Medellin is Colombia’s second biggest city and boasts a population of over two million people. Just like any big and bustling city, Medellin is full of people who need to get to school and work!
While the people of Medellin use a number of ways to get around the city, the most common way is by automobile. However, because gasoline is so expensive here (Colombia has one of the world’s highest rates of gasoline prices), the most budget-friendly option is to travel by bus or in shared taxis called colectivos. When I go home from the university, I often take colectivos with other passengers going home from work or school.
The bus system here in Medellin is by far the most popular because of how extensive it is; you can pretty much get to any part of the city by hopping onto one of the giant, colorful vehicles! A bus fare costs onl 1,600 pesos, or a little less than one dollar. The bus is convenient for people going to work as well as students on their way to school, and just like in any big city during rush hour, the buses get packed in the morning and right around 5:00!
Another common way that people get around is by motorcycle. Motorcycles are also popular because of how efficient they are on gasoline. It isn’t uncommon to see pairs of both men and women on motorcycles, or to see businessmen in ties and suits riding motorcycles to work. When I first saw a woman in high heels and dress pants on a motorcycle, I was in shock. I had never seen a woman on a motorcycle before, much less one that was dressed so professionally! I soon realized that motorcycles are owned by a large amount of Medellin residents. To this day, I still chuckle when my university students walk into class looking like astronauts with their funny, clunky helmets!
At night, when there aren’t as many buses running, people usually get around by taxi. Just like in New York, the taxis here are bright yellow and can be found in dense areas of the city. Taxi drivers are friendly and always strike up conversation with their passengers. For me, it’s a great way to practice speaking Spanish!
In general, people in Medellin are accustomed to getting around by public transportation. Not only is it a good way to save money, it also allows residents to interact with their neighbors and fellow citizens during their commute.
The bus system in Medellin is one of my favorite things about the city. However, the first time I took a bus in Medellin, I was a bit confused! Because there are no formal stops, passengers have to press a button or shout to alert the driver that they want to get off. I didn’t know about the system and ended up a few blocks away from where I was supposed to go. Even though I’m always a little shy to yell at the driver to stop, it’s a good system because you can be dropped off exactly where you need to go!
One of the great things about the buses here are how frequent they are. If you miss your bus, there is guaranteed to be another one within five to ten minutes. When I first started taking the buses, I didn’t know how frequently they ran. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that getting to work would be speedy and efficient.
Because I’m used to taking buses and trains in New York, I was happy to start taking the buses here in Medellin. I love to look out the window and watch the city as it goes by me. There is always something new to see here, and watching the landscapes pass by fill me with awe and wonder. What stories do the people here have to share? What does the man who sells empanadas, or fried meat patties, do for fun? Does the woman who sells avocados on the corner watch the same shows on television that I do? I like to sit and watch the residents from my bus window, and make up stories about their lives!
The very best thing about the buses in Medellin are how lively and fun they are. Indeed, taking the bus is a cultural experience in and of its own! From the rhythmic salsa or cumbia that plays from the bus stereo to the multitude of people joking and speaking in Spanish, the bus is a great way to experience the warm and friendly culture that characterizes the city.
The friendliness of the people here is exemplified regularly on the bus. For example, it’s not uncommon for seated passengers on the bus to offer to hold the bags of a passenger who is standing. The first time this happened to me was after a visit to the supermarket. Struggling and tripping over myself with four bags full of groceries, a woman seated in front of me offered to take my bags. I felt uncomfortable passing her my bags, but she placed them on her lap with ease and flashed me a smile. People here are always willing to offer a hand to their neighbors!
Another great aspect about riding the bus is that it often becomes center stage for performers or for vendors. People get onto the bus to play guitars and sing common songs in Spanish, or sometimes even to sing rap songs. However, my absolute favorite is when people come on the bus to sell candies and other tasty snacks.
“A crunchy, delicious chocolate bar to finish off a long day! Only a thousand pesos!” Experts at selling their products, the vendors usually succeed in getting a couple of passengers to search for coins to purchase the snacks. Even though I try to resist, I often end up eating at least one sweet treat on my way to or from work!
The bus is not only a great way to get around Medellin, it’s a nice way to experience the friendly and vibrant culture that the people of Medellin are so well-known for. For me, my morning commute in Medellin is one of my favorite parts of the day!