5 reasons why chicken buses are an awesome way of transport
People who have visited Central or South American countries have certainly seen them, possibly also taken them for a ride. They are discarded school buses from the USA, or as locals like to call them: Chicken buses.
They are easy recognizable in the streets, they have the form of a school bus but are painted in shiny colors instead of boring yellow. They go full speed down hill but appear to have issues to get up again, they sputter oil and black smoke like a volcano and they seem to be enormously overpacked.
But they are my favorite way of transport, I enjoy them much more than mini vans and certainly more than luxury buses.
They are cheap
And so am I.
No seriously, they are ridiculously cheap. Much cheaper than the luxury buses and often also a couple of bucks cheaper than the mini van. People often say that you pay by putting your life in danger.
It is true that the bus drivers sometimes appear to be rally riders and accidents occur from time to time. But this is no difference with vans. The accidents are often quite serious because the chicken buses always carry a lot of passengers. If a van crashes, there may be 10 to 15 injuries, if a chicken bus crashes there can be a hundred.
But that aside, if you would calculate the price per kilometer, the wearing of your shoes would often be more expensive in case you’d decide to walk.
They drop you off where you need to be
Chicken buses generally have a route from city A to city B, passing the villages and other cities in between - a lot like regular buses actually. The start and stop city have a bus station but the villages in between often don’t. The only thing you have to do is yell, whistle, wave or make any other sign that you like to get off at a certain place, no matter if there's a bus stop or not.
What’s more fun is telling everyone around your seat that you want to get to let’s say San Vicente, but you have no clue where to get off. Then you can sit back and relax until half of the bus starts yelling and waving to the driver that you need to get off.
To get on the bus you can either walk to the bus station - which I recommend because then you can choose where you sit - but you can just walk the streets around the station or in the direction of your destination and wave the bus down.
You know when you’ve found the right bus because the destination is written in big letters on the front window, but if for some reason you can’t read it - a bit hazy from the rum the night before - there is on every bus a guy that yells the destination through the open door. Something like “Guate Guate Guate!” or “Xela Xela Xela!”
They come with free music and sometimes even free video
Chicken buses can sometimes be real discotheques, complete with stroboscope and disco ball. The driver often takes his responsibility to decorate the bus really seriously. During my travels through Central America I have seen lots of Jesus images, Tweety & Sylvester images, balloons, disco lights, mirrors, funny sayings, romantic sayings and different other things that are supposed to describe the personality of the driver.
I’m quite certain that none of them will ever become my best friend.
And then there is their multimedia installation. This goes from an extra amplifier and a couple of boxes until a huge set of radios, CD players, DVD players, displays, cables, TVs, woofers, buttons and more, producing a bass that you can feel three towns further.
Generally the drivers listen to three main genres, either love songs, metal or reggaeton. I have experienced the love song listeners as gentle drivers but often unfriendly, the reggaeton listeners as fun guys, always in for a party but sometimes a bit hurried to get there and the metal listeners as crazy assholes.
They are a great place to meet new people
The fact that they expect you to share a seat produced for two kids with three adults is a great way to get into a conversation. It is very hard to ignore you and more or less impossible to run away and switch seats.
I have found this an ideal moment to train your foreign language skills as the ride is often long so it doesn’t really matter if it takes half an hour to explain what you’re actually trying to say.
If you’re feeling romantic, sitting so close to each other provides opportunities to touch the occasional buttock or boob of the person next to you.
They cover your smell
A problem that often occurs among backpackers is that they smell a little.
Or maybe a lot.
I’m sorry my dear reader, but from time to time you stink!
But it’s nothing to be ashamed of, the rules for hygiene are different on the road than at home, you often have to wear your underwear a day - or a week - longer than expected and the hot and humid climate makes you sweat like an aerobics club in a sauna.
This can be very embarrassing in places with few other people like a bench in the park or a seat at an empty table because as soon someone comes close to you, they know where that horrible smell comes from. On a chicken bus, your smell is diffused by the smell of gasoline, smoke and other people, and you’re so close to each other that it’s impossible to figure out who smells worse.
Did you ever go on a ride with a chicken bus? Did you like it?
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