey but here in Bogotá it is when all the interesting stuff starts to happen.
The bus stops abruptly, making a clinking noise combined with the wheezing of the hydraulic break, that almost makes you think that the bus is trying to catch its own breath. A man in raggedy clothes jumps over the counter and speaks loudly “god bless you sir”; he looks at all the passengers briefly and continues his speech (they all sound almost the same). I’ll indulge you with a rough translation “ladies and gentlemen first and foremost let me bid all a safe and pleasurable trip, let me also apologize if I am making you uncomfortable or if I’m bothering you, it really is not my intention.” Right after these words is where the speech varies from person to person. The man will continue on to tell you how he can’t get a job and he needs to collect money so that he may pay for a room for him and his family for the night. Whether the story is true or not I’m going to go ahead and say chances are fifty-fifty.
Here is where the business end of the activities begins. Some will sell you jewelry, others potato chips or similar packaged foods, toothbrushes or little sculptures; the price is almost always the same, take one for five hundred or three for a thousand. The bus becomes something else entirely; if I were to try and compare it to anything, I would say the closest thing there is to such a place would be a town plaza, where all the merchants gather to sell their goods to the town’s folk.
You see, it’s not all about the purchasing of miscellaneous items; there are also live acts, guitar players, rappers, clowns, story tellers, the list goes on and the creativity of these “characters” and entertainers is as vast as the daily war for the buck; the stage is set and mobile, the audience is captive and in a way forced to be engaged with the performers and this bus you got onto has been transformed into an improvised and unexpected circus tent. So next time you get on a bus in this dear city of mine, remember you might not just be paying for a ride home, you might also be paying for a surprise show whether you are willing to give up a coin or not.