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First Class Bus from Pochutla to Oaxaca Mexico

Bus from Pochutla to Oaxaca City POCHUTLA, Mexico- The minibus driver scratched his short, artfully shaped goatee, and had a look on his face that every passenger could interpret as words: “How am I going to fit all of this stuff in here?” The driver was looking between an ever growing pile of luggage — boxes, [...]

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Bus from Pochutla to Oaxaca City

POCHUTLA, Mexico- The minibus driver scratched his short, artfully shaped goatee, and had a look on his face that every passenger could interpret as words:

“How am I going to fit all of this stuff in here?”

The driver was looking between an ever growing pile of luggage — boxes, backpacks, fruit baskets — and his minibus that would somehow need to take all of it along with nine or ten passengers. To add to his worries, his minibus did not come equipped with a luggage rack on the roof or free space in the rear. So the driver just looked between the bulbous pile and the back end of his bus — the rear doors were now wide open, revealing only the backs of the seats within: not much storage space here.

Bus to Oaxaca City

A bus station attendant moved over to the scene to help out the driver, he promptly began calling passengers by name — we had previously registered ourselves as we purchased tickets — and herding us into the minibus. I had previously laid a couple of my bags down on the two seats that sit directly behind the driver, thus claiming these as my own. I moved to make good upon my claim.


“You sit there,” the attendant directed me to the seats behind the ones I was currently aiming my butt for.

“No, I am going to sit here,” I told him. I paid first class prices for this ride, I was not going to be stuffed into a minibus like luggage. From the pile of stuff that still sat outside of the bus and the lack of storage space, I knew clearly what was going to happen: we were going to be packed into this bus like cattle off to slaughter.


No F###king Way.

“No, I am going to sit here,” I told the attendant. I had sense enough to foresee what was going to happen and got to these seats first, and I was determined to make good on this foresight.

I was now arguing with this geek of a bus station attendant while the remaining 10 or so passengers were lined up at the bus’s door waiting to enter.

“No, you can’t sit there, those seats are for passengers we pick up along the way.”

“I am here first, I am sitting here.”

“No, those are for passengers along the way,” the little geek repeated.

I knew he was lying.

My skills in math are strong enough to count the passengers waiting to get on a bus and then count the available seats, divide them, and come up with one: all the seats on this bus were obviously going to be filled before this journey commenced, everyone was going to Oaxaca. There would be no “passengers along the way.”

I gave the geek the old stone face. My wife stepped in and translated the attendant’s words into English, thinking that I misunderstood his Spanish. The only thing I did not understand was that first class bus service in Mexico means being packed into a minibus like five decades of house clutter stuffed into a moving van.

Claustrophobia on crowded buses with no door or window access

There is a chink in my traveler armor that I must admit here. I get severely claustrophobic in crowded buses if I am not near a door or a window that I can easily open myself. I need to know that I can jump ship if I so desired. I do not mind being in crowded conditions just so one of these two demands are met (I need to know I can get out on my own volition). I interpret this as an instinctive defense reaction, as, if a time came to jump ship, I do not want to have to wait in line to do so.

The time did come for jumping ship once on a severely crowded minibus in Haiti. When getting on the bus, I made sure that I was sitting directly next to a window that I could open enough to jump out of.

The impetus for jumping came an hour later.

The engine in the bus overheated and exploded hot radiator fluid all over the inside. The bus ground to a halt, and the scalding fluid squirting all over the passengers. As I was sitting towards the front, I found myself being burned. The 25 or so passengers stuffed on top of each other in the bus panicked and trampled each other to get to the door.

I jumped out the window.

In point, I want to be in control of my ability to exit a vehicle, I do not want to be stuffed in behind other passengers, luggage, or having anything else blocking my way out.

Claustrophobia is a manic condition, it can truly drive someone mad. I will wait for the next bus where I can select a seat with a good exit route — or friggin walk — rather than go mad for the duration of a long distance bus ride.

Part of being a good traveler perhaps lies in being able to see potential dangers and take action to thwart them. Part of being a good biological entity lies in listening to your defensive instincts.

But my wife, Chaya, does not have much of a qualm with riding in the back of the buses. This is also, or so it is my impression, a better place for our child to ride. I do not want my daughter riding in the front seat. So I conceded with the demands of the bus attendant and those of my wife, and sat in the second row of seats.

Not too bad — we were still sort of in the front, and I had easy access to the door. No problem.

Once all of the passengers were seated in the bus the attendant called over two more. They were politely escorted directly to the two seats that sat directly behind the driver — the exact same ones that I was just kicked out of

I called the attendant a liar, but it was to no beneficial ends. Some travel punches cannot be blocked.

All the passengers were now seated and ready to go. Now it was time to pack in all of our luggage.

The driver and the attendant began building the wall.

Box after box, bag after bag were piled up in the small space between the seats and the door. The aisle between the seats, too, was soon completely filled with luggage up to the passenger’s elbows. The stack in front of the door soon rose almost to the ceiling, serving as a wall between the passengers and their way out of the bus. Everybody was now packed in solid against each other and luggage, nobody could move from their seat. We were boxed up and ready to ship. I could no longer easily see the side door of the minibus, let alone access it. All I saw was a stack of boxes that rose over my head, and I felt myself restrain by the piles in the aisle.

So this is first class travel in Mexico? I would have rather of been back on those second class long and spacious buses for sure.

I tried to look over my wife and baby and out the window. My feeling of claustrophobia continued rising, I continued fighting it — I am an old traveler, I am use to cramped buses. I looked up over the seats and through a sliver of visible windshield I saw the driver hurrying towards the bus. If I did not act fast I would be stuck, packed inside of this cattle car for the six hours to Oaxaca.

I acted.

I jumped up over the boxes, the luggage, the fruit baskets, junk, and backpacks and stretched my arm down into a dark crevasse for the door handle. I found it and gave it a pull. The door opened and I jumped out.

I ran over to the driver. “There is not enough space in this bus, if I ride in it I will be sick.”

Like the seats directly behind the driver, the front seats of these minibuses often need to be reserved in advance, as nobody wants to be packed in the back like a shipment of goods. I tried to make this reservation this as I bought my ticket, but the bus station clerk just ignored me. Now I wasn’t going to be ignored. There was one space up front free, and I was prepared to fight for it. From how the bus staff defended the seats behind the driver, I was sure they would have this last remaining seat on lock down. I, perhaps overreacting, aggressively stated my claim. The driver looked at me funny, “Ok, take the seat next to me.”

It was too simple. I rode to Oaxaca in comfort. I cannot say the same for my family.

Open road on the Oaxaca plateau after getting past the hills of the coast.

Bus to Oaxaca for traveling family

Ten minutes into the ride from the coast to Oaxaca City, Petra puked. The road was windy, weaving around hillocks, mountain passes — one switchback just lead into another. The friggin’ road seemed to even weave between the trees in the forest. In 11 years of travel this was perhaps the worst designed road I had ever traveled. It was paved well, but it was ALL curves and switchbacks, virtually without end or break. This was truly a mule path with blacktop. Petra puked a second time.

Then a third time.

All of this puking was going all over my poor wife.

I had no idea what sad affairs were occurring behind me. Life is good.

We arrived in Oaxaca City on time. Exiting the bus I first learned how my family fared.

“That was the worst bus ride of my life,” my wife spoke seriously.

“Why?” I innocently asked.

Bad move.

Bus travel, Pochutla to Oaxaca City


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Filed under: Bus Travel, Mexico, North America

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

6 comments… add one

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  • Caitlin January 16, 2011, 12:36 pm

    Ha ha ha… bad move indeed. I hope she exacted her revenge.

    The first-class buses between major cities are actually fabulous. I guess when you are in smaller places they suck.

    Link Reply
    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 16, 2011, 12:50 pm

      Yeah, this is sort of the case with minibuses everywhere that don’t remove their backseats or have roof space for luggage. I don’t believe that this is the case for first class travel all through Mexico, I just found it sort of ironic that in this case the first class option was far more uncomfortable than the other classes (but we arrived a couple of hours sooner, good for my puke splattered wife haha).

      Chaya always gets revenge. Or Wade always makes up for it.

      Link Reply
  • Dave January 17, 2011, 1:58 am

    Good on ya for sticking to your principles and getting the best seat in the bus.
    It also sounds like your wife got the worst of the trip, but I can’t imagine the other passengers enjoyed riding in a stuffy van smelling of puke. lol.

    Link Reply
    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 17, 2011, 10:49 am

      Haha, everybody was talking about how they were about ready to puke on that bus, so they could sympathize with Petra. There was a good chance the thing could have become a puke mobile.

      Link Reply
  • Robert Berryhill June 20, 2012, 11:01 pm

    A van is NOT a first class bus in Mexico.
    Mexico has the world’s largest bus system with over 700 bus companies.
    There are 5 classes of bus service:
    – Lujo or executive class has wide seats that almost fully recline. There are video monitors playing movies, and at least one restroom. Some buses have 2 restrooms, 1 for ladies and 1 for men. When you board, a steward or stewardess gives you a sandwich and a soda.
    – Deluxe class buses also show videos and have a restroom. You also get a sandwich and soda on boarding.
    – First class is better than U.S. Greyhound. Some show videos. They also have a restroom.
    – 2nd class is usually a fixed-up school bus for trips to nearby towns. No restroom, no airconditioning. Only for short trips.
    – Combis or vans. You were on a van which is better than the 2nd class school bus. But this is definitely not a first class bus. Combis are usually VW vans with metal benches behind the driver’s seat, and are for getting around town.
    A first class, deluxe class or executive class bus would not take the highway you were on. That highway is one of the most accident prone roads in Mexico and the curves do tend to make people throw up.

    Robert Berryhill
    author of Bus Across Mexico

    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard June 20, 2012, 11:05 pm

      In the way that I used it the term “first class” was meant to be taken relatively. On the route traveled it was the highest class service available. Also, the term was also used in a tongue in cheek fashion. Thanks for the information.

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