A Little Transportation… You’d Never Do that Back Home!

Last updated on November 15, 2021

An internal debate wages on for the brief seconds it takes me to decide to ignore my dad’s chirping voice of caution in my head. Instead, I hoist my backpack over the tailgate of the truck and then hoist myself over said tailgate. The truck engine rumbles to a start and the 15 other backpackers and I, standing, white-knuckle grip the faded gray metal bars threaded through the bed of the truck as we jostle along to our hostel.

Riding in the back of a pickup truck
Crammed into the back of a pickup truck in Lanquin, Guatemala on our way to Semuc Champey.

At this point in my travels, I approach transportation all a bit more nonchalantly than I perhaps should…riding in the back of a pickup truck is dangerous and you’ll die. Well, that’s what I was taught growing up at least. But this is a pretty standard method of transport in Guatemala and it makes me ponder the caution and fear that we have embedded in our lives in the United States (and the Western world in fact).

I feel like we often take the luxury of choice for granted in the US. Law dictates that all motorcyclists must wear helmets, seatbelts are a given these days and the riding in the back of pickups? Only if you’re on your own land and even then it’s mostly farms.

Hellos from a bus passing our rickshaw in Bagan, Myanmar.
Guatemalan Sketchy Road
A sketchy road track that we followed as we were all crammed in the back of a pickup truck

And though I am a religious seatbelt user and generally not that rebellious of a person, I pretty willingly jump into pickup trucks and perform running leaps onto buses when I’m outside of my home country.

So I ponder the difference. In the States, you’d be hard pressed to see me jump in a pickup truck and then wind down unpaved and bumpy roads with sharp turns and virtually no shoulder so the edge of the road descends hundreds of feet down into shrubbery nothingness—here it’s just the way you get from one place to another … and the tourists have it good! Our 15 person truck bed looked downright spacious when we passed a similarly outfitted truck—this time with no less than 35 Guatemalans holding tightly to their children and bags.

My Personal Limits

Holi Family on Bike
A family on a motorbike during the Holi celebrations in India.

All of this being said, I do have my limits. While I was in Cambodia last year trying to sort out a particularly frustrating situation with my Indian visa I was outraged at paying the six dollar tuk-tuk ride. For a bargain price of just three dollars round trip I popped on the back of a motorcycle sans helmet—the driver assured me that it was important that he wear the helmet because really only the driver is at serious risk in an accident.

We wove through the traffic in Phnom Penh like we were in the Indie 500—my driver circumvented traffic jams by breezily swaying into oncoming traffic and then jumping back into our lane just in time to avoid a head on collision with the oncoming luxury car that surely would have fared far better than us.

And then and there I decided that I was being absolutely absurd over three dollars—because while I am willing to jump into the back of a pickup without much thought, at the end of the day, dodging Cambodian traffic on the back of a motorcycle is a bit too intense for me.

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