One of the most frequently used types of public transport in Jamaica is the coaster bus, basically a minibus. They’re privately owned (as opposed to the big yellow government buses) and there are set routes that they take e.g. Kingston – Port Antonio, stopping on the way to pick up more passengers or let people off if they shout “driver, can I have a stop?”
They’re often painted with bright colours or funny/fashionable slogans, song lyrics, the driver’s nickname or a Jamaican slang phrase, and they often play really loud music and drive at around double the speed limit.
The coaster buses typically have 3 people working on them (although sometimes the conducter – aka ‘ducta’ and the loader double up into one). So there’s the driver, the loader and the conductor.
The driver just sits and drives, the conducter collects the fares, and the loader’s job is to get passengers onto the bus. This is important partly because there are often buses going to a few different destinations on one road, so passengers need to know which one is the correct one for where they’re going.
It’s also important because if there are 3 different buses in one bus park and they’re all heading to let’s say Port Antonio, it’s like a competition. The sooner one bus gets filled, the sooner it can go to its destination. The more trips it can make in one day, the more money they’ll make.
To get people onto the bus, the loader basically stands near the bus on the busiest part of the street where a lot of people are walking, and shouts the name of the destination e.g. “PORT ANTONIO, PORT ANTONIO”. However, they often use more tactics which involve complementing women and sometimes even holding their hand and trying to pull them on the bus… e.g. “Port Antonio! Port Antonio pretty girl? Come nuh! PORT ANTONIO! Come pretty lady, Port Antonio! Come nuh baby” etc. (“Come nuh” basically means come on / come now / come here).
Obviously the whole concept of a bus loader, and really the whole concept of shouting on the street, is kind of funny to me because I’m from England. I have an American friend here and she finds the loaders kind of funny too, so sometimes we’d do impressions of them at home, and we jokingly said we should be bus loaders for a day. By the way, they’re always men, never women, as far as I know.
One day, we tried to go to a river near Mandeville (an area 1 or 2 hours from Kingston), but as soon as we reached Mandeville we realised we couldn’t go to the river because torrential rain had started.
After playing dominoes with some random guys in a bar, we went outside and were wondering what we should do. Suddenly I had a brainwave! Across the street was a bus park, so I told my American friend “let’s go and load buses”
We went up to the driver of the first Kingston bus we saw, and asked him if we could help him load his bus, but he basically laughed at us and said “you’re too fragile”, so we were like “fine, we’ll find another driver then…”
The next guys we asked were loading buses to Montego Bay and Savannah La Mar (aka Mobay and Sav) and when we asked them, they were just like “yeah sure!”
It was genuinely one of the funniest things I’ve done in the past few months, and the schocked looks on people’s faces were hilarious. They were just so confused. We basically had to approach everyone who came into the bus park and ask them whether they’re going to Sav or Mobay (in patois “Weh yuh ah go? Sav or Mobay?”) and because it was raining we brought an umbrella to shelter them as we showed them to the correct bus.
About 25% of the passengers completely ignored us and gave us a look as if to say ‘who the hell are you to tell me which bus to go on when you’re not even Jamaican?!’… but the rest of the passengers were really cool and were happy to see us enjoying ourselves and learning a bit about Jamaican life etc.
We loaded three buses in total, which took just over an hour, but then we had to go back to Kingston to make it home before dark. This is us with our new loader friends:
I honestly think experiences like this can teach you more about the culture than any museum can, so I would encourage you to try and get involved in daily life in whatever way you can in whatever country you’re in. You might think you look silly, but I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it, and it’s good to go out of your comfort zone sometimes.