29 Things that happen when you take public transportation in Jamaica

At the back of a packed bus to town
At the back of a packed bus to town

Jamaicans never cease to show their amazement when they learn that I use public transportation to travel long distances across the island. Most foreigners come to Jamaica with money and standards that allow them to seek other modes of transportation aside from “smalling up” themselves inna wan bos fi go a toun (in a bus to go to Kingston).

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As Peace Corps Volunteers, we’re expected to live in conditions similar to the people in our communities, and that means taking the bus – even if there are lots of people in our communities who refuse to do so! Needless to say, having your personal bubble burst and jostling around in a vehicle pressed tight against a sweaty stranger makes for some interesting stories. Here are 27 things – a short list of the things I remembered to write down – that have happened to me on public transportation in Jamaica:

1. You’re on an Ochi bus traveling to Kingston and someone gets into a fight with the dukta (conductor) because he wants to collect the fare early

2. The car floods with the smell of gasoline

3. Your vehicle breaks down and everyone simultaneously kisses their teeth

4. You have a singalong with your driver to Taylor Swift, Mariah Carey or Alkaline

5. Multiple duktas fight over you as a passenger in the bus park

6. You make friends with all of the drivers on your route


7. You straddle the stick shifter as you “small up” to fit in the car

8. You’ve been in a five-passenger car with ten adult people in it

9. Your heart practically falls out of your butt as your driver overtakes another car around a corner

10. A piknee (child) gets carsick and the bus works together to supply him with a bag to vomit in, wipes to clean up with, and ginger candy to ease the motion sickness

11. After months of building a friendship with your taxi drivers, they start to look out for you. Bonus points if your driver calls you to make sure you reached your destination safely

12. A farm animal is a fellow passenger (box of baby chicks, anyone?)

13. The driver pulls over so that you can buy jackfruit on the side of the freeway

14. You contemplate purchasing a CD, a new pair of sunglasses, a puzzle book, a rag, a snack or a bra while waiting in the bus park for your bus to finish loading


15. A devoutly religious grandma sings gospel songs and preaches for the duration of her ride. I’ve heard that this is now illegal on long bus rides!

16. You learn the unspoken language of the road

17. You learn to shift your hip a certain way to signal that you need a ride

18. You make your driver’s jaw drop by carrying on an entire conversation in flawless Patwa

19. Your driver spends the whole route trying to convince you that the two of you were meant to be and that he needs your phone number to make the dream a reality.

20. You have a story about that one time you waited three hours for a vehicle

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21. You get a free ride because your driver is in a REALLY good mood

22. You realize that your taxi drivers are some of the best friends you have in your community

23. A yute blasts dancehall on his phone despite the fact that the car’s stereo is already playing music

24. A small child stares at you for the entire ride and doesn’t look away when he sees you’ve noticed

25. You small up in the backseat between three “fluffy divas” (sexy fat women) and have your shoulder in someone’s armpit for the whole drive

26. You learn more new curse words than you ever thought existed


27. The other passengers vote an unruly drunk off of the bus

28. You watch the sunset over the hills/tree canopy/ocean and feel perfectly content


29. You are compared to one of the girls in this video: 

Have any of these things happened to you? I want to hear your public transportation horror stories and happy tales in the comments section! 


4 thoughts on “29 Things that happen when you take public transportation in Jamaica

  1. Haven’t had baby chicks yet but I have ridden with chickens three times now, one time the human didn’t even get on the van, just gave the driver fare to pay for he ticket and told him to drop it off at a certain spot.

  2. Oh this takes me back! It’s amazing how many people can fit into a taxi. Just when you think we can’t possibly pick up another passenger, he stops and picks up three more people. I love it!

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