Posts Tagged ‘Guatemalan chicken bus’

Guatemalan bus

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

You may be aware of the history of violence on the buses ridden by Guatemalan citizens, particularly in the capital. If you’re not, please be aware that the facts included in Guatemala: Extortionists Target Bus Riders are disturbing. The good news is that progress has been made on some buses, by instituting a system of prepaid cards that remove the need for the driver to have cash on hand. Here’s an excerpt:

Since 2004, 917 bus drivers have gone straight to the cemetery.

The deaths, which include 50 so far this year, are the result of gangs’ extorting bus drivers and bus company owners, according to the government.

Bus drivers often have to pay extortions three times a week to criminals working with gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio-18, and Los Paisas, who have burst onto the scene, according to Rony López, a prosecutor for cases involving organized crime. The gangs receive most of their orders from incarcerated leaders.

In a single week, a bus company owner may have to come up with $70,000 quetzales (US$8,879) to pay extortionists, according to López.

“The money we earn depends on the number of passengers that get on the bus. If we have to pay extortion, we earn only $40 quetzales (US$5) a day. Then, we still have to pay our bus assistant,” said Carlos Rosales, a bus driver who has been on the job for 26 years. “This situation has a huge effect on us.”

The most violent period for bus drivers in the Central American nation was from 2006-2009, when there were as many as five bus drivers killed a day as the result of extortion.

“Five bus drivers killed a day.” Astounding.

 

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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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