In a city of 24 million, a citizen may locate a wide variety of transportation. Down our street on any given day I will see small cars, big trucks, bicycles, wagons with donkeys, taxis and a minivan that acts as a type of public transportation.
Whenever we’ve seen these minivans we’ve found that they are jam-packed with passengers so much so that the exit door isn’t closed so that two or three more riders can find a handhold.
I’ve been curious about the way these “bus lines” actually operate. It seems that the minivan will pull up to a corner and slow down. It won’t actually stop mind you, but it will put on the brakes a little bit. Then a guy hanging out the door will yell where the bus is going. If you hear what he says and need to go there then you run toward the van and try to jump on before he regains full speed.
Some riders are quick, agile and do this with ease. Others have packages, children and long skirts to contend with and then it gets more tricky. The guy making the route announcements also helps give that last needed shove to get the new passenger completely on the van.
There are no schedules, no printed routes…just vans and guys with declarative voices. One unwritten understanding is that if you are the driver of one of these then you have to drive faster than the taxis. I don’t know if this rivalry stems from salary differences or if it’s a friendly competition. All I know is that if I’m in a taxi and a van is anywhere near us, the taxi driver will immediately give it the gas and do everything in his power to ensure that the van doesn’t pass us.
The van of course isn’t happy with this arrangement and will speed up as well. The problem is that the taxi driver has only one stop to make while the van has to keep his momentum and pick up and drop off passengers along the way. This is the reason that these public transports have been dubbed, “Flying Coffins.”
Most travel books advise that anyone visiting should avoid these at all costs. I’m thinking that we will abide by this advice. It’s cheap transportation only if you can negotiate the run, the jump, the landing, the handhold and the final shove.
I can still barely cross the street without creating some intensely angry drivers that have been slowed down by my inept Frogger abilities. I’m thinking the Flying Coffin drivers wouldn’t tolerate me for a second. I might ruin the Coffin to Taxi win-loss race ratio. I don’t want to have that on my conscience.
-Written in our first year living overseas