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La Buseta: Cartagena's Original Roller Coaster Ride

Cartagena has a fun and hectic bus culture with a surprisingly civil etiquette. The buses are called busetas because they are much smaller than most public buses in the world. Many of the Cartagena`s barrio streets are narrow and curvy which makes turning difficult. Anyone over 5'4" is normally uncomfortable with their knees jammed in the back of the seat in front of them. My friends over 6 feet have to stoop when standing on a crowded bus. Their heads hit the ceiling with every bump. It can also be quite hot since, temperatures are normally in the high 80s 10:00AM to 3:00PM every day of the year.

There are a few air-conditioned buses for a few pesos more. However, they do not have what makes most Latin American buses truly fun and festive: music and decorations. In Cartagena, the buses blare all sorts of rhythms: Salsa, Vallenato (Colombia's Country music), Champeta (Afro-Colombian music from Cartagena), and many others that I am still learning. I've never heard any Britney Spears or Black Eyed Peas. Passengers will often sing along and do a little dance in their seats. Off-key singers are more than welcome. As we rock and sing down the street, the colorful fringe, pictures of the Virgin, hanging stuffed animals, and disco lights keep the vibe rolling to any destination somewhat safely.

Despite what might seem like an amusement park ride to an American, the bus has definite civility and etiquette. The bus attendants who help the driver collect money and answer questions about the bus's destination are always smiling, yelling at the driver to stop the bus for you, usually making change correctly, and waiting until you sit down to pay. When the bus is crowded and you have to stand,  men always let women sit down first, if a spot opens up. If there is more than one woman standing, the oldest sits down first. Older men will always let the ladies sit down even if you think they probably should have the seat first. Also, if you are standing with a large or heavy bag, a  perfect stranger sitting down will rest it on her lap for you.

In Boston, I always ride the bus and subway. I am always bored if I forget my iPod or a book and I barely see random acts of kindness. In Cartagena, I’m never bored with all the sights and sounds on the bus. I’m only annoyed when the radio is broken or I am the youngest woman standing at the hottest time of day. 


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