I can count on one hand the number of times I have taken the bus in the states. I was lucky enough to always have a car or someone to drive me to and from the places I needed to go. Well, that was not the case in Mahina. Being on a travel budget means a rental car for the six weeks while we were in Tahiti was a no go. So when I decided to sign up for scuba diving in Arue, a mere 3 mi/4.9 km away, I either had to walk or quickly learn the Tahitian bus system. I ended up doing both.
Real talk. The bus is intimidating. How to read the schedule, determine the fare, not look awkward AF in general, you name it. Now add in a foreign language barrier. I did my research and headed out on my own. Incredibly anxious for both the bus and scuba diving, my heart was about to pound out of my chest. But, armed with exact change and the french phrase I needed pulled up on my phone in case my verbal communication skills totally failed me, I ventured out for my first Tahitian solo bus ride.
The bus stop was conveniently located outside our apartment. Scuba class started at 10:30am. Estimating a 30min drive to reach Arue, I headed out to catch the bus around 9:45am with an anticipated bus arrival around 9:50am. Bam! That bus showed up on-time as expected. Winning! Fare paid without issue. Nerves calming. I was off to Arue.
I sat in the front of the mostly empty bus. A local man chatted with the driver from the front seat. He said hello to me and I tried to communicate in broken french. I was too anxious about not missing my destination to concentrate on speaking coherently. I scoured the scenery as it rushed by, now concerned about how to signal my exit. There was no button to push to indicate one needed to stop. Two guys hollered something to the driver from the back of the bus. He pulled over at the next stop and they descended. What the hell did they say? It wasn’t "Arrêtez, s'il vous plait," or "Stop, please" in French. Nope, I didn’t understand a thing they said.
Then, before I knew it, the bus whisked by the Arue Yacht Club. I missed my stop. How the hell do I get off the bus? Another block passed and then another. Insert panic. I quickly tried to ask the lady sitting next to me how to make the bus stop. She told me to stand up and walk to the back. Or at least that was my interpretation. So, I did just that. My friend from the earlier conversation got the driver to stop the bus for me. I said thank you and descended. I was a mere 6+ blocks past my destination, so I started walking.
The bus ride there was a half win. I managed to get on and pay with little effort, but barely made it off the bus before I ended up miles away from my destination. Yet, I managed it all by myself and made it to class on time.
After my introduction scuba dive, which was awesome, it was time to head back over the mountain to Māhina. I may have failed to mention there was a very steep mountain climb one needed to cross when traveling between Māhina and Arue. Feeling confident after an incredible dive, I headed to the bus stop to make my way back. This time, the bus' arrival was 30 minutes after it was expected. I walked to the next bus stop hoping it was shaded from the hot 1pm sun. It was not, so I ventured into the Shell station for a look around. Randomly, when we arrived in Tahiti, they were experiencing an egg shortage. We hadn’t seen eggs and since we arrived, but low and behold, the Shell station had a carton for a mere $5.00 a dozen. With eggs in tow, I waited for the bus. This time, I was able to descend only a couple blocks past my destination. Seriously. Out of all the problems I anticipated while riding the bus, getting off was not on the list. It was getting ridiculous.
But I had done it. Made it round trip on the bus by myself. I couldn't help but think back to 2008 in Paris. My first trip overseas. I was so scared, petrified actually to use public transport that I refused to ride the Metro without Todd. In fact, I walked and walked for two days just to avoid even descending the escalator to investigate how it worked. Fast forward 14 years and now I was on a new mission to conquer the Tahitian bus system.
Now, I needed six dives to get scuba certified so the bus and I were going to need to get comfortable with each other. The next day, I headed out once again to the bus stop. I was armed with experience this time, determined to exit at the correct stop and I had even realized I overpaid the first day. I was in the know now. Today was a new day for bus adventures.
And so it went over the days...would the bus show, when would it show, could I exit, if yes, how close to my destination would I actually be, and the ever looming dread of will I have to walk home. Well, day 3, the bus never showed at all and I had to cancel my class. Cool, cool. Glad there is a schedule. WTF!
Day 4 was my day. I headed out extra early, caught the bus, exited at the Yacht Club stop, arrived a mere 30 minutes early for scuba class and made it home without incident. I was amped by the time I got back. Bus 3, Erin 1. I was on the board.
By the time Todd hopped on the bus for his first ride, I felt like a pro. I showed him the ropes with confidence. When it came time to catch the bus home, he scanned the QR code on the bus stop sign and said, ‘the bus should be here in 5min.’ I’m sorry, there is a QR code with real time arrival info? The F*ck. Why hadn’t I known about this? Apparently, in French, not English, there was a ‘scan’ here notice for bus times. I really needed to up my language game. Insert anger, annoyance, more annoyance and bewilderment. How was I just now realizing this after riding and waiting for the bus multiple times now? My inner soul was throwing a temper tantrum while trying to play it cool like.
The bus got easier. We took it north to go hiking and into Papeete to visit the big city. Even with the app, arrival times were inaccurate and the bus does not run on Sunday. Found that out the hard way trying to head to the Sunday market on the 5am bus. En route to go fishing, a kind, local man made us aware that we would be waiting forever as the bus didn’t run on Sundays. I had to snicker a little when we looked at the fancy app and it clearly said, no buses run on Sundays. Glad it wasn’t my app reading error. He, he, he.
So how do you descend from a bus in Tahiti? I still don’t really know. Some buses ended up having the red buttons you push to indicate you would like to exit at the next stop. Clearly the most straight forward and my favorite. For those that didn’t I would stand and yell, ‘Arrêtez, s'il vous plait’ or ‘Here’ or descend with the masses. If in doubt, sit near the front and tell the bus driver your destination. I want to feel like that helped my cause a couple times, maybe it was luck, either way, I got where I needed to go.
Best advice, leave early, plan to wait, be kind and embrace your inner zen because getting frustrated gets you nowhere. This whole bus adventure, while frustrating, brought me tremendous confidence. Often times, without even realizing it is happening, I default to Todd to get us from A to B. To take the lead when we are in a new place, but this time, I took the lead, in a foreign country with a new language and new currency, in a realm that was new. So, the bus may have out scored me in the long run, but I was the winner at the end of the day.