In Jamaica where public transportation between the south coast’s Kingston and the north coast’s Montego Bay is relegated between an overpriced taxi or an overcrowded bus, the Knustsford Express is a welcome reprieve for travelers. The bus goes express between Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. Reservations can be made on phone or internet in both Jamaican and US dollars. On my last vacation in Jamaica, I reserved a seat on the phone. The reservation process was hassle free.
I arrive at the bus depot after a short taxi ride from my hotel in New Kingston under the gray sky and dew of the early morning. I walked up to the counter, confirmed my 6:00 a.m reservation and paid JA $2000 (USD $25.00). I walked outside and stood amongst the other bleary eyed passengers. The bus pulls up in front for loading 20 minutes before departure. A young man is sorting out the luggage as the crowd converges on him. He immediately took control of the people. “Ochie dis side,” he said left index finger pointing to the ground. “Mobay dis side,” he continued pointing to the right.
In typical Jamaican style there are a few stragglers buying last minute tickets. They are out of luck because this morning the bus is sold out. Much like an airline, the Knutsford Express has a standby list. So if there are no-shows, then a seat can be bought. At 5:45 a.m, I take a seat above where the bags were being loaded, so I can see my bags. No funny business.
At 5:55 the bag loader starts handing out complimentary cold water. At 5 minutes before departure there are more people showing up with multiple bags and expecting themselves and their bags to get on. I couldn’t help but think that they were akin to airplane passengers. Even though there is a sign that clearly states, “Check in is required 20 minutes before departure. It is now 5:59 and there are still people waiting outside for their bags to load. The baggage compartment is full to capacity. A guard boards and asks for the owner of a Toyota Yaris to move her car because it was blocking the exit. It is now 6:01. The excess bags are now being loaded behind the last row of seats. People are still checking in. Note: Get there early so your bags make the flight, I mean the bus ride. At 6:05 our driver, Junior Walton introduces himself. He advises us that the bus does not have a restroom and the journey will last 4 hours. So we can use the bathroom now or wait until we get to Ocho Rios. An old lady gets up and exits the bus. She returns at 6:08. Junior returns at 6:09 and asks if everyone has received their water. The late comers chime in “NO!” At 6:09 Junior closes the door, a small tv screen descends and at 6:10 we pull out of the bus depot to Chevelle Franklin’s “Here I am.”
Every seat has a small pouch, an ideal place to put your complimentary bottle of water. No armrest in the middle which would have been good for me because my seatmate thought my right leg was part of the seat.
As the bus rolled along we saw glimpses of Jamaican life. Morning rituals of old ladies feeding chickens, small children in crisply pressed uniforms grasping the hand of their parents and school children piled tightly under a bus shed. The hills were passing by with different shades of emerald and bright greens in resplendent display.
I noticed that the music had stopped. I settle further back into seat to watch the DVD of a local play, starring Oliver Samuel, Jamaica’s favorite local comedic actor.