Guatemala City >> Antigua... Chicken Bus!!!
Nov 4, 2004
|So there I was, getting off bus 101 from the shopping centre, and standing amidst lots of local and not so local buses in Zona 1 - which, as previously mentioned, is full of petite and not so petite criminals. My next task is to navigate my way through numerous stalls and pickpockets alike to find the chicken bus going back to Antigua - my little safe haven! without being robbed (particualarly of my brand new camera), beaten up or...
Although it did take a bit longer than should have - and I blame it on the narrow streets filled with street vendors and shoppers, and not cos I couldn´t find my way - I made a huge improvement from my airport attempt. Found the shiny former US school bus (like the one seen in episodes of The Simpsons) gleaming with grafitti painting advertising the destination Antigua with colourful graphics, with only asking instructions once, and then following the empty Antigue signed buses back to the terminal.
Luckily there were lots of seats available, and I chose one near to the driver. Even at the time of departure, it still had a considerable amount of room left, which I was surprised about, as chicken buses are known to depart only when passengers are packed tightly like sardines.
This made it more interesting, otherwise the conductor would be out of a job. The conductor on this particular trip was a stocky middle aged man, who seemed to enjoy swinging nimbly on and off the bus, shouting out "Tee-gwa! Tee-gwa" when there were people within sight - even when the bus is on the second lane from the inside, out of a total of four lanes. I did wonder whether that would be of any use. But because this is Latin America, it was no problem. Passengers did indeed respond to the calls of "Tee-gwa", braving through two lanes of traffic. To compensate, the driver simply abruptly applied the brakes, just in time for the passengers to scamble onboard, before accelerating onwards.
This, I found to be the only time the driver is happy to use the brakes. Definitely not when going round sharp corners, nor even when there is a car close in front. Instead of reducing speed, the driver would continue (if not increased) at the same speed, and prefer to swing into the next available space - whether it´s the next lane, or two lanes away....
My poor next door passenger found this the hard way, when he thought it was safe to let go of the handle when he spied a straight road ahead. The car in front was going too slowly for the bus, so it casually swung to the right, overtook, then swiftly back into its original lane. The exhausted commuter was then thrown harshly to the left and to the right. Isn´t it funny the foreigner received less throwing around in the bus than the local? But then my arms did kinda get frozen from grabbing onto the handlebar, and I was in the middle...
I was having so much fun watching all the people climbing on board in various ways, that I didn´t realise the bus was packed to tbe brim. Yet the stocky conductor nevertheless managed to squeeze himself through admirably to collect fares. The locals adjusted their body parts with no noticeable difficulty. If I´d that job, it would certainly help my lack of co-ordination!! It´s a shame that I was sitting near the front, or else would be able to observe all these from the back.
As we left the proximity of Guatemala City and swinging around the road through the mountains, the sun has set and soon the sky was dark. Then I realised the reason as to why the conductor was shouting out "Tee-gwa, Tee-gwa" as if his life depended on it was because there were lots of other chicken buses going towards Antigua at the same time, and competition was fierce.
It was really interesting to see the relationship of these chicken bus drivers and conductors. In the mountains, as we were passing another bus, heading towards Guatemala City, my driver switched off the lights momentarily, as if to tease the other driver. But I think it was to hide his shame, that there were still room on board his bus (some passengers had disembarked). Although sometimes the lights were off, particualary in the mountains (to save electricity, I was told by Evelyn), the radio continued to blast out music at a substantial volume.
It was good fun looking at the scenery along the road, smiling to myself when recognising familar brands - such as Esso, Ariel washing powder, Mazda, Honda, Toyota etc. car showrooms. I haven´t yet spotted a Green Park (business park), but would be most impressed when I do! The natural landscape was also awesome, the majestic mountains rising grandly in the distance, and I tried to guess which ones were volcanic. Have not yet learned how to tell the difference between a mountain and a volcanoe yet. Tempted as I was, I resisted the urge to pull my brand new gadget out and start snapping away.
However, the most fun part of the ride was as we were approaching Antigua, when the road was almost cleared of all traffic, save the trail of chicken buses. They continue to be playful with each other regardless of bends in the road, steep downhill drive and other traffic. My kids at camp would be delighted at the number of times the drivers pulled the honk at each other - though the scream and gesticulation of the kids would add to the excitement!
Impressibly, I managed to recognise the bus pulling into the part of the town near my hostel. As I climbed off, and walked towards the hostel, I could still hear the honking of the chicken buses, then they would appear from nowhere, whizzed crazily down the street, then disappear again. It was so much fun!! Such a shame I wasn´t able to communicate with my fellow passengers that it felt like I was on the Harry Potter midnight bus! So any muggles wanting to experience this, get yourself on a chicken bus!
Guatemala City >> Antigua
Duration: 1 hour 15 mins
Cost: 5.50 Quetzal/30p/US$0.60
Fun Rating: Lots and lots