Guatemala is nothing if not colorful! Here even the ever so mundane American school bus comes dressed like a Las Vegas show girl. Picture a mechanical pig decked out for carnival. They are simply fantastic …as long as you don’t care where you are going and it doesn’t matter when you get there.
The bizarre blend of American functionality and Guatemalan serendipity is wonderful to behold.
One might think an old bus unsafe. Not so. This is a vehicle built to transport the youth of America. At some point in the last century there was a meeting of Blue Bird Bus Company engineers; a room of short haircuts, polyester suits and master degrees from Cal Tech and MIT. “We are going to design a school bus” says one, “Price is no object” (this is a government contract, after all), “…but it absolutely, positively must be safe!”
It is. It’s slow uphill. It’s uncomfortable, but the vehicle itself is safe! The drivers can be a bit iffy. Truth be told, no American elementary school principle in his right mind would hire one in ten, but the brakes are good, the horn is loud, the suspension stiff, and the body solid.
In my opinion, no trip to Guatemala is complete without experiencing travel in a chicken bus. Step on a bus and enter the real Guatemala. The noise, the smell and the overwhelming mass of color is Guatemala at its best. You will never forget it!
So, you wonder, how does one take a chicken bus? Sorry, you’re on your own. I can give you a few suggestions but the Guatemalan serendipity that make buses so exotic to look at, also make bus line schedules all but impossible to figure out.
Once you are in Guatemala, just ask locals and fellow travelers, and hope for the best. Getting in and out of Guatemala City on a chicken bus is not a good idea. Getting around the capital on city buses is an invitation to trouble. It’s too easily to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once out of Guatemala City you can think about it.
Try to avoid what we call the gringo tax. Watch what locals pay and hand the guy exact change. Act as if you are an old hand.
Bus companies cram more seats in the bus by drastically shortening leg room. It’s is not at all unusual to have double the posted maximum number of passengers allowed. I have been on bus trips on which there wasn’t room for my arms, much less my legs!
The best I can do is say; give it a shot. If worst come to worst and you end up lost, take the same colored bus going back in the direction you just came from. Odds are good you’ll end up where you started. You will have gone nowhere, but will have had a great time getting there!