Hello AWBK fam! Today’s post is about taking the bus in Belo Horizonte. I’m giving you an American expat’s perspective on Brazilian public transportation, if you will.
So to start, why do I use the public transportation in Brazil?
We don’t have a car.
(Insert that one blue-faced gasping emoji saying, “Whaaaaaa?!!!”). Yeah.
Where I grew up in the United States, buying your first car was like a right of passage into adulthood. As a teenager, I pined for the day I’d have wheels to call my own. Small town living grated on my wanderlust-ridden spirit, and I was itching to get out on my own and cruise around. It was agonizing to see my high school classmates and friends acquiring their rides, one by one.
But finally, I got my lucky break! Someone actually offered me their still-decent car FOR FREE, and confirmed that I could take it… three weeks before we left for Brazil. Sooo… that definitely made the list of Top 10 Most Ironic Moments in My Life. Ugh.
When we got to Brazil, my husband didn’t feel comfortable driving since he’d been gone so long (the traffic here is insane, but that’s another post for another day). In addition, most cars here are stick-shift, which made me equally unprepared to drive since I got my license with an automatic minivan. And I barely passed that parallel parking segment. Which wouldn’t matter if I’d stayed in my cozy little town in south-western Michigan.
But I was desperate to see the world, remember? So, all of a sudden, my drivers license meant NADA in a large city, full of hills, where parallel parking and stick shift is the norm and motor bikes filter through lanes of traffic on the highway like water between rocks. What’s more… we didn’t have money to go out and buy a car. So that pretty much “sealed the deal” on our decision to use public transportation.
At first, I saw this as yet another “loss” to add to my list of saudades. But Brazilian public transportation grew on me!
Now, four years later, I appreciate public transportation so much. In fact, I envision myself using it the rest of my life. No car insurance bills, gas expense, flat tires, and getting lost in “the ‘hood,” as Americans would put it. What’s more, you can accomplish a lot riding the bus. I love the fact that I can…
- take a nap
- chat with friends
- breastfeed my son
- study music scores
- invent the world’s next amazing whatever…
all while someone else worries about taking me from point “A” to point “B” in one piece. If driving a car means you’re a legit adult, I say adulting is overrated!
Motorbikes be like…
But on a more serious note, I did NOT love taking public transport when I first arrived. It took me a while to work up the guts to use the bus system. And once I did, I got so nauseous on the bus I constantly wondered if I was pregnant. (Interestingly enough, the only time I got severe morning sickness while ACTUALLY pregnant was while riding the bus to orchestra rehearsals. I always sat by a window, but fortunately never had to use it.)
Nothing prepared me for that motion sickness! My husband’s expression for it is: “Like a chicken in a blender.” Or perhaps 100 chickens. It was worse than my one day out to sea on an Alaskan cruise when I was eleven years old. (And I’m no sissy, because I got up on their stage for the passengers’ talent show about to barf, planted my feet wide, and played Czardas.)
Let’s just say, having “been there and done that” I have immense respect for the violinist who boarded the bus here in Belo Horizonte with his coin hat and performed Bach. Bravo, amigo! I would have given him a standing ovation if I wasn’t worried that the only clap resounding would be my face, colliding with with the floor.
After a few months of riding the busses, I got my “sea legs.”
Going to and from orchestra rehearsals five days a week, stowing my violin between my legs, definitely developed my competence. But after taking the bus 8 months pregnant, carrying my son in front, my violin on my back, and groceries in both hands, I consider myself a public transportation pirate.
I’m Jack Sparrow, and the 9501 Sao Lucas/Jaragua is my Black Pearl. Those of you who’ve braved this route know what I’m talking about! I’ve watched many an elderly lady all but fly to Jesus on Sunday mornings when there’s no traffic. I’m pretty sure the 9501 is the fastest bus in the city. While the drivers on this particular route tear down the road like bats out of hell, the 9501 remains a favorite for devout seniors not interested in dallying around on their way to church. (Or so I suspect.)
I wish I could include a gif of the five-year-old who flew all the way from the back bench seat to the middle of the bus… and still landed on his feet like a little cat. My husband and I laugh all the time remembering that particular trip to church.
Anyway, if an American can take the bus, anyone can! My story goes to show, you can live without a car. Most. Definitely.
There are some drawbacks to using Brazilian public transportation.
Besides the initial “intestinal acclimation,” you’ll need to deal with an overloaded bus system during rush hour. During busy periods of the day, there aren’t seats for everyone. Especially if you’re boarding the bus in the middle of the route – say, dead-center down town, which would be Praça Sete in Belo Horizonte.
I avoid taking the bus between 7 and 9 in the morning, 11 and 1 in the afternoon, and especially 5 to 7 in the evening. Riding the bus during these times is like trying to fit the last sardine into the tin. Forget about finding a seat and kiss your sacred American “space bubble” goodbye – count yourself blessed if you can get on the bus.
Catching the bus at 6 P.M. …
But let’s not forget the benefits of using busses!…
- It’s cheaper! You don’t have to blow half your paycheck on car expenses.
- Diverse Payment Options: You can use a nifty prepaid bus card. Of, if you’re like me, dig out a handful of pre-counted change from your pocket and pour it into the palm of your less-than-pleased driver. Or, worse yet, reveal your American-ness to everyone on the bus by presenting a 50 rio bill. This is a surefire way to piss off the driver, because he doesn’t have change for a 50… that is, until 11 more people board and pay in cash. (Based on a true story… Oops!)
- “Prioridades” – Priorities. If you’re a senior, a pregnant woman, traveling with a small child, disabled, or tall from side to side, you can use the handful of yellow seats reserved for “priority” passengers. When I was pregnant, I was so grateful for this aspect of Brazilian public transportation. Generally, bus drivers don’t continue on the route until priority passengers, especially pregnant women and mothers with babies, take their seat. And if all the yellow seats are taken, the bus doesn’t move until someone gets up and volunteers their regular seat. I appreciate this so much because it makes it possible for anyone to use public transportation. And in general, Brazilians are vigilant about making sure priority passengers are well-accommodated.
- Me time: Riding the bus provides a guaranteed portion of every day when you can spend time alone (albeit, surrounded) and enjoy introverted activities. I love listening to music on the bus. Many passengers use their commute time to hack away at their reading list. Spending 30-90 minutes one way on a bus can seem like a waste of time, but I grew to look forward to my time riding the bus each day. You just have to find the self-care activities that work for you [and your stomach].
- Get to know your city: I feel quite familiar with Belo Horizonte now, and it’s mostly because I’ve spent so much time riding the bus! I often look out the window while I’m listening to music and study the street art, buildings and roads. Because busses tend to wind through multiple neighborhoods on any given route, public transportation can help you map out a city in your mind in no time.
So, whether you’re an expat living in Brazil or just passing through, I encourage you to try out the public transportation! For more information about the public transportation system in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, follow this link. The website is in Portuguese, but you can opt for a translation in your language using the Google Chrome browser.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this post! Comment below and let me know what you thought, and I’ll see you back here tomorrow!