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Bus2Antarctica Video: Tastes Like Chicken Bus

Andrew Evans recaps his experience riding on a chicken bus along Guatemala’s precipitous mountain roads.

Riding a chicken bus is a kind of traveler’s right of passage. That people are carrying live chickens immediately defines the bus as local and authentic. It’s also kind of silly and crazy since chickens do not make good passengers, especially on chicken buses.

The first bus I saw in Guatemala was this one in the village of La Mesilla. It was so orange and so shiny, I immediately hopped on it. The ticket cost me 50 quetzales (about four dollars) to ride about two hundred miles into Guatemala. Upon sitting, I immediately heard the telltale squawk of a chicken and to my great delight, found a real live chicken stuffed in a bag beneath the seat in front of me.

So why do people carry chickens on buses? How many times do you carry dinner home with you? Be it in a shopping bag, in a pizza box, in little cardboard boxes with wire holders and Chinese characters printed on the side, people carry the food they eat. That’s why we have chicken buses.

So many Central American buses are in fact, American school buses that

have undergone an extreme makeover of bright paint, psychedelic designs

and lots of religious homage and requests to a higher power that will

guard the bus from some horrific accident (elaborate lettering spells

out such incantations as, “Guide Me Lord, Jesus Lives, Protect Us”).

Driving along the precipitous mountain roads of Guatemala is

extremely dangerous–the drivers make it even more dangerous by

slamming the gas and whipping around cliff corners so that all the

passengers slide from side to side. And yet I also found comfort in

knowing that these gaudy, pimped-out buses had made the same long voyage

from the United States that I just did, and that these were the same

buses that I used to ride on when I was a kid: Blue Bird USA.

As the main link between remote

mountain towns, Guatemala’s buses are like little moving towns,

stuffed to the brim with people and their belongings all engaged in a

constant exchange of money, goods, and life. In the back of my second

chicken bus, I met Danilo (above), a 12-year-old boy who works nine hours a day

selling drinks and pineapple slices on the many buses that pass through

everyday. He hops on in one village, often through the rear emergency

exit at the back of the bus, then makes his way through the bus holding

a metal hook from which hang bags of fruit. When he’s sold what he can

sell, he hops off and waits for another bus in the opposite direction,

then hops on again.

Passengers themselves are also a hot

commodity, as every bus has a kind of scout that collects money from

passengers, handles the luggage strapped to the top, and is responsible

for scurrying up new passengers. The bus driver will wait until nearly

every seat is full before departing to the next destination and if

you’re not going to the same place, he’ll still take you and your money

until he meets up with another bus driver who is going where you want

to go. On four different occasions I was whisked off the bus with my

bag and made to jump on another bus, while a portion of money from my

original ticket was doled out to the next driver for his section of

transit. Yes, it’s a confusing system, but it seems to work for them.

It’s also how I got across half of Guatemala in less than a day.

Andrew is currently onboard the National Geographic Sea Lion, which is traveling from Costa Rica to Panama. Follow his Twitter feed here @Bus2Antarctica, bookmark all of his blog posts here, and get the full story on the project here. Photos: Andrew Evans. 

Photo and video: Andrew Evans

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