Monday, May 27, 2013

Combi Etiquette

When traveling through Mexico, you’ll most likely notice that each city and town has their own indiscriminate combination of public transport. From pick up trucks serving as people movers in Zihuatanejo, to the boxy, smog generating buses in Veracruz, to the oruga in Leon, to the intricate metro system in Mexico City, using public transport is often a once in a lifetime experience for many travelers and tourists, while at times positively terrifying. ¡Buena suerte!

Public transportation in Mexico is very eclectic and not for the faint of heart. Morelia’s public transportation system is no exception. But did you know that there is an etiquette you can use as a combi passenger? Here is a quick guide to using combis and buses in Morelia that hopefully helps you better navigate the public transportation labyrinth that is Morelia.
Photo Credit

  • Hailing your combi. Most combis stop when and wherever the driver pleases. You can hail your combi from the middle of the block, at the corner, or at the stop. The combis aren’t supposed to stop wherever the driver pleases but, for lack of a better expression, that doesn’t stop the drivers. Hold out your arm with your index finger pointing outwards when you see your desired combi coming. It will stop if they driver thinks there is enough room for you. If it doesn’t stop it usually means the combi is full.

  • Boarding. Getting in the combi used to terrify me. They are by nature compact so they have very little room for people to sit comfortably, they will often smell of gasoline and many have a roaring motor that makes everything in the vehicle vibrate.

  • Seating.  Fear not, you can always sit in the front with the driver if this seat isn’t already taken. You can also “stand up” crouching in the middle aisle while hanging on for dear life to the bars that run along the sides of the combi ceiling.

  • Greetings. When you board a combi, always say buenos dias or buenas tardes or buenas noches. It is a part of the combi ritual. It is the same for when you get off. Say gracias and then carefully step down to the curb or street. Be careful! Those combi steps are small and have been customized to fit small feet. If your shoe size is anything bigger than a woman’s size 7, you better know where your feet are at all times! And watch out for motorcycles, scooters and bikes!

  • Paying Fare. Once you have selected your seat and sit, hand your fare to the person sitting closest to the driver and say ¿me puede hacer el favor? and hand your fare to this passenger . This may be you so expect other passengers to hand you their fare as well. When you hand the money to the driver state clearly “le paso de...” and say the number  of people you are paying for, uno, dos, tres, etc. It is proper etiquette to refer to the drivers of combis, buses and cabs in the third person formal usted.

  • Biding your time. While riding the combi, you can make small talk with the other passengers. This is acceptable and people will speak with you. Morelians are very friendly but sometimes shy.

  • The helpful stranger. Don’t be surprised that when you board the combi carrying a bag, purse or package people may offer to help you with what it if you have to stand. At first, I obsessively thought that the person carrying my bag would stick their hand in  and steal my wallet or cell phone but in the 10 plus years I have been taking combis in Morelia, this has never happened to me. You can of course always refuse the stranger’s help and carry your own bag, half standing, half bent in reverence, as you hold on to the side bars for dear life as the combi lurches through town.

  • The Sound of Music. Combi drivers are an interesting bunch. Their music tastes range from New Age, to Salsa, to Banda to Punk Rock. There are some who prefer no music at all. Most of them will play it loud, my theory is to drown out the roar of the combi motor, even though not all combis now a days are VWs. The newer, more modern combis are humming Nissans. These Nissans are actually easier to stand in and tend to be more comfortable. Regardless, if the music is too loud, you can always ask the driver to turn it down or turn it off. Politely say ¿le pudiera bajar a la música, por favor? He might ignore you (because so far as I can tell, all combi drivers are in fact men) or he might do as you ask.

    Here are some links that provide information on different bus and combi routes in the greater Morelia area. They are only available in Spanish and perhaps a bit confusing but hopefully they will help you figure out where you want to go!