A Little Color…Authenticity on the Guatemalan Chicken Buses

I was sitting on a chicken bus this afternoon and had one of those moments where things just sort of clicked. One of the reasons that I travel, and let me assure you it’s certainly not so that I can ride chicken buses, but rather for the faces of the locals surrounding me.

Dios Mio Ayudame: My God, Help me!

The bumps and potholes on the roads here in Guatemala ensure that I’m going to arrive at my destination just a touch on the ill side – plus the chicken buses are probably one of the more dangerous forms of transportation according to everything that you hear from locals and newspapers alike. The bus drivers speed, the Guatemalan woman I chatted with warned that the drivers are sometimes drunk, you could get robbed, and they could very well careen right off of one of those unprotected hairpin turns.Xela's Busy Chicken Bus Terminal

But, they are cheaper. And you meet the people.

I spent the first hour of my first Guatemalan bus ride with a little five year old boy perched on my lap as I shared the bus seat meant for two with three other people—a mother and her two young children, and four bags—my two backpacks and her two bundles.

And it was fun. The mother and I chatted in Spanish while we gripped onto the children around the curves so they didn’t slide off of our laps.

Guatemala is a tough place to travel though because of all of the constant dangers—both real and a touch exaggerated, that permeate the country. As far as the chicken buses go, the verdict’s still out really, but the only other option is the sanitized gringo shuttles, so on a normal bus ride under five hours, I’m inclined to take these brightly colored retired US school buses.

Guatemalan Chicken BusesAnd lest you think these are the average bright yellow school buses of your formative years that you remember fondly (or not so fondly if that’s the case) for bumpy a loud rides across town with pigtailed children piled into the seats and book-bags stowed under the bench seat.

Oh no. This is a different experience altogether. Gone is that tame yellow color and instead you ride shrouded within any number of psychedelically painted buses with their route proclaimed proudly on the top.

I actually really love watching the chicken buses on the roads—they resemble toucan as their brightly stripped colors barrel down the roads and careen around tight corners. It adds some real flavor to each and every town – throw in a healthy dose of religion delicately stenciled on the front and sides and back of the buses and really, the Guatemalan chicken bus experience is pretty much as authentically Guatemalan as you can get.

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8 Responses to A Little Color…Authenticity on the Guatemalan Chicken Buses

  1. BeersAndBeans May 29, 2010 at 6:17 am #

    I love the chicken buses too! Although they can be a bit bizarre. We were on one for about 6 hours and then it came to a sudden stop. All of the sudden these men jumped on the bus and were yelling and walking back and forth. I couldn't understand them and I was wondering if maybe we were in the middle of some political strife. I was definitely nervous! It took me like a whole 10 minutes to figure out that they were bible thumpers. The bus had stopped and they took it as an opportunity to preach to everyone! What a relief!
    Another time a guy that was running the bus tried to overcharge us and I understood enough Spanish to know what was going on so I refused to pay him. He then refused to help us with anything in terms of stopping the bus so we could get off. But that's where the awesome people of Guatemala come into play. I spoke with a woman and she told everyone he was “muy malo”. Then other people on the bus figured out where we were going and they made sure the bus stopped and we got off.

    You never know what you're going to get on the chicken buses but they are awesome!

    • ShannonOD May 29, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

      I experienced the bible thumpers too! Except they got on the bus and then would ride with us for 20 minutes sermoning at the top of their…it was…unique ;-) Glad that you guys refused to pay though – it's the principle of it! I hate it when they knowingly rip you off and when you call them on it try to take retribution – I had one just pretend I wasn't speaking to him – and I speak Spanish…he just fully wouldn't look me in the eye when I tried to demand my change back! Ah the chicken buses :-)

    • ShannonOD June 4, 2010 at 7:48 pm #

      I experienced the bible thumpers too! Except they got on the bus and then
      would ride with us for 20 minutes sermoning at the top of their…it
      was…unique ;-) Glad that you guys refused to pay though – it's the
      principle of it! I hate it when they knowingly rip you off and when you call
      them on it try to take retribution – I had one just pretend I wasn't
      speaking to him – and I speak Spanish…he just fully wouldn't look me in
      the eye when I tried to demand my change back! Ah the chicken buses :-)

  2. brookevstheworld May 19, 2010 at 8:54 am #

    Dios Mio Ayudame! That's what I think of Chicken Buses. If you read the Lunatic Express, you might think twice about the buses haha They are super cheap though, and I love the funky colors!

    • ShannonOD May 19, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

      I will have to pick that up – although I weary if it's going to tell me
      something I dont want to know about these buses! :-)

  3. Dina VagabondQuest May 18, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    Hi Shannon, I'm so looking forward to riding on these chicken buses myself one day! My near future itinerary is not exactly around Guatemala now, but I hope in the future! Cool story with the kid on your lap :)

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

      Guatemala is tops on my list of country's I've enjoyed, so perhaps
      it'll be on your next travel plans! :-)

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