Nothing is as reliable as a Volkswagen; especially if you don’t know how the buses work

… what’s missing in my last article about the trip to downtown Mexico City: the way back home. Here are the details that are not in the Lonely Planet. 

It took me nearly 2.5 hours to to get back to Santa Fe via Metro, bus, and taxi. The short trip to Polanco/Auditorio via Metro was quite relaxing because the Metro is not so crowded on sundays. To me it seemed far too boring to take a taxi back to the hotel as long as I haven’t tried to ride via bus.

First challenge: How does a bus stop look like in Mexico ?

In Santa Fe I’ve alreadey seen buses that stop at the road and people jump on or off the bus. However, I couldn’t recognise anything like a bus stop – neither a shelter nor a road sign.

My couchsurfer said: “There are no official bus stops. When you see a bus you can hail the driver to stop …” Correct, but that is not the whole truth. There are official bus stops and there are unofficial bus stops. The official bus stops can be recognised by a small shelter – the unofficial bus stops can be recognized by a waiting crowd of people.

It is possible to get off anywhere on the bus route. One must only signal the driver that he/she wants to get off. Then the driver stops the bus. The Hop-on/Hop-off principle 😉

Second challenge: How do you find out which bus lines serve the bus stop?

Bus schedules are extremely rare, even at official bus stops. Not to speak about departure times! But departure times don’t matter to me if I only knew which bus I should take.

an official bus stop

an official bus stop

So I asked one of the waiting pedestrians, whether he knows if there is a bus to Santa Fe. I was surprised by his answer: “There is a bus to Santa Fe. But that bus will come a bit later.” Actually I expected an answer like “Mañana …” (mañana means tomorrow, and this answer is given if someone does not know the real answer). The señor also told me that I should take the bus which goes to Cuajimalpa. I was a bit suspicious about his answer. By now I can tell if a Mexican knows an answer by heart or if the Mexican makes something up out of embarrasement.

Dicho y hecho (Said – Done), I got on the bus to Cuajimalpa. At first the bus took the way back to Santa Fe, but it took a different junction and instead of going via highway it drove through residential areas. Seemed logical to me, since it is hard to let passengers hop on or off on the highway. However, I did not recognize any of the skyscrapers in that area. And finally, when there were  no skyscrapers at all , but only crooked little houses next to the crowded mountain road, I knew: “This is not the way back home …”

somewhere in Cuajimalpa in a traffic jam

That area of Cuajimalpa/Mexico City was not exactly a slum, but not a nice neighborhood either. There were straying dogs, garbage, crowded narrow streets, noisy, rusty and salvaged car wrecks on the street …

When the street got too crowded with vehicles of any kind, I got off the bus and boarded another bus going into the opposite direction. It was not the same line, but since the direction of the other bus was  Chapultepec, I could be sure to go the way back to downtown and then exit after the intersection of Santa Fe. From there, I would muddle me trough … (this reminds me of someone saying before my trip: “You are an ex-marine. Therefore you are well prepared for the strange environment in Mexico …”)

So I got back to the Santa Fe intersection. By the time I jumped off the bus the fate gave me a friendly pat on the back because I spotted a taxi cab that I already wanted to ride in the times when I knew México City only from pictures: a VW Beetle Taxi

So I tried something that every travel guide labels as dangerous or risky: I hailed a street taxi and boarded it

At least I knew partly what to do:

– The taxi had an official ID (A plus 5 digits)
– The driver was able to show me his taxi license with a photograph that matches his own appearance
– I asked immediately for the fare

All points build a good basis to drive with a street taxi. However, my driver Gregorio would rather drive a Japanese car as the Beetle. One can not blame him, even though the car made a good appearance from the outside (apart from the missing right side mirror and the broken left front light), the front passenger seat was missing, but that seems to be standard on the beetles used as taxis. In the back there were some belts, but none on the side on which I sat. His meter was either broken or intentionally turned off. But that didn’t interest me since we had already negotiated the fare to Santa Fe.

My taxi driver and his beetle

My taxi driver and his beetle

The Beetle from the inside

The Beetle from the inside

The Beetle from the inside

The Beetle from the inside

The Beetle

The Beetle

The speedometer was also broken because it was at 20km/h most of the time, even when we were traveling on the highway. My driver asked me if I wouldn’t hear the engine. Indeed, I haven’t noticed it before he asked – but I’ve seen, and especially heard, other Beetles in Mexico City with a groomier sound 🙂 

But why care about comfort and security instructions for a safe travel? I fully enjoyed the trip to Santa Fe in the Beetle. This was, so far, the hottest deed I did in Mexico. When I was back at the hotel, I had a fat grin on my face for at least half an hour.

Nothing is as reliable as a Volkswagen

Nothing is as reliable as a Volkswagen


Metro ticket: 3 pesos
Two bus tickets: 10 pesos
Taxi ride to Santa Fe + generous tip: 80 Peso
Certainty of having ripped the hottest action which a European has ever tried in my project (yet): PRICELESS



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