Landing in GUA (Guatemala City) and travel with Chicken Bus
29/01/2005 24 °C
We are mucheleros (=backpackers).
Guatemala met us with sunny and warm day. (+ 24C - i'd say some contrast after -12C in NY).
We stepped out from the airport, ignoring taxi-drivers that tried to catch us, and (attention, it's historical moment!) got our first "Chicken Bus" - to go to Antigua.
Chicken Bus is the main public transport in Central America. In Guatemala chicken buses are especially colorful and attractive. They are former American school busses after upgrade: standard 2 rows of 2x sits taken out and changed on narrow sits for 2 rows of 3x sits. Buses are richly painted and colored outside and inside. Each bus is an art-piece; it’s decorated with paints and slogans, often of religious context. Chicken buses are noisy and unsteady, their capacity is unlimited, bus can contain as many passengers as need be picked up.
Driving in Guatemala is kind of challenge. Roads are mostly of a poor condition, with many curves, sometimes not paved. That’s why Guatemalan bus drivers are mostly muchachos ("heroes" and macho). Bus driver is entirely busy with steering wheel, no one could bother him.
All other tasks are responsibility of assistant.
Assistant is the second important figure in Chicken Bus crew, after The Driver.
Assistant is responsible for entrance and exit of passengers and about their luggage and their tickets.
There are almost no regular bus stops in Guatemala. If one needs to catch a bus – he just hitchhikes it, making signs of wish to join. Destination is written on the bus, but hardly could be seen because of over-decoration; so assistant is hanged in the opened bus door (while bus is moving!) and shout loudly “Antiguaaaa… Antiguaaaa…” (or another name, depends the bus destination). Bus immediately stops if somebody waving with hands and collects them. When all passengers are inside he cries: “Yalla, yalla!” and bus begin to move. Once a 10-15 mins assistant passing into the bus to collect fare from passengers. He calculates with speed of computer, never mistake or forget a change and always knows who already paid and who didn’t. Don’t ask me how he remembers each one’s destination and recognizes each one’s luggage (all is looking the same) on the roof, but he does. Assistant is getting your luggage and ordering and tying it to the bus’s roof while the bus continue movement. When it is done, he is slipping down into the bus - to continue his duties. If situation on the road getting unclear or unpleasant – assistant pulls down colorful hand-made textile rope and the bus yells as passionate elephant.
I have to admit that this photo is not mine, but i love it very much!
look at the driver (in the mirror) – doesn’t he sleep?
People enter to the bus. Many of locals immediatelly fall to sleep. Others chatting with each other, all the time smiling. The first impression - it's no pressure here, even in the capital city. People seems friendly and helpful, but shy. Bus passed in Guatemala City. There were noisy streets with furniture markets at the both sides of road. All this looked unexpensive and dusty.
Bus became more and more crowded with every minute. People set down very close to each other. Each 2 minutes bus stopped to get one more passenger – some of them were sale-men or beggars. Both tried to make some money. What was amazing in this hot and crowded bus – nobody looked pressured or angry; people kept absolute serenity on their faces. After an hour of jumping on curve road our bus finally arrived bus "terminal" behind the Mercado Municipal of Antigua...