Hi there! After taking the bus with two children to a new location the other day, I realized how far we've come in mastering public transportation in the past 9 months. So I want to share my wealth of knowledge with you--essentially something I wished I would have known when I first moved here.
1. Plan. Use google maps and put in your starting address. I'll use the kid's school as my point of reference. See here. I decided early on to change my language preference to English, just so I wouldn't get too confused (I don't need any additional challenges when trying to get around!). Once you put in your address, then click on "Directions" and put in the address of the place that you are going. I'll use BH Shopping (the mall) as my destination. Then make sure that your starting address and destination are in the right spot (i.e. you are starting at the school and going to the Mall, not the opposite). And click on the little picture of the bus. It gives you this (click on the see larger map for the details).
View Larger Map
It give you a couple of options for buses, and you can even select the date and time when you want to depart. THIS IS IMPORTANT! Some buses only run weekdays, and all the buses have different times, and possibly routes on the weekends or on holidays. It will also give you an estimate of how long it will take you to get to your destination, but this is always a very rough estimate; I always assume it will take at least an extra 20 minutes. If you are not familiar with the partida (stop), use "street view" so you can get an actual view of the area. This is very helpful. Yesterday I had the address of a specialty Chocolate store, but when I got there, it didn't exist. I came home, looked on "street view" and it turns out that the entrance was actually on the street perpendicular to the address. Go figure. The other thing to be aware of is the direction that the bus is going. Sometimes it's not clear which side of the street you need to be on, and I've found that sometimes Google maps isn't clear, or even tells you the wrong direction. If in doubt, always ask the bus driver, someone waiting, or the person who takes money. I have also started asking the money taker to notify me where I should get off if I'm not familiar with my destination. Most of the time this has worked out well; only one time did the money taker give me wrong directions, and thankfully it didn't prove to be too disastrous.
2. Get on the bus. In order to get on, you have to flag the bus. Don't be shy about it; stand out part way in the street and wave it down. Once you get on, hold on to anything you can, because the drivers are crazy, and the roads are horrible. I've never fallen, but my children have. The first part of the bus is for the elderly, disabled, pregnant, or nursing moms--those who get to ride free. You don't give you money to the driver, but go to the turn style, and pay the person there. They only have change for up to R$20, and sometimes even that is more than they like to handle. After giving your payment, push thru the turn style. Sometimes you have to wait for the money taker to let you thru (unlock the turn style). There are no such things as transfers, and you don't get any kind of receipt. You can purchase a bus pass (not sure where) and then your second trip within 30 minutes is discounted (or on Sundays, free!). But if you lose the the bus pass, you have to pay R$15 to get it replaced. So guard it.
3. Sit down. If you are lucky, there will be places to sit. If you need to get by someone, a simple "licensa" is polite. Frequently, there is no place to sit. So just grab a hand rail and hold on for dear life. If you have a big bag or backpack, people will frequently offer to hold in on their laps. I almost always take advantage of this kindness. If it's really crowded, you will feel like a sardine. This is when you try not to breath too deeply (especially if it's a hot day) and try to enjoy this wonderful part of Brazilian life, being crammed in together with all of humanity, trying to get somewhere together.
4. Getting off. There is a cord running along the ceiling in the middle aisle or a button on a pole to push before your stop. I always get up and stand at the door at the stop before mine. Once you get to your stop, you have to move quick. The drivers like to shut the doors as quick as possible. If for some reason they close them before you get out, just give a yell and they open it up. If they don't you can always resort to banging on the door. That usually does the trick.
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