21.12.2006 - 21.12.2006 29 °C
I am guessing that since I left Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo in early November I have travelled well over 4,000* kilometres on buses to get to where I am now, in Maragogi, Alagoas. And you can add another 250 km or so to that on city buses in São Paulo, Santos, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Vila Velha, Vitória, Ilhéus and Salvador.
This is the oldest (and bumpiest) bus I was on in Brazil - from Conceição da Barra to Itaúnas in Espirito Santo.
Brazil closed down most of its intercity railways years ago (smart move! Of course Ireland did exactly the same.) Since an internal flight crashed near Manáus in October, air travel has been a complete chaos, as nearly half of all air trafic controllers in Brazil appear to have been suspended. When the airports can't handle the number of flights, they simply close down. So travelling by bus is the only alternative!
Thankfully, intercity bus travel in Brazil is generally of a very high standard. The intercity buses are bigger and better (but not faster) than we are used to in Europe. Still, all buses eventually fall into one of the following categories:
1. The Driving Refrigerator
Because of the long distances, most intercity buses run at night, so that passengers can sleep. There is usually plenty of legroom, but don't forget to bring warm clothes and a blanket! For some reason, Brazilian bus companies seem to think a fridge on wheels is a good idea. The airconditioning is usually turned on so high that condensation happens on the OUTSIDE of the bus windows, which makes it look like it is raining. Meanwhile, the passengers inside are freezing.
2. The Day-Old-Chick Bus
When you are travelling a medium distance during the day time, chances are you are going to be travelling on a day-old-chick bus. These buses carry everything - from people to pots and pans and birds in cages. If you do not get on at the very first stop, you will probably have to stand.
3. The Suspension-less Canonball (alternatively: The Human Sardine Can)
Brazilian intercity buses are fine. City buses are a mixed bag. First and foremost: the drivers are lunatics and the buses seem to have no suspension - prepare to be shaken, not stirred. Secondly, no maps with bus routes are available anywhere. Therefore you have about 1 millisecond to read the sign on the bus itself which displays the stops. Thankfully, the city bus systems usually make up for the confusion caused by the lack of maps with: loads of buses. It is not unusual to have 5 buses with the same destination pass by in one minute. However, when you are in a hurry, your bus will not pass by for another hour.
City buses drive at breakneck speed - but not during rush-hour. During rush-hour, the Suspension-less Canonball changes into the Human Sardine-Can. Fitting as many people as possible into a bus is a national sport. It's fun, there is always space for one more! I spent about half an hour pressed up against a middle-aged woman's bosom in a bus in Salvador and her hair was in my armpit. There was absolutely nothing we could do (except for sweat, which we did, profusely.)
Another fun thing about city buses is that whereas in Europe bus routes are usually lines, in Brazil they are often circles. Some cities (like Maceió) are enlightened and have a system where they have a blue sign in the front window if the bus is going one way, and a red one if it is going the other direction. Some cities (like Salvador) are less enlightened. In fact, Salvador's bus system is completely insane. For example, it is possible to spend an hour in a bus, pass the same lake twice, then pass the same supermarket twice, before arriving at your destination (which was only 4km away.) (This is not me being a tourist and taking the wrong bus - this is travelling with Nilton from town to his house - he has to take this bus every day!)
- If you read this article earlier today and read that I travelled around 3,000 kilometers: I estimated that without looking at a map. When I looked at my map I was shocked: as far as I can tell (without a ruler) I have travelled more like somewhere between 4,000 and 4,400 kilometers.