Public Transportation Part II: The Rules of Public Transportation

This is a typical view from inside a mostly full 15-passenger van known generically as a hiace.

Meat being sold out of the back of a pick-up truck.

Public transportation here in Santiago, Cape Verde has rules. The rules aren’t written anywhere and I’m still working on understanding them, but here is my current understanding of the rules of public transportation in Santiago:

My Child is Your Child:  Jen and I were heading home from Praia in a hiace (a 15 passenger van). A woman got on with an infant and a little girl around three years old. There wasn’t room for her to sit with both her infant and three-year old together so she handed the three-year old to the person behind her and held her infant on her lap. The approximately 25-year old man who wound up with the three-year old put his arm around the little girl like it was his little sister and she snuggled up to him. No words were exchanged between anyone. About 15 minutes later, the man got off and in his place two women got on. The little girl sat on one of the women’s lap. “Who’s little girl is this?” the woman asked. Mom, sitting one row in front, turned her head and said, “she’s mine”. The little girl snuggled on this new stranger’s lap for the next half hour until she got off with her mom and her baby brother.

Yes, You Do Know Someone Here: There’s a good chance you will know someone, be related to someone, or know someone who is related to someone in the hiace or hilux you are riding in. Though many times the ride is silent, sometimes people talk and through asking where they’re from and who they know, they almost always know someone in common. Typical conversation:

  • A: Aren’t you from Calheta?
  • B: No, I’m from Picos.
  • A: Do you know Ze who cuts hair in Achada Igreja?
  • A: Mena’s son?
  • B: No,  Tuka’s son.
  • B: Yeah, Ze’s married to my cousin Maria.
  • A: That’s where I know you from; you were at their baby’s baptism last year, right?
  • B: That was a great party wasn’t it?!

There’s Always Room for One More: Most of the hiaces are made to hold 15 – five rows of three. Other than the front seat where I’ve never seen more than three (including the driver), the other rows aren’t considered full until there are four people in each. In the back two rows there is a bucket seat separated from a bench meant for two. A small board is placed across the gap (stored under the seat in every hiace) for adding an extra person. After those seats are filled, or sometimes before, people just squish in, sit on each others’ laps, squat in any remaining available space; they make it work. The most adults I’ve seen in a hiace is 22 though there were some children riding on laps as well. Any that doesn’t include the various items people were carrying with them. Which leads me to:

It Will Fit: You can bring just about anything that will fit into or top of a vehicle with you.  As very few people own cars, the hiace and hilux are the main sources of transportation for the vast majority of the population. Thus, if you go shopping and need to bring something home, you bring it in public transportation. Sacks of corn that are larger than my seven year old niece, five gallon jugs of fresh milk, live goats and chickens and piglets, a freshly caught tuna – all share space with the other passengers. If you can’t hold it, it goes under the seat, under your feet, under someone else’s feet, on someone else’s lap – anywhere it will fit.

Benches are attached to both sides of the back of pick-up trucks which are then covered with a frame and tarp. This is the view inside a not-very-full vehicle.

Stop Here. Or There: You can get on or off anywhere you want. The hiaces and hiluxes follow a path and anywhere that one goes by, you can flag it to pick you up. The same goes for getting off. Simply shout, “Para!” (stop) or “Dexa-N li!” (let me out here). This can sometimes lead to someone getting off (pause for five people to exit to let the person out, the exiting passenger to unload a dozen grocery bags before paying the driver, change to be found among the passengers while the five who exited get back on) and then someone else asks to stop 50 feet later. This is not an uncommon occurrence.

People Take Care of Each Other: I once saw a baby vomit all over her mother and the two passengers sitting in front of her mother. It was gross. The hiace pulled over. People handed over handkerchiefs and water. The driver got out and helped clean up. No one complained.

People Take Care of Each Other: On the back of an hilux, a man began having what I think was a seizure. The other passengers shouted to the driver to stop the vehicle. They held his hand and asked what could be done to help. The man was able to speak a little and said he just needed some time. Someone was sent to the nearest house for water. People patiently waited. When his seizure ended, the other passengers insisted that the driver turn the vehicle around (disrupting their travel) and take the man to the health center. The man refused, explaining that his medicine at home was all that he needed.

Music Required: There will almost always be music playing. It will frequently be very loud. It is often funana. If you aren’t familiar with funana, ZeEspanhol is a good place to start.  If you’re sitting in the front seat, there might be a small DVD screen on the dashboard where you can watch the video, too.

We Can Wait: You can stop the vehicle, go in to a store to get some rice/beans/oil/other and come back. The rest of us will wait.

Never Get in an Empty Vehicle: If you are leaving from an endpoint of the trip, the hiace will not depart until full. Hiaces go between the cities – Praia to Assomada; Praia to Tarrafal; Assomada to Pedro Badeja; etc. If you enter a half full, or much more painful, a mostly empty vehicle, it will drive around in circles looking for passengers. A man (I’ve never seen a woman do this job) – hangs out the window of the big sliding door on the passenger side of the vehicle shouting out the destination city. “Tarrafal! Tarrafal! Tarrafal!” The slightest of head nods is all that is necessary to get the vehicle to pull over. Usually between 8 am and 6 pm, there are a slew of half-full vehicles looking to fill up and the drivers will sometimes aggressively try to pull you into a vehicle. I’ve seen drivers pull the bags (and children) out of women’s hands and put them in their vehicle so the woman will follow. Potential male passengers don’t get the same aggressive treatment. I’ve ridden around a 10 square block area in Praia for 90 minutes waiting for the hiace to be full enough to take me 45 minutes home. Rookie mistake. Rember, get in a vehicle that is as full as possible to get home as quickly as possible.

Federal Express, UPS, the USPS – None Can Compete: You can send lunch, an important message, a baby goat, a bag of corn or just about anything else to someone else in another town. Just flag down a hiace or hilux, hand the bag to the driver ask him to give it to “insert name here” in the other town. He will hand it off to someone, tell them the name of the person its for, and it will get there. And if lunch was sent, it will still be hot.

My language comprehension is currently around 75%. By this I mean that I understand 75% of the words that people say to me though I usually get the gist of what is said. I would bet that my understanding of the public transportation rules is around the same so please don’t take any of this as gospel. As I only have one week to go in Cape Verde, uncovering the rest of the rules will have to wait for a return trip.

Jen, our friend Titina and our friend Ana’s little girl in the back of an hilux (pick-up truck).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s