The Wheels on the Bus

Sarah Matthews Guest Blogger BA Spanish and Business Management at the University of Manchester
Leaving home to embark on a six-month work placement in a foreign country is a daunting experience for most, and I am certainly no exception. With this, my first post as guest blogger for during the month of August, I’d like to share with you my initial encounters on arriving here as a second-year language student from The University of Manchester. Now, I don’t like to moan, but since I passed my driving test three years ago, public transport has never seemed attractive. “Perhaps it’ll be better on the Continent,” I hoped. After stepping off the plane into searing the heat a couple of months ago, my first experience of life in Andalucia was trying to fathom out the bus service. The timetable wasn’t too hard to understand and after a 45-minute wait and deciphering my first words spoken in the acento andaluz, I was on my way to ‘Esthe-pona’. Travelling westwards along the coast, I was pleased with the low fare - seven euros - for a distance of over 70km, and I began to relax. However this sense of satisfaction did not last long. At the scheduled stop in Marbella, most of the passengers got off the bus and collected their luggage from the undercarriage. After sifting through the suitcases, pushing aside irrelevant ones, hasty holiday-makers left the bus stop. But as we pulled away to continue the journey, to my horror, I saw that my suitcase remained, all alone, at the side of the road. After yelling something that vaguely resembled maleta (suitcase), the driver, much to his disgust, pulled over and grumbled at me to run back and get it! So now it was my fault? My suitcase grew legs and wandered off by itself? “Welcome to public transport in Andalucia!,” I thought to myself. So I finally arrived at my hostel, disaster averted on day one. Day two began with a nervous stroll to the bus stop and, to my delight, only a ten-minute wait for the next number 27 east towards San Pedro. But this bus was late - 40 minutes late. Once again greeted by a mumbling conductor, I clambered on for the thankfully air-conditioned journey. However, not all is bad. The main provider for the Costa del Sol, Autobuses Portillo, normally runs a smooth service every half hour between Marbella and Estepona. Such a monopoly in the marketplace usually incurs high prices, but instead, you’ll be pleased to hear that Portillo sticks to its word, offering low prices on all of its routes. As they have maintained a respectable 75 per cent reliability in my experience over my first four weeks, I think I just have to get used to the chilled-out tardiness of Andalucia. As an expat or visitor, I warn you now, don´t be surprised if, without notice, the driver suddenly fancies a cigarette stop, or even a minute to call his Mum. In addition to that, try to allow a 20-minute window pre-departure and post-arrival, as timetables are calculated loosely. Finally, I must remark on the journey itself. Some “voyages” - bear with me on this one - in fact probably nearly half, are not for the faint-hearted. Once a bus is running late, attempts are certainly made to make up this lost time, even if they result in something resembling a boat being tossed about in the high seas off the coast of Tarifa. Unfortunately, a seatbelt to help protect your body through the waves and jolts is not available. Instead, hold on and enjoy the ride. OK, so I may be exaggerating a bit, but not much. As many of you may already know, San Pedro road systems are undergoing maintenance works at the moment (and, it seems, for eternity, if rumours about a lack of funds are correct.) Add that to the impatience caused by a bus running late and you have a recipe for mayhem. “Pass me the travel sickness tablets por favor!”
Blog published on 2 August 2010