Posts Tagged ‘Ben Groundwater’

To chicken bus or not to chicken bus

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Chicken buses are arguably the most affordable mode of transportation in Guatemala. And I do love a bargain. Yet when people ask me about riding chicken buses, I caution ”It’s not worth the money you save. Don’t do it.” Now, after reading Ben Groundwater’s article– ”Nobody on board but us chickens“– I’m not so sure. Maybe riding chicken buses is fine outside of Guatemala City. Read Groundwater’s article and decide for yourself. He writes:

The first surprise about my chicken bus is that there aren’t any chickens on it. Guatemalan chicken buses don’t carry too many of their namesakes, apparently.

***

The second surprise about my chicken bus is it’s not really a bus. In the physical sense, it is; it was once an American school bus but has been resurrected with Guatemalan engineering and a glorious riot of red and green paint. But in the sense that it behaves how we Westerners know buses are supposed to behave, it definitely is not.

I’m forced onto it just beyond the Mexican border, told it is going in my general direction, if not where I really want to go. “Xela?” I ask.

“You change Reyu,” someone yells as they throw my backpack onto the roof.

Great. What’s Reyu?

From there, we make a tortuous journey to … nowhere. It soon becomes obvious we aren’t leaving until more passengers turn up. A lot more. Half an hour later, we hit half-capacity and it’s off to Reyu. Or something like that.

I loved this article. It made me realize that, when it comes to chicken buses, the perceived safety, or lack of it, could depend on who is doing the riding, and where. Admittedly, I’m more cautious than most. As a North American adoptive mother traveling with two English-speaking, yet obviously Guatemalan-born children, it’s hard for me to blend in anywhere in Guatemala. In general, we avoid large gatherings of people, which rules out riding a chicken bus. However, that doesn’t mean other folks don’t feel comfortable on board.

From now on, I’ll offer this modified position: If you feel safe riding a chicken bus, you should ride one. But I”ll stand by my advice not to ride a chicken bus in Guatemala City.

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