In Canada and the US, we’re all accustomed to taking the bus with these shiny new vehicles, accessible ramps, air conditioning and displays showing the next stop. In Matamoros, Tamaulipas, taking the bus is a whole new adventure and for the uninitiated, an eye-opening experience.
The vehicles are former school buses from the United States; they’ve been repainted from their traditional yellow and sometimes fancifully decorated with images of patron saints or soccer teams. The sides of the bus advertise their route, namely large shopping centres like Chedraui, Soriana or HEB. Maintenance is an afterthought; the tires are balding, some of them have rust, and even holes in the floors. However, you won’t find trash lying around or anyone smoking. The only form of air conditioning are the windows; most of them open and when the driver brings the bus up to speed, it’s refreshing. Gone are the rows of seats; they’ve been rotated to the side so they face the centre and railings along the ceiling help keep balance once the driver is under way.
Fares are reasonable at $9 MXN ($0.62 CAD/$0.50 USD); the drivers keeps their change in a little wooden box up front with the coins all neatly stacked. Even with the passengers being jostled by the uneven streets, the coins don’t topple over. Don’t expect to tap in with a pre-paid card or anything of the sort; it’s all cash based.
Sometimes there’s live entertainment on board. A musician will board with their guitar and amp and play for a portion of the ride, asking for donations before hopping off.
Most importantly, despite their worn down appearances, these buses are critical to Matamoros as everyone rides them. Students going to school, mothers out for their daily shopping, people going to work, and yes, tourists like myself.
With the bus, you get to see much of the city and it’s an easy way to get around. Matamoros retains a lot of its historic colonial-style architecture with brightly coloured homes, many surrounded by vibrant trees and greenery. There are some rough-looking parts, though looks can be deceiving. There’s a lot of charm and the bus helps you reach it in Matamoros.