A Chicken Bus is the main form of Transportation in Guatemala. Each day millions ride the Chicken Bus, no unions, computers or specific Chicken Bus Schedules exist. Over the last month the Grow Team have travelled to Guatemala City and other points by Chicken Bus. One will find on-line negative reviews about Foreign guests seeking the experience of a Chicken Bus ride. Thus our point about Chicken Bus Etiquette.
In order to understand how this efficient transportation system works one needs to understand the process. Each Chicken Bus have 2 men who work in tandem in the operation of a bus, the driver, while the other is called the ayudante or “helper”. The helper is what keeps the Bus moving quickly loading passengers and luggage, collecting money, and moving passengers off the Bus in a few seconds.
A Chicken Bus is a old and retired US School Bus that has some how landed in Guatemala. Blue Bird School Buses are the preferred Bus type which are refurbished into a high performance turbo charged Vehicles. Yes the refurbished Bus is also finished with complex paint themes and the Bus is also named. Mostly a Village or the name of a Woman close to the owners heart.
The interior of the Bus is left the same. Some that are long haul type Buses have music and even a few with flat screen TV‘s playing Spanish music videos which helps pass the time. The seating is like flying on Spirit Airlines, crammed. We have found that the best place to sit is at the back of the bus. As the Bus stops and picks up more passengers you will find in a seating system that was designed for 4 children across, we now find 6 adults share a single row of seats. The back seats being the hardest to get to fill last.
Chicken Bus Etiquette
The helper on a Chicken Bus is an amazing person of many talents. With the Bus screaming down the highway the helper will exit the back door of the Chicken Bus and climb on the roof to drop off produce and luggage at the next stop. His job is also to help people get on and off the Bus. He will call out the next stop and within a few seconds passengers will be escorted off the bus while sometimes still rolling. He keeps track of collecting money, no idea how he can as passengers are constantly coming and going in these sometime crowded Buses.
Each village or City in Guatemala a central point where one can catch a Chicken Bus is found. In Antigua for example behind the market is the main Bus Terminal. At the Lake we catch the bus in Pana on the road heading out to Solola, every 10 minutes another bus comes and stops for loading.
Chicken Bus Etiquette is about helping others find seats, share seating when crowded and in general keep your cool. We are always the only Gringo’s on our Chicken Bus adventures, we look at each ride as that an adventure. We tell the helper which stop we are seeking when we get on the bus. As we travel on our route from Lake Atitlan to Guatemala City the bus gets more crowded usually to the point the centre isle is packed with people. Everyone kind of find their place or some form of seating position and relax to enjoy the wild ride through the mountains. Like I have stated these Buses are fast and driver waste little time to reach the final destinations.
Chicken Bus Ride
When the Grow Team heads to Guatemala City from the Lake we get off at Walmart in Guatemala City. A central point to reach other areas of Guatemala City. The Helper will give us a wave when we are getting close, we gather our stuff and head to the front of the Bus. At the stop the helper will take out stuff place on the curve and help us off. Within seconds they are gone. Once we were talking and missed our stop, the helper noticed us with a panicked look. He stopped the bus explained we needed to cross the hwy and wait for another bus which he told us would be along in a few minutes. He was stressed, loosing a few Gringo’s was not what he wanted to happen.
One will find many warnings, reviews and bad experiences about riding a Chicken Bus on-line. Yes there are Chicken Bus Accidents, then again most of the country of Guatemala rely on a Chicken Bus each day as the only form of Transportation they can afford. For us we can take a Shuttle from Lake Atitlan to Guatemala City cost $22.00 US per person. Chicken bus $8.00 and we can catch a Chicken Bus at any time and will reach Guatemala City an hour shorter then the shuttle.
A Chicken Bus ride is not for everyone, we enjoy the experience and find with our Chicken Bus Etiquette we are treated with respect and kindness by all.