Last updated on May 15, 2010
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.
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.
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.
And 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.