There is no travelling through Latin America without any “slightly shocking” bus rides. It’s not even exclusive to the Americas – those little local buses run around the whole developing world. Once you board a converted-yellow-US-school-bus you’ll know what I mean when I say these are special. To my own surprise I boarded the first ‘local’ bus in Guatemala only a few days ago. What a ride!
Oh, it’s quite important to mention they’re called chicken buses, at least here in Central America. Of course, there’s a very good reason for that. I wish I had a picture that expresses more than a 1,000 words, but I missed my best-ever opportunity. Seating in the third row on the left, I peaked over my book (you can’t really read on such bumpy roads) and saw a… chicken peaking over a hole in its card box. I swear we even made eye contact.
I dropped it fast and turned to search for my camera, but those lovely chicken buses have so little leg space, that my backpack was impossible to pull up from under my knees without doing some serious yoga on the spot. And I’m not able to do that. So it took me a good five minutes, and trying to be secretive and technologically-culturally sensitive, I directed the lens at the box and… the chicken was gone! It hid inside, getting more bored than curious over (I guess) a usual view. My once in a lifetime opportunity was gone forever i.e. until the next such ride.
“Show me your chicken” I kept thinking while peaking over every minute and a half, before I realized my English phrasing might get really awkward sometimes, whether only in my thoughts or documented on my blog. Either way, the charm didn’t work.
I was absolutely disappointed in myself and the missed opportunity, but the rather foggy window provided me with enough entertainment instead. Soon enough I saw the beautiful spread of Lake Atitlan in front of me, and just as I was about to gasp and smile to myself we turned around yet another corner and a few wildly posed excavators were feeding on a nearby hill. So much for the hopeful, breathtaking views.
It did turn a little nicer and more positive when I noticed two grown men playing with a ball on a gas station by the road. It wasn’t even a soccer ball or anything of the more-professional sort, no. It was a simple, small, rubber ball like the first one you ever got as a 4-year-old child. They seemed happy. Adorable, truly.
Then I felt the guy’s next to me head falling heavily onto my shoulder. He was fast asleep, thank heavens he wasn’t snoring, and I tried really subtly to move away in the little space I had to coordinate within, but I wasn’t as successful as I wished. I quickly remember that one time I fell asleep on an unknown Indian man’s shoulder traveling back in high school after an all-nighter at a train station. Funnily, I had a group of friends with me who instead of waking me up thought it would be hilarious to see my face once I wake up and realize what’s happening. This Guatemalan guy to my right had no friends there to either wake him up or laugh at him soon after – he was forgiven and, frankly, ignored.
Falling from one hill onto another, I let myself enjoy the beauty of this overtly-cheap and questionably-safe, unpredicted rollercoaster ride. Highly recommended (but not for your nerves).
Hilarious post :)
Haven’t dared the chicken buses yet but i’m sure looking forward to risking my life in these blessed vehicules (so much references to Jesus tagged on them!).
Take care, all the best with your job supporting local communities
gael (we met this morning in San Pedro before I hoped in….the bus)
Hahaha, brilliant. Great post, so glad to have found your blog xxx
Fifi Latin America sounds surprisingly like Cameroon. Very hilly and lush vegetation, fervently religious, can’t go from point A to point B without risking your life. People speak a language you understand. It’s brilliant!
I enjoyed your journey. I was in the mountains of Costa Rica and had a pretty scary bus ride, so I get what you mean.
Agree it can be tough to get the good pictures, and be a nice person at the same time. One method I use, that sometimes works is just to wait around long enough for people to get used to me, then they are often happy for me to take a picture, as long as I show them on the screen. I am also faxcinated by chickens all over the 3rd world. To my embarrassment, I even have a few posts of them: “Biblical Rain, Apocalyptic Shabbiness”, “Chicklens in the Morning”,…