I have to talk about the chicken bus because if you are going to be travelling through Central or South America you’re going to become friends with these brutish machines. The chicken bus is an old bus, generally a 1950s/60s style United States School bus, that I imagine were sold off to Latin America because of their inefficient monstrously loud engines and the influx of new technology.
However, the proud owners of these powerful beasts have creatively transformed them into dazzling beauties with all kinds of designs and decals. The name as you can guess comes from the fact anything goes on these buses, from chickens and other livestock to building materials, or anything for that matter that people care to take home with them from a day at the market. It’s a first come first served basis and it can be a dog eat dog affair.
The bus will generally leave when the bus is full so be prepared to sit and wait (or stand if you’re really unlucky) in the sticky heat, sweat dripping down your back as your feverishly keeping an eye on your possessions. When you eventually set off, the music on the bus is loud and I mean loud, probably to drown out the deep rasp of the engine or the grinding gearboxes that may just pack in at any moment! It could be anything from Salsa, Meringue or even 80s ballad rock like ‘Air Supply’ I kid you not. Just think, bimbling along with a pair of beady eye chickens eyeballing you, several sacks of mangos blocking your legs, stinky travellers in your space and ‘making love out of nothing at all’ blasting out the speakers – you there yet?
You know I said you set off when the bus was full, well just when you think it’s safe to relax, the driver pulls on the horn cord to realease a mighty bellowing roar in a bid to get more passengers from the road outside. Constantly the bus stops and up to 5, 6 or more people squeeze into your ‘personal space’. That bulky backpack with the expensive camera or laptop of yours seems to get further and further away, you end up the whole journey straining your neck just to see the handle of the said pack from your obscured view.
There is some good news, street sellers are always getting on and off the bus with water, soft drinks and fast food, so you won’t starve on a chicken bus. You can usually get pizza slices, tacos, rice and beans, anything fried! But be careful no toilet breaks on a chicken bus.
Having said all that, you may think I don’t like Chicken Buses but you’d be wrong. It’s a great way to travel and meet the people and to see what life is really like in the area you are visiting. Maybe practice your language skills (shouting above the music), find out about local customs or places to visit that might not be in the ‘Lonely Planet Guide’ – the seemingly ‘must follow bible’- Latin American people are generally very friendly and interested in what brings you to their neck of the woods.
If you are on a budget these buses are cheap as chips as they say and they pretty much go the length and breadth of Latin America. so relax and go with the flow.. you’re in Latin America.. Mañana..