Snapshots of Colombia: Public transport in Barranquilla
When I first arrived in Barranquilla, the public transport system was a mystery to me. Seemingly hundreds of huge, multicoloured buses whizzing around, suddenly jerking to a halt to eject some poor passenger and racing off again at breakneck speed, with a cough and splutter. The inexplicability of it all was made worse by the fact that there seemed to be no stop signs, and therefore absolutely no indication of where the bus was going, or at what time it would arrive there. Now I know more about the ways of Barranquilla buses, I thought it only fair to share this knowledge - I'm pretty proud to have got this far without getting lost. Too many times!
So, to start: the decorations. The vehicles are painted all colours of the rainbow (the brighter, the better), and often have graffiti-style designs on the side. In fact, this type of graphic is so typical here that even a local design company took it and decided to make T-shirts with it. The inside is decorated according to the taste of the driver, with stickers, quotations, names of family members, drapes and various fluffy items dangling from the ceiling. At night time, the buses are covered with multicoloured flashing lights: enough for a good party atmosphere, which, coupled with the ear-splitting music that pumps out from the driver's stereo system (with extra bass, naturally), is exactly what you get!
As for the destinations, no signs are needed - these are often splashed across the front of the bus, with a card in the front window detailing more specific directions. This is also the reason for the lack of stops - totally unnecessary. If you see a bus passing your way and you want to get on, you stick out your hand and wave it about a bit, and the bus driver will promptly slam on the brakes and wait for you to hop on before continuing on his way.
On the journey itself, there's yet more fun to be had. Vendors often pass through the buses, trying to sell you sweets or water bags (totally a thing here). There are also preachers, come to give you the sermon of the day in return for some small change. However, my favourite moment is when someone comes into the main aisle with a mini stereo and some rap to entertain the crowd. In the UK, we have this but only on the street, definitely not on a bus. There are some quite political lyrics to be heard, and they often finish it off with a bit of freestyle about each of the passengers - great fun!
All in all, a bus journey in Barranquilla is quite an experience - and all that, for less than 2,000 pesos (about 50p). Not bad, eh?