Día de los Chicken Buses

February 29, 2014 – Translation: Day of the Chicken Buses — read on and find out what in the world I’m talking about.

After waking up at 7:30 and packing my stuff, Anna, her brother (who flew in from NY the night before), and I went to grab breakfast at this place I remember eating at when we first came to Guatemala, Doña Luisa Xicotencatl – Panaderia y Pasteleria. After breakfast we walked across town, through the market, to get to the “bus station” which is really just a chaotic bunch of buses parked everywhere with guys shouting destinations and which bus you should get on. Since we arrived early, we got to sit in the front of the bus, definitely a luxury for that day (as you’ll find out), especially since this was only a 45-min bus ride. We hopped off the bus in Chimaltenango to use the restroom and grab some snacks. I found peanuts with “Libre de Gluten Free” on the label and boy was I stoked!

Our second bus was much more interesting. We ended all the way in the back on this bus, and I ended up with a middle seat, and by that I mean the 6th wheel. Guatemalan “Chicken Buses”, for those of you who don’t know, are decked-out school buses that travel all over the country, from city to city, sort of like Greyhound Buses. Unless you hire a private taxi, if you’re traveling to a different city, you will be riding a Chicken Bus. These things are world famous, and I have heard quite a few explanations for why they are called chicken buses. 1: people sometimes bring live chickens on the bus, sometimes actually on people’s laps, but they’re usually strapped on top of the bus in cages. Another reason is because the drivers pretty much play chicken with all the passengers’ lives and the other drivers on the road because of how fast and insane they drive.

If you ever want an example of how they drive when you’re driving with me, just make sure you’re prepared to pay the ticket I get when a cop pulls me over for drunk driving, reckless endangerment, or not following the rules of the road. Because I guarantee I would get at least one of those if I drove like the chicken bus drivers do. All I kept thinking was what it would have been like on our elementary school field trips to have drivers like them, entertaining perhaps to see children flying left and right on the bus, but obviously insanely dangerous. Which leads to the other reason I think they call them chicken buses, and the reason people aren’t flying all over the place is because of how packed everyone sits – packed like chickens in a cage. Like I said, I got the “6th wheel” seat, meaning there were already 5 people in my row. So three to each seat, but when one person would leave I turned into the 5th wheel, which was actually worse then being 6th because at least with six, I was leaning against someone on both sides, so I couldn’t really move, but as the people decreased, then my stamina had to increase. Finally it was just this sleeping kid and me on the seat and boy did I get a workout! Trying to keep myself upright and avoid flying into and crushing whatever unsuspecting and often sleeping passenger I was next to. They would have gotten quite a wake up call because I’m sure that never happens since everyone seemed to have some special technique down and barely seemed to move an inch as our multi-colored school bus went barreling up and around hairpin after hairpin turn.

After the second bus ride, which was 2.5 hours, our last stop was in Quiche for lunch and I had a delicious blended broccoli soup and limonada con soda (my favorite drink here besides smoothies). Then we hopped on the mini-bus, about a 12-passenger van but you never would have guessed since we had anywhere from 15-22 people in the bus at one time. I ended up with the end cap front seat next to these 2 teenagers who snuggled the entire time and yet never managed to get close enough to each other to give me a little extra space. Trying to nap was an ever-failing endeavor as we kept stopping to drop off and pick people up all along our 2-hour ride, which, by the way, started off with filling a couple tires with air. Wasn’t sure if that was the sign of a good or bad ride. But we finally arrived safe and sound in Nebaj and picked up my suitcase from El Descanso, the restaurant that SEC/Community Enterprises runs, along with an Internet cafe and a store to sell goods like glasses, water filters, seeds, and more. During our walk, an elderly woman stopped dead in her tracks as we passed, exclaiming, “Ahh…Gringa!” Good start?? No clue…

I was then taken to my host family’s home, where I met Doña Feliciana, Pablo (18), and the 20-year old daughter who I have yet to figure out how to correctly pronounce, let alone spell. I took a nap and then had dinner with the 2 kids, as Doña Feliciana was at work. Dinner was delicious! It was a fabulous combination of yummy comfort foods and something new and strange that was only explained to me as “carne con verduras.” We also had frijoles, tortillas, and queso, la comida típica – typical Guatemalan food; and of course, a cup of té de Manzanilla (chamomile tea), something I vividly remember drinking a lot of last time we were here.

I ended the day with a freezing cold shower, because, as I found out the next day, the water is only warm from about 6 in the morning, until about 8 at night. But the daughter had told me to wait until after 9 to see if the water was warm. Bad call. Definitely will be doing morning showers from now on, especially since I went to bed with cold, wet hair.

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