Road Wisdom: Another Chicken Bus Adventure

The last one of our four feet was barely off the concrete when the accelerator hit the floor. The bus roared and launched forward to 50 mph in less than 10 seconds as we grabbed on to our bags and nearby seat backs to keep from being thrown into the aisle or down the stairs onto the street through the still open bus door. The passengers watched us as we tried desperately to get ourselves and our packs to open seats in the back as the bus swerved violently back and forth on the windy country road. Laura and I began laughing at the insanity of it as we inched slowly down the aisle falling over ourselves as the bus continued to accelerate around turns, faster…faster.. the driver indifferent to whatever was going on behind him. Move one foot… then one hand…. then another foot…. then the other hand…. Finally we got to an open seat and threw our packs against the buses back door and hurled ourselves into a seat. The passengers and ourselves immediately had to grab on to the seat backs with both hands as the bus banked hard around a turn at 60 mph and felt as though it was about to roll over. I looked up with a too familiar wrench in my gut to see a large sticker on the wall staring at me of a disgusting troll baby with white eyes giving me the finger and another of the doll from the Childs Play horror movies with “Chuqui!” written under it. We were on yet another wild ride on a “chicken bus” as they’re affectionately called in Central America. 30 year old Blue Bird school buses from the US that have made their way south for a new life and been given amazing paint jobs, chrome, sound systems and colorful neon and LED lighting. They are the public buses of Centro and are known for blasting Tropicale, Rap & Regae music, honking their horns constantly and driving at insane speeds on the wrong side of the road on blind curves with children, teens, adults and the elderly packed in without seatbelts, many standing crowded in the aisles. Something you would never, ever see legal or condoned in the US but the primary form of cheap transportation in Central America. It is truly something to behold. But then after we started riding them for a while, we began to see that they are more than just a way to get from one place to another. They are part of the community and fabric of the small towns they connect. The constant honking is them either honking to another passing bus to say hello, honking as they pass by the homes of people they know or honking to warn people they’re coming around the bend. People on their porches wave to the buses as they pass by and people on the buses wave back. They’ll drop everyone off directly in front of their house and if they pass by at 50mph they’ll slam on the brakes and even back up so the person doesn’t have to walk. It’s an amazing system that seems like chaos but in reality is such a part of everyones day to day life that I couldn’t picture it any other way. The chicken buses ARE Central America and are the heartbeat of the rural communities and are in turn those communities connection to the urban centers. An hour (of hanging on for dear life) later we reached our destination with $1 less in our pockets but a better understanding of the people and the towns and communities we passed through along the way. Would love it if they had seatbelts and a schedule though!

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