What comes into your mind when you think of Guatemala? Spewing volcanoes, lush jungles, towering Mayan temples, a multitude of different ethnic groups……or a shiny Chicken Bus?
For many visitors to the country, the Chicken Bus is to Guatemala what a boulangerie is to France; you simply can’t imagine the country without one on every street corner.
The Chicken Bus, or camioneta de pollos, is actually an old American school bus which, having reached 10 years of age or completed 150,000 miles transporting screaming children, is sold at auction and, more often than not, snapped up by bus operators in Guatemala and the surrounding region.
Any bus designed to transport school children in the world’s most litigious nation is, without any question, built both to last and to win any street fight; you don’t mess with the Chicken Bus.
Reliable and sturdy they might be but plain yellow simply isn’t de rigueur in Guatemalan bus circles so, before they are let loose on the nation’s roads, these tough but prim looking buses get the pimp of their life and are re-born as the harlots of the road, more ludicrously colourful than even Joseph himself on a Saturday night.
Nobody can be entirely certain why Chicken Buses are called as such. Some say it is because they have a tendency to cram passengers in like battery farm chickens; others assert that it’s because, in this part of the world, finding that your fellow passenger is a chicken, goat, sheep etc is never out of the question.
Sadly, it’s not the live-stock that you have to worry about on many Chicken Bus journeys, but rather your fellow human passengers, some of whom have unhealthy designs on your belongings. Although most journeys are safe, robberies are not uncommon and tourists are an obvious target. Journeys in and around Guatemala City are probably most at risk but nowhere is entirely safe.
If you do wish to experience a ride in a Chicken Bus our advice is – keep the journey short, stick to daylight trips and choose somewhere relatively benign (Flores perhaps). Speaking Spanish will help as you can be pretty certain that the ayundante, (helper) who is responsible for taking fares and announcing stops, won’t speak any English.
Want to find out more? Check out the following, excellent website from Daniel Radin.