The buses are not buses. They are vans with 14 seats, at peak times squeezing in 16 people, and a big sliding side door operated by the passenger sitting nearest to the door. Some of the buses are newer and cleaner than others. All are Japanese made Honda or Nissan. All are fitted with powerful speakers that blare the local radio and current, local, pop hits. The 35 Km run from Portsmouth to Roseau takes about an hour plus, and costs 9 EC ($4.50 Canadian). You pay the driver when you get off according to the distance you have travelled. Buses traveling to and fro stop at unscheduled intervals along the way, often to pick up or deliver packages, children, messages, or for unidentifiable reasons. Sometimes the driver will pull over and the passengers will buy a hot plantain or roasted corn on the cob from a lady at the side of the road through the window.
When you want to get off you shout “STOPPING” and hope the driver hears you above the din. If you happen to be sitting at the back of the bus, getting off is an athletic event. The ceiling is low, there is no aisle, there are lots of legs, parcels, and other impedimenta to negotiate. Then you get to the door and pull it open, toss your baggage, parcels and children out, slide down, go to the window on the passenger side (they drive on the left) and pay the driver. Often you are let off inches from a drain or a deep tuft of grass with who knows what waiting inside there. Going to Roseau I ask the driver to take me to the hospital and he makes a little detour up the hill. Going from the hospital to catch the bus to Portsmouth I take the intercity bus (85 Canadian cents).
Getting on is another adventure. I have only gotten on at the ‘terminals’. Burrows Square in Portsmouth is the gathering place for the buses to Roseau. It is crowded with vehicles: all parked in what appears to be a confusion, all with motors on, all honking their horns, all drivers shouting. Buses from the villages arrive and the drivers hi-jack the passengers to fill their bus. They will not leave until their bus is full although they all promise to leave immediately. I have often waited for 20 minutes on the bus that is leaving right away. This is the reason I walk the extra distance to catch the bus at Burrows Square although I could get it much closer to where I live. The bus gets to my stop FULL and does not stop.
The process in Roseau to return to Portsmouth is much the same only more crowded, confusing, noisy and hectic.
I know that there is a protocol amongst the drivers, competition is fierce, politics of bus operation are complex, and there is no way I could ever figure it out – or even want to. I have my favourite drivers, they know me by now, and they compete for my little fare. They call out to me as they see me coming to attract my attention. I look to see which bus has the most passengers as that will be the bus leaving soonest, smile and get on. If I know it will be a wait I drop a dollar in the hand of “Cucumber”, a street person, who looks after me: he gets me a seat up front with the driver and makes sure the bus waits for me while I go across the street to get an ice cream cone.
On the bus: if the news is on and if there is some political discussion on the radio the denizens will erupt into a passionate debate on the topic. Most people play or text on their phones, some sing and bounce around to music on their phone, some sleep, some eat, or visit and chat. I just go into the ‘zone’. I rather like the bus ride, the scenery is spectacular, the near misses are heart throbbing; I can actually think on the bus. I take the late bus home from Roseau at the end of the work day so it tends to be quiet.
I wanted to include photos, but I am a little intimidated. Maybe later.........