Culture Shock at the Bus Station

I’ve written before about my struggles with culture shock when moving to Cancun, but since I’ve reached the final stage I rarely get too frustrated with the Mexican culture. Most things I’ve been able to embrace or simply laugh off.

Saturday morning, however, I went through one of my rare yet enraging Mexico culture shock moments. I’m not sure if it had to do with the fact that I’d just spent 9 days in the luxury of the USA, or maybe the situation really was bad. Dunno.

Jorge and I don’t own a car, so we always use public transportation. Normally this works just fine because Cancun has excellent and cheap buses and taxis, plus the ADO buses can easily take us to any nearby cities. Things only get difficult when it comes to traveling to a more remote area. Saturday morning, we were traveling to Chabihau, the tiny fishing village in Yucatan where Jorge’s mom grew up. Normally we catch a ride in Jorge’s parents’ car, but they had gone to Chabihau on Thursday. Our only option was to take the air-conditioned ADO bus to Merida, then catch one of the taxi vans to Chabihau.

My personal hell went something like this:

5:15 am: Our ADO bus leaves Cancun.

9:30 am: The bus arrives in Merida (I slept the whole way, miraculously). We immediately grab a taxi to take us to the taxi van station. (Merida has a street block filled with garages offering vans that take you to the smaller towns outside the city.) Jorge quickly finds the garage for the taxi vans to Chabihau, which also take other passengers to towns along the same route.

10:10 am: We’re told (as expected) by a ticket lady sitting at a rickety school desk that the 13-person van would leave at 10:30 am. If it fills up earlier, it will leave earlier. Jorge and I are happy to wait 20 minutes or less.

The garage we wait in is filthy, but we sit on the wobbly wood bench and joke around together for awhile to pass the time. Jorge goes to the neighboring store for a torta while I watch a little bit of one of Mexico’s strange but hilarious talk shows. Not so bad.

10:45 am: We begin to wonder why the van hasn’t left yet. Jorge goes back up to the lady at the tiny ticket desk and calmly asks what the situation is. The lady answers, “The driver went to the corner. He’ll be back in a few minutes.”

I ask Jorge, “What does it mean that he went to ‘the corner’? I don’t think it means the store because there’s a store right here.”

Jorge replies, “In Yucatan, ‘the corner’ could mean a lot of things.”

And that’s when the culture shock hits me.

I want to scream at the lady at the desk that they should have set times for van departures and stick to them. That the driver should know he has a dozen people waiting for him on a very uncomfortable wood bench. That my butt is numb from 5 hours of sitting. That this would never happen in the US. What is “the corner” and how far away is it? For the love of God could somebody please powerwash whatever disgusting substance is covering the walls and ceiling?

But I stay quiet.

10:46 am: I take my book out of my purse because somehow the plot of Game of Thrones is more calming than the thoughts going through my head at the moment.

11:05 am: Jorge steps back over to the lady at the desk for an update. I don’t even look and just keep my nose buried in my book. Breathe.

Jorge returns to my spot on the bench. “She looked at her notepad and said that she misspoke. The van leaves at 11:30, not 10:30.”

I give poor, innocent Jorge the glare of death. I go back to my book.

11:07 am: A group of 10 people makes their way to one of the vans. “Is that us?” I ask excitedly.

Jorge goes to ask if our van was being called, and comes back to tell me it wasn’t our van. Back to the book.

11:09 am: Jorge informs me that it actually IS our van. We’re the last 2 people on, so Jorge takes a front seat and I squeeze into the seatbelt-less back seat between 2 businessmen and a small boy who spends the entirety of the 45 minute van ride talking to an imaginary friend in the van window.

I want a car.

Culture Shock Strikes Again

Even after 7 years in Cancun, I still go through culture shock from time to time (as evidenced in the infamous sheet shopping incident a few months ago). These downswings used to last weeks and weeks when I first moved down here, but now they typically only last anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 days.

Today I went to lunch at Plaza Las Americas, downtown Cancun’s main mall. I was already frustrated that the ATM at work was broken (which seems to happen pretty much every payday… convenient) and I didn’t have enough money on me to buy lunch. The salad place at the food court informed me that they only accept cash. This wasn’t surprising, but it did begin a stream of curse words and arguments in my head.

  • “Why don’t most places in Mexico accept cards? They have the technology!”
  • “But wait… even the places that do accept cards always have problems with their machines not working.” (Starbucks, I’m looking at you.)
  • “If I were in the US, they’d let me buy a salad with a card. Heck, I bet they’d even have ATMs that don’t break down every 2 weeks!”
  • “Well now I have to walk aaaaaallll the way to the mall ATM just to get $100 pesos. FML.”
  • “Stupid Mexico with their stupid cash only policies.”

And then a miracle happened.

When I finally got back to the salad place with my cash in hand, the cashier gave me this with my meal:

That’s a free card worth 10 movie tickets at just $39 pesos each! (Just over $3 USD)

They may not accept cards at many places, but I’ll be darned if Mexico doesn’t have much better movie prices than the USA.

God bless you, Mexico.