On Monday I ventured out of the sleepy quiet cocoon that is Speightstown for a trip into Bridgetown, by bus.
I’d read the information in the guide book, and this had been reinforced by a friend who lives locally: there are two kinds of buses: blue, government run ones, which operate broadly to a timetable and stop only at predesignated stops and have moderately careful drivers, and then there are the yellow ones, to which none of those descriptions apply.
So when I walked to the bus station in Speightstown I had every intention of taking a blue bus, but as I was approaching, a young man leant out of the yellow vehicle and encouraged me to ‘get on quick’. It seemed like too good an invitation to forgo.
The radio blared from speakers somewhere in the front of the bus; music tracks with insistent beats and incomprehensible lyrics, but with which the young woman across the aisle from me sang along quite happily most of the way, and loud shouty interventions from the DJ which were clearly amusing to those who understood them. The radio had to be loud to be audible above the straining roar of the bus engine.
As well as the driver, the crew included two men, one who took the B$2 fare from each passenger, and the other who jumped off and on to help old ladies with packages to board and descend, as well as banged on the roof to inform the driver it was safe to move off.
I began to wonder at the dire warnings I had heard about the reckless speed of the yellow buses, when for the first quarter of an hour the driver never moved above a screaming first gear. It was a few minutes later that I realised a possible explanation was that he was eating his lunch from a polystyrene container on his lap, and he needed his gear changing hand for the fork.
By the time we reached Hole Town (so named, I understand, because there used to be a hole there), his lunch was finished and we were flying along, until slower vehicles in front necessitated the sharp application of the brakes. A few miles further along the coast we came to the end of a traffic jam. Both the money collector and the door guard jumped off the bus, one flagged down an oncoming truck, presumably to ask the cause of the holdup, while the other ran on ahead up the hill and around the bend to look for himself. The bus driver stepped down into the road and lit a cigarette.
Many of the cars in front of us were doing U-turns, and space opened up in front of us. Amid much hooting of horns (essential here it seems before any vehicular manoeuvre) we were overtaken by a minibus taxi. The crew ran back to their places and we roared up the hill again, to the cause of the jam: a bend on the road where two lorries appeared to be in some kind of stand off, perhaps broken down in the inconvenient spot, perhaps just after a glancing collision, I couldn’t tell. There was however a small gap between them. A gap, it transpired, that was about 6 inches wider than the bus I was in.
We drove up onto the pavement with two great lurching bumps, ger-dung ger-dung, to get the right angle of approach through the gap, and then down again, ger-ding, ger-dung, remarkably, without hitting either of the stalled vehicles, or the lamp post. Every passenger was watching out of the nearest window, and only when we were through, with nary a couple of inches of clearance on my side of the bus, did everyone return to the study of their mobile telephones.
And then, oh the thrill of the open road in front of him, and the driver made full use of all the gears and full depression of the accelerator.
I got off the bus when everyone else did, not really very sure of where I was, but very quickly orientated myself in the centre of Bridgetown. And just a little surprised to see Lord Nelson in such a prominent position, albeit tempered by the Chefette in the background…….