In his voice you’ll often hear people say things like, “In Russia, bus drives yooou.” We laugh but to be completely honest, depending on where you are, or perhaps when you were, travelling by bus can be a nightmare.
On my trip in Pakistan last month with Anum and her beautiful, almost sisterishly young looking mother Samina, I travelled on the most luxurious bus I’ve ever been on in my life.
She was a Daewoo and she took breath away. The moment I saw her gleaming tinted windows, with passionate red curtains which are only meant to protect onlookers from witnessing the delectable bliss of her enraptured passengers inside, I knew my trip from Lahore to Rawalpindi would be perfect.
An easy ride isn’t an ample description, it was like floating on a djinni’s carpet, but that djinni had 1,000 horse power, leather reclining seats, flat screen TVs, water, drinks, sandwiches, cookies and was half full. All of that for about 1,000 rupees or a$10 CAD . It was a 4-hour ride from Lahore to Pindi, we had an attendant serve us food and drinks and they had the movie Crash playing. The headphones that were provided were of exceptional quality. If someone used the washroom, the attendant would go to the back of the bus, inspect it, and spray air freshener just in case. The level of service and care that was provided, the organization of the lines prior to boarding, the security check before boarding all of it was well orchestrated there were no inequities or sore points.
Seriously, the experience on the Daewoo bus from Lahore to Pindi is something world travellers should try out, just as a control group to improve overarching perception that busing is a lower form of transportation, but maybe I’m was just culture-shocked, here I am sitting in a coach bus in Pakistan with an empty seat beside me, a can of Diet Pepsi in my hand and not a care in the world. In Canada, riding the coach bus is about as enjoyable as going to the emergency room.
Pakistan’s buses are better than Greyhound Canada
I actually prefer Ontario’s emergency rooms to riding Ontario’s Greyhound buses. First off, riding on a packed one to the rafters bus is never fun. Doing so for more than $120, from Ottawa to Toronto round trip is a staggering cost for what is supposed to be the cost-effective solution to interprovincial travel. Neigh says Greyhound Canada, who’ve reduced the number of buses, trips and their frequency to the point where now when they board passengers, they do it by the order in which the tickets were bought.
Let me map this out for you. You need to travel to Toronto to Ottawa on the cheap and you need to do it fast, so you go to Greyhound and buy a ticket online a couple days beforehand. Your order is put into sequence in their system and your space is allotted like it would be on a plane. You’re given a number, but not a seat.
Back to the boarding number issues.That number is your boarding number, somewhere between 1 and 54. If you bought your ticket first, you get to board the bus first. No questions asked.
I bought my ticket for my recent round trip and the day before busing out. There was no indication or way for me to know my seat priority or the capacity of the bus, just that I had a ticket, it wasn’t exchangeable or refundable and that the bus was leaving at 6:30 p.m..
Not knowing about the boarding number system Greyhound has recently instituted, I arrived an hour early. I had two bags and a carry-on, it is the holidays I had some gifts, shoot me for being a good uncle. I get to the bus station and I’m told to take a seat in a set of red seats, literally a set of seats that are red. Red, the colour of anger, passion and fury. I’m also told that I need to pay for my second piece of luggage (a gym bag with candy in it), so I coughed up $16 for the privilege and stowed it below.
My boarding number was 51, I was the third last on the bus even though I was the first to arrive at the terminal, having now paid $136 for my round trip ticket to carry 9 shirts, one pair of jeans and some candy in a gym bag to Ottawa and back.
Of course when you travel on a bus, it is the people around you who make the journey great or intolerable. However, on my my trip back home from Ottawa, the couple to my left apparently learned their manners watching Family Guy. The two played manga from their laptop on full volume for all to hear, in its screaming Japanese glory for four hours.
Crowded, smelly, loud, screaming, crunchy, hot, whiny, awful bus. Thanks, Greyhound Canada.
Now lets get back to Pakistan
I’ve told a great number of people about my trip on the Daewoo, and they’ve all been surprised. Even the notion that bus travel can be enjoyable and safe is lost on them.
I had a cab driver named Abdul recently, who told me of a trip he’d taken in Pakistan in the 1980s. On that trip he was travelling to Karachi, from a city I couldn’t recognize, and by bus. He said the bus was so crowded, that when he paid to get on he had to bribe someone to let him rent a seat for a period of time.
There was a hierarchy of who was able to sit where. There were military and police on the bus, they were on the top. Below them were women, and further below them were thugs. Everyone else may have well been cattle. The cops and the soldiers mostly stood on the bus and collected bribes for seats. The women were in most part left alone, especially those who had children. Men who could pay to sit, who were accosted more often than not, the cabbie told me.
One man had paid to get on the bus and he had a bag of mangoes with him. On the second day of the trip he didn’t have any more money to pay the bribes to sit, so he was standing in the aisle with a large number of men. It was a rainy time of year, so there weren’t many people on the outside of the bus. At one point a thug took one of the man’s mangos. The man protested briefly and a fight broke out. The soldiers intervened and the bus was stopped. The man without money was thrown off the bus and they took his mangos, the bus went on without him.
How representative of the travel woes of Pakistan’s underclass in the 1980’s is this, I’m not sure, but it paints a terrifying picture.
The Daewoo bus I had the pleasure of traveling on was comfortable, safe, uncrowded and clean. Like many things, our opinions are shaped by the stories we hear, however, innocuous or benign negative impressions have a drastic impact on the way we think about the people and places we know.
Think about that the next time you are travelling on a bus in any country. It isn’t always the quality of the cab, the volume of the music or the size of the seats but little things can change people’s perspective on a region and at this point, I feel more safe and comfortable travelling by bus in Pakistan than I do in Ontario. Take that, Greyhound Canada.
Have you read my first piece on Pakistan? It is truly a beautiful country.