A chicken bus is an old American yellow school bus that has been repainted (and probably retrofitted). It provides a very affordable way to travel between cities in Guatemala. Other cities in Latin America have a similar system.
To go from Xela to Chimaltenango, for example, cost 30 Quetzals or $3.80 and took about 3 hours. From there, I took another chicken bus to San Andres Itzapa. That ride took 20 minutes and cost 3 Quetzals/$0.38.
When I got on the bus in Xela, it was already crowded and there was only one open seat in the very back of the bus. Luckily my big backpack fit in the storage rack ahead, though the straps dangled down. The people below my bag didn’t seem bothered by them though, and it was common to see straps dangling down in front of peoples’ faces.
The back seat didn’t offer as much leg room as the rest of the seats in the bus. So while most seats sat three adults, amazingly, it was, in my opinion, impossible to do the same on our seat. So though I had to keep one leg in the aisle, at least I wasn’t as crammed in like people in other seats.
The bus stops at many places along the way to pick up new passengers and drop them off. But when I say stop, I use that word loosely. If it’s only one person getting off or on, then the bus usually just slows down and allows you to jump off or jump on.
You would think that these guys were participating in a race with how fast they do everything. When you get on the bus, for example, it starts right away. So you have to try and squeeze through the aisles, again, with three adults in each seat meant to hold two or three children, with luggage and a moving bus.
These buses don’t just move though. They fly. Guatemala is extremely mountainous. Xela is 2333m/7700ft above sea level. The whole ride is full of curves and going up and down the mountains. I truly got a work out by holding on to the seat in front of me for dear life. Seriously. We were going fast and taking the turns at high speed.
These buses are old. I don’t know how old, but the ones I took had no emergency escape hatch on the ceiling. Those were standard practice back when I was a kid. Yet, there were no rattling nuts or bolts. It felt as solid as a tank.
At times, people get on and sell food and drinks. Some food is packaged; other food is loose like tacos. It can make for quite a scene when someone is hawking their goods. It can also be interesting when the bus starts moving again and the vendor wants to get off the bus!
In the end, another interesting experience for sure. I’ll be using these chicken buses a lot from now on. I wish it were easier in dealing with my big bag, but we’ll see how it goes. And I have a newfound respect for Blue Bird Corporation (and Guatemalan mechanics)!