Thursday, September 4, 2014

If Frogger and Mario Kart Joined Forces....

Frogger - this  classic video game challenges players with the task of guiding an animated frog across a busy street, avoiding cars and other obstacles along the way.

Mario Kart - a popular video game with youth of the early 2000's encourages players to choose between Mario and his friends and race through fantasy-inspired worlds, while avoiding random objects (including banana peels) thrown onto the course by other characters in an attempt to derail one's attempt at crossing the finish line victoriously.

Imagine for a second what would happen if you were to combine these two game together. What would you get? Well, you'd get a pretty good idea of what it's like to take any type of transportation in Barranquilla. 

If there was one word that could be used to describe getting around this city, it would be INSANITY! I'm not talking about the crazed workout program. I'm talking about a genuine fear for your life every time that you step out of the comfort of your piso and onto a bus or into a taxi. Here are a few of the realities that you will face when trying to navigate the city:

1. Jaywalking is encouraged because crosswalks do not exist - anywhere. 
2. Pedestrians NEVER have the right away - crossing the street is an adventure every time that you do it.
3. Honking is used as a way to communicate - basically it's a "polite" way of saying "I'm coming up behind you, so don't cut me off or do anything that's going to make me lose control of my vehicle."
4. Bus stops are a thing for weaklings and Americans - you can flag down a bus absolutely anywhere on the street here.
5. Getting on a crowded bus and hanging out the front door for a few blocks is commonplace here - I've already done it the past three days.
6. Having to know your destination by a landmark or street number is a must because there are no set stops and no announcements - you literally decide where you get dropped off.

It's quite the adventure whenever you need to travel here in the city. Many of the buses are always packed full of people. Finding opening seats can be a chore in itself. Some of the buses do not have any interior lighting, so when most of the windows are heavily tinted to keep out the sun, it creates a very dark, cave-like feeling that can be a bit unsettling. Despite the overcrowdedness, unbearable heat, and death-defying driving, the buses are a very efficient and manageable way to maneuver about Barranquilla...most of the time.

So figuring out how the bus system actually works is a whole other beast in it's own right. The thing about these buses is that they don't really have traditional bus numbers like back in the states. Instead, they are identified by their color, company name, or main street that they drive on/end up at. For example, Monday - Wednesday and Friday, when I go to training out at the Colombo Americano, I take the Urba Playa bus. All that I have to do is stand on the sidewalk/street, look for this bus, wave it down, and I'm set. Normally, this bus is packed full of university students on their way to class in the morning, so finding a seat is pretty much impossible for the first 30 minutes of my journey.

Now, on Thursdays we have our meetings at the Peace Corps office, I walk down to Calle 52 and catch the gold La Carolina bus that goes towards the center part of Barranquilla. This bus also tends to be pretty crowded, so standing for long periods of time and holding on for dear life have become part of the normal routine around here. Normally by the time that my landmark for departure (a car dealership) comes up, the bus has mainly emptied out.

Outside of these two buses, I haven't quite figured out how else to get around the city. There are so many other buses available and getting a sense for where they all go to is difficult and confusing all at the same time. I'm planning on taking a Saturday or Sunday here in the near future and purposely get lost in the city to see what I can figure out.

In all honesty, I don't have to try and imagine what it would be like if you joined Frogger with Mario Kart - I'm living it everyday...

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