By -Lilianne Fuller
“Peta! Peta! Peta!” the young Mexican standing at the front of the bus yelled. It is customary in Mexico that on many of the secondary buses there are two key individuals, the driver and his trusty companion, the conductor. The conductor’s job is to collect the fares and announce to anyone within earshot where the bus is going. This bus was going to Petatlán hence, the conductors chant of Peta, Peta, Peta.
We vacationed in Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo this year and we wanted to visit Barra de Potosí. Barra is a tiny village that features a couple of small hotels, a beautiful beach, a large saltwater lagoon, three or four restaurants and not much more.
Staying in an all inclusive luxury hotel in Ixtapa doesn’t appeal to us so we had rented a budget accommodation in the neighbouring town of Zihuatanejo instead. Our host, Christian, was very accommodating and when we told him of our interest to visit Barra de Potosí he was happy to help us out. It was a destination he recommended but he explained that it might be a little hard for us to find. It would be however, well worth the effort to get there. Getting there, he explained, would offer a view of real rural Mexican life. I couldn’t resist so the next morning he drove us to the bus depot and ensured that we got on the right bus. He then instructed the conductor to let us know where to catch the next ‘little’ bus.
We arrived at Petalán and this was where we needed to change buses. Other than a dusty little street there was no bus depot in sight so with a quizzical expression I asked in halting Spanish if he truly meant this place was where we needed to transfer. He nodded yes so we disembarked and headed for the closest grocery store. Sure enough painted on the side of the store was crude lettering that proclaimed this was the ‘parada de autobus’ or bus stop. Parked out front was an old Dodge pickup truck with a canopy with benches that stretched the length of the pick up’s box. Yup, it turned out that, that this was indeed our ‘bus’. So we climbed in and waited for a driver to appear.
About five minutes later, another equally beat up pickup truck arrived and the driver shoved a case of Sol beer and a box of about 10 fresh fish under the bench. Without a word he then drove away. Another five minutes passed and a woman boarded the bus. She smiled broadly at us and started talking animatedly in Spanish. I quickly explained that my Spanish was very limited and could she please slow down. She explained that she owned a restaurant at Potosí and she invited us to come and eat there. She pointed to the fish and said, they were today’s daily special.
Soon an old woman approached the bus and attempted to board. She was toothless and fiercely independent. With an air of outrage she declined any offer of help as she struggled to board. Her immaculately clean clothes showed a great deal of wear but on her feet were sparkly pink shoes that looked brand new. In one hand she held a walking stick and in the other she held some trinkets to sell to any tourists she would encounter along the beach.
Finally the bus driver climbed in and we were off. A half hour later we arrived at our destination. We disembarked the truck and Sonia, ran ahead of us to her restaurant. “Miquel, Miquel,” she cried. A young man came out of the kitchen and welcomed us. He invited us to have breakfast. We enjoyed an interesting concoction of an egg and bacon dish mixed with refried beans. It tasted much better than it looked and we washed it down with a couple of beers.
Then it was time to go exploring and we asked for our bill. Miquel insisted that we need not worry about paying right away. “Enjoy yourselves,” he said, “you can pay me later,” he added. The long sandy beach was flat stretched for at least 10 miles so we set for a nice long walk.
We returned to the restaurant a couple of hours later and by then, it was time to eat again so we ordered the ‘meat thrown on the coals’. The beef was a kind of jerky. It was paper thin and incredibly favorable. I ordered a Bloody Mary to go with it and when it arrived I took a sip. It was dreadful! Noticing my expression Miquel asked if there was enough rum in it. It was then I realized that instead of vodka, my drink contained rum. While Miquel went to the kitchen I carried my drink to the beach and discretely emptied it into the water. Miquel came back and saw my empty drink glass, his eyes grew big and he exclaimed ‘Oh My God’ and ran to make me another. I caught up with him just in time and asked for a cerveza instead! The moral of the story is that when you go off the beaten path it’s a better idea to just stick with beer.
While we were sitting there another couple arrived. The man was a Canadian Expat with a keen interest in Motorsports and his wife worked at a nearby hospital. She spoke some English so while Topher chatted with her husband, she and I conversed using smiles and hand gestures to substitute the words we didn’t know. She noticed my camera and she complimented me on its good quality. She then remarked that we must be a very adventurous couple to be visiting this remote area. “I want to offer you some advice,” she said. “Don’t travel at night, don’t wear expensive jewelry, stay away from drugs, and don’t resist the bandidos,” she added. She went on to explain that our transportation to Potosí was a very good idea as well. “Why?” I asked.”You have arrived on the ‘poor people’s’ bus, the rich tourists always come here by taxi. Because of this, you did not attract the notice of the local bandidos.” She then pointed to my camera and said that it might attract the wrong kind of attention and so, in the unlikely event of encountering bandits during the day, I should give them my camera and say to them, “Esta un regalo para usted; Es Navidad.” or in English “This is my gift for you, it’s Christmas”!
It then hit home that we were we were much farther off the beaten path than I had bargained for and getting robbed was always a possibility. I thanked her for the good advice and because it was getting late we said our goodbyes and walked to the road. A return ‘bus’ was waiting there and we boarded. We were back at our hotel by dinner time. It had been an interesting day, we made some new friends and learned more about traveling safely on the back roads of Mexico. In addition we saw a part of Mexico of which few gringos can ever boast.