The chicken buses of Central America

Antigua bus terminal

Antigua chicken buses

Antigua chicken buses

This past month I went on an amazing four-week trip through Central America. I took this chicken bus from Antigua, Guatemala, to Santiago Sacatepequez, an hour’s drive away, for Day of the Dead celebrations on Nov. 1, 2013. Only the biggest cities in Central America seem to have public transportation — in the absence of a transit network, there are chicken buses. These former American school buses have been decommissioned and shipped down south, then painted crazy colours with hilarious Jesus slogans all over them. Usually there are a few homages to Spanish football clubs thrown in as well. The story goes that you can sometimes find chickens in the back, though you’re more likely to find overly confident young men who make kissy noises and utter dirty words in English at you. They’re dirt cheap to ride (it cost me 8 quetzales, or $1 US, for that Antigua–Santiago trip), bumpy, hot, swervy, super crowded and a fun way to see how the locals live.

Somewhere between Antigua and Santiago, someone stole the iPhone from my backpack — probably when I was transferring from Bus A to Bus B. It was my fault for putting it in the front pocket. Oh, well. I consider it the idiot tax that all tourists seem to pay in Central America — something lost, something stolen, something bilked, or simply paying the gringo price. During my tour I heard a few other horror stories — an Irish girl had her passport stolen by the driver; another girl had her pack sliced open and everything taken while it was under her seat. Despite my loss, I’d still recommend going for a ride — just maybe not with all your worldly possessions or for long-haul/cross-border trips. And watch your phone.

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