TUXTLA, Mexico- “When do the buses to Salina Cruz leave?” I asked in Spanish to a young guy behind a bus office ticket booth in the main station of Tuxtla. This boy was of the pencil neck/ pimple face sect, and he replied that there was a bus going to my destination leaving at 10pm. I then asked him what time it arrived. 9AM.
What!?! I thought the distance between Tuxtla and Salina Cruz was roughly five seat hours, not eleven. We were told by other travelers that we would be arriving at 8:30 PM that night!
Taken aback, I looked at my wife, Chaya: it appeared as if we were in for more of a trip than we planned. We thought that we could make Salina Cruz early that evening, grab a hotel, then take off to where we wanted to go on the Oaxaca coast the following morning. But an 11 hour bus ride would not jive easily with this plan.
I continued questioning the kid about this bus, all of a sudden its departure time changed to 9PM.
What was going on here?
I then noticed a placard on the office’s window that said there was a bus leaving for Salina Cruz at 3:30 PM. I asked the kid about this. He told me that it was true.
“It arrives at 4 at night,” he told me.
From what I gathered from this guy’s previous statements, I figured that Salina Cruz was more than a half hour away, so he really meant 4 in the morning — a pitiful time to arrive anywhere.
We then asked the kid if there were other buses which would land us at our destination at a more reasonable hour, and were told that there was another leaving at 10PM which would take us to some city (?) where we could change buses and then arrive at Salina Cruz at 9 AM. This would be a good time to arrive, but what a long trip it would be with our small daughter.
My wife and I left the bus ticket booth and had a little huddle upon the benches of the station. Chaya then returned to the bus ticket vendor and asked if there was perhaps another destination that we could go to en-route to Salina Cruz that was not so far away.
“Why would you want to do this?” the boy asked my wife, “Salina Cruz is only five hours away.”
“So the bus arrives at 8:30?”
“We will take two tickets, please.”
What happened here? Truly, I am not sure. Both my wife and I speak Spanish and have purchased hundreds of tickets (literally) in Latin America without difficulty, so we understood what was being said to us clearly.
Could the kid misunderstood us? Possibly — how could I know otherwise? — but Salina Cruz is not too difficult to understand and it was one of only a few destinations this bus station serviced.
Maybe the kid didn’t know what he was talking about? Good chance of this.
Perhaps we asked the wrong question. We asked in Spanish, “What time does the bus arrive,” rather than “How many hours to.” This kid sells tickets for buses that are leaving, not ones that are arriving, why should we hold him responsible for telling us what time the bus gets to our destination? When this became of how many hours and not arrival time, the kid knew: it is five hours to Salina Cruz.
My wife, Chaya, just thinks he couldn’t do math.
Either way, this brings me to a bus station strategy that I often employ when their are many variables in the bus routes that I propose to take. When I find myself asking a bus ticket vendor multiple questions — when I am trying to find the best route, best price, best hours for a bus journey — I often write down what I find out in a pad of paper.
I began doing this when I was talking to this kid but laid off as both my wife and I were doing the dealing mutually — I figured at least one of us could remember what is being said. Though this proved folly.
Travel tip: when in question about a transportation route, write down all of your options. But don’t only write them down, as you do so repeat what was told to you back to the person selling the ticket:
“The bus to Salina Cruz leaves at 3:30 and takes five hours.”
“Ok, so that is 3:30 and arrives at 8:30, right?”
Write, write write.
In travel, the more transportation options you know of the better path you can choose. Find out all options, record them, confirm them, and be sure that you make sure the person providing information to you knows what they are talking about.
And remember, just because someone works in a ticket booth does not mean they saw the show.