March 6, 2009

Guatemalan Experience 1: traveling on a Camioneta or Chicken Bus

After 2 years living in Guatemala, traveling by Camionetas or Chicken Buses (this name was given by Americans because the day of the market people travel with their chickens) is for me something as natural as taking the train in France.

First, you have to be sure that you’re taking the right bus. Look at the front of the bus to know their destination, but most of the time you can hear the ayudante shouting « Guate! Guate ! » or « Xela ! Xela ! ». And the only thing to do is to jump aboard for the drive of your life!

Second, you have to find a place to seat. An advice, don’t seat at the front or you might have a heart attack before you arrive at destination. Sometime it’s better not to see how they are driving. Some drivers forget they have a bus in their hand and think they are driving a Formula 1. Well if you’re a believer you can always make a sign cross when you enter the bus, many Guatemalan do. And don’t seat at the back if you don’t want to be shaken like a milkshake! So… try to seat in the middle. On a seat for 2 people, can seat 3 or 4 if there are kids. So don’t hesitate to push people to make space for you to seat. And now hold on strongly to the bar…

Third, you have to pay the ayudante. That’s the name for the guy collecting the money, bringing up the bags on the roof, helping people to get in and out the bus,… they are usually very young guys and are like monkeys, climbing up and down the bus riding at full spead, arriving to get all the way through the bus even if it’s so packed that nobody can get in. To know who much you have to pay, ask people around, they will usually tell you. Or trust the ayudante (usually you can but sometime they try to get a few more quetzales).

Once you’re seated, you can start enjoying the ride. A Camioneta is like a small market, people getting in and out selling medicines for your stomach, for your headache, selling food, drinks, or preachers telling you how to save your soul. I’m always amazed that people believe in these people and give money, when they have hardly any to live.

So here you are enjoying being packed like chickens, having loud music shouted at your hears, being shaken like potatoes, trying not to fall on you neighbors in every curves, promising God to go to church once a year if you arrive safe at the destination, while observing the Guatemalan being so calm or sleeping when the driver is overtaking another bus in a curve with no view. But don’t worry that’s just a question of exercise. After a few trips you will do the same, just listening to the ayudante shouting the names of the stops to be sure not to miss your destination.

Yes traveling by Camionetas around Guatemala is an experience you will never forget and will miss when you go home !

1 comment:

Carla said...

Love your Blog! a little comment the ayudante is also called "Brocha"