how the chicken bus crossed the road

I`ve had less than five hours of sleep each night this week….but fresh posts and pictures to come. But right now all I can think of is collapsing into my hammock for my first descanso (“break/rest”) this week.

The following essay is a compilation of a few old blogs that I pulled together as another entry into that Global Reporter contest — I`m posting it here because it was a terrible lesson learned *blows sarcastic kisses to, &* that the ONLY way to guarantee your hosted content won`t be lost at the receipt of a nice little note from the founder that opens with “We are very sorry, but due to the nature of the market….”, is if the site you are posting to, is your own.

Oh Yeah!  I SAW a VOLCANO erupt! At a dinner party last night, we went up to the roof to star-gaze, but the glowing waves of red trickling down Volcan Fuego completely stole the night`s show! It was incredible. Of course, this is a rather regular occurrence in Guatemala (Antigua itself is surrounded by four volcanos, at least two “active”) and it seems the newspapers don`t consider the hot-stuff all that news-worthy. I`ll continue my search for a picture in order to scan and share — or maybe her current steam and smoke show will step it up a few hot notches for an encore tonight? Vamos a ver…..


How the Chicken Bus Crossed the Road

In Europe we go by train, in the States we go by plane, and in Central America, the name of the transportation-game?

*drum roll please*

… the Chicken Bus.

“Chicken what?”, you ask.

“Chicken Bus”, I repeat.

Chicken Bus: As defined by the completely unofficial and unrelated to dinosaurs Solbeam-Rogersauras:

A “chicken bus” is essentially an old-American-yellow-BlueBird-school-bus converted into a repainted-rainbow-God-proclaiming-dice-swaying-mean-machine mode of Central American transportation. To get from point A, to any point E, L, S or E in Central America, a traveler WILL, inevitably, adventure in one of these buses. If you are American, this of course, is a sweet skip down grade-school-memory-lane as you read “MC Hammer Rules” or “Johhny and Susie 4 Ever, San Jose, California – 1984” carved in the back of the seat in front of you.

“And where does the “chicken” in “chicken bus” come from?”, you ask?

Ah yes. The age old chicken question.

Hypothesis 1: There exists a common traveler-route-rumor about the origin of “chicken” in which the term is attributed to the fact that when riding in one of these busses, there is a 90% chance that you will have a chicken (or a few children) on your lap for the duration of the trip. Think “opening scene” of the original Indian Jones Movie.

Hypothesis 2: That “chicken” is derived from the absolute reality that the busses pack in passengers like they would a truck full of chickens; 7 persons per 4 seat row, each squatting, squeezing and/or straining his or her *chicken* neck for a pocket of air that ISN`T 100% carbon dioxide.

I never questioned the authority of hypotheses 1 & 2 until whilst writing this composition I decided to drop the word “chicken” into which resulted in the following: (and this IS official…yet still unrelated to dinosaurs)

“Any of various foolhardy competitions in which the participants persist in a dangerous course of action until one loses nerve and stops.”

It is at this point that I would like to pause and share a story with you…

Date: 12/10/01

Time: 8:30 a.m.

Place: Zone 6. Guatemala City

Scene: Me and 100+ other passengers scrunched, squating and straining together in a Chicken Bus

Status of Bus: Standing Room Only (Is it EVER anything else?)

State of Traffic: Stand Still

Main Character: Bruce — The Bus Driver


Amidst the long sighs of Guatemantecos and Gringos alike, our Hero *the bus driver*, (we´ll call him “Bruce”) pulled a true Die-Hard-worthy maneuver in a *successful* attempt at circumventing the slower-than-frozen-molasses state of traffic….

What does Bruce do?

Bruce pulls himself across three lanes of traffic into the far left lane. Bruce finds a particularly wide gap in the cement-grass-and-tree-lined center divide. Bruce DRIVES the chicken bus OVER the center divide and INTO FOUR LANES OF ONCOMING TRAFFIC. Amidst the continuation of the long sighs of Guatemantecos and the hysterical laughs and gasps of the Gringos, Bruce CONTINUES to drive down the wrong way on a one way freeway. Amidst the swearing, honking and swerving car-commuters, Bruce finally crosses the four lanes of oncoming traffic, and makes his way OFF via the ON-ramp. We blink. We laugh. We arrive ON TIME.

Judge for yourself if this example qualifies according to the above definition.

A friend sent me the following question in an e-mail recently; “I saw a picture of an over-turned chicken bus in Guatemala in the news. Was that related to terrorist attacks?”

My response: “I, too, saw a picture of an over-turned chicken bus on the front page of the paper today. And there was a picture of one that went over a cliff in yesterday´s paper. AND I saw a picture of a chicken bus in a river the day before. Tomorrow, there is a 99% chance that, in the paper, there will be a picture of another chicken bus in some other precarious, life-threatening, doom-inspiring and/or goose-bumping scenario.”

Fact of Guatemalan life: At least one chicken bus per day will LOSE in it`s “chicken game” of “various foolhardy competition in which the participant persists in a dangerous course of action until one loses nerve and stops.” And the next day, the outcome will undoubtedly be recorded in bloody detail (because in contrast to the American media, Central American press has NO shame in printing photographs of decapitated, dismembered or otherwise destroyed human bodies in full color). AND *oh so ironically* these pictures will then be distributed ON the busses, TO passengers (i.e. high risk participants), to be reviewed DURING morning commute.

Which leads me to a question for myself (seeing as the author happens to chicken-bus-commute 10+ times a week)… WHO is really playing chicken now?

I opt to ignore THAT question.

(And a completely unrelated and statistically unfounded, BUT fairly interesting fact derived from my own research as a teaching assistant: 9 in 10 Guatemalan children name their “Favorite Food” as: (NOT pizza, NOT ice cream, NOT Kraft Mac and Cheese) but, yep, you guessed it….*chicken.)

*The term “chicken” was used 25 times in this essay.


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