Top Tips for Chicken Bus Travelers
By Diana Pastor
Not all travellers are able to enjoy the luxury of cruising in a shuttle or first class bus. Sometimes, when you‘re strapped for cash, not running on a tight schedule, or need to travel to remote places, traveling by chicken bus may be your only option. Sometimes the novelty stepping onto one of these colorful, noisy, exhaust-spewing buses touring throughout Guatemala is what ends up defining our Guatemalan experience. Your journey may be (slightly) more pleasant if you take a few precautions however — precautions that can help you avoid problems or bad experiences on a journey through the beautiful country of Guatemala.
One of the most important things you have to know as a chicken bus traveler is that you should never carry much luggage. There is usually not enough space in the overhead storage bins of the bus, and they‘re quite small anyway. Even if you get on a empty bus, sometimes the ayudantes (the men who collect the bus fares) will want to charge extra for luggage in addition to the passage already paid. If you‘re in a bind and need to carry luggage with you to your destination, keep all valuables in one bag, and keep that bag on your lap. Throw your backpack or suitcase on top of the bus with the help of an ayudante. Be careful, though, during rainy season! Your bag may get completely soaked if it‘s on the top of the bus. It‘s best to check the forecast and plan accordingly.
Always ask fellow bus travelers how much you should be charged to reach your destination. Most ayudantes are honest, but there are some who will want to take advantage of your lack of bus fare knowledge, so it is better to be sure how much the ticket is and that you are being charged the same as the local folk. It‘s best to carry small bills to pay your fare. If you only have large bills, the ayudante will take your large bill, and give you the nod that he‘ll give you the change later on once he has sufficient change to give you. Generally this system works really well, but one day you and/or the ayudante will forget, and you‘ll end up paying Q100 to get to Cantel.
Many bus drivers have the “2fast, 2furious” complex and drive like it‘s going out of style. If you are a person who gets motion sickness, try to sit in the front seats of the bus. Grab a bag of lime Tortrix before your journey (proven remedy) and enjoy the ride as much as possible. You‘ll likely be in the company of fellow passengers who also are feeling the effects of the G-force twists and turns.
Do not carry your valuables in your front pockets. Even if you think you’re paying enough attention, thieves have very good strategies to steal your stuff without you realizing. Best to have your valuables in a backpack, and have that backpack on your lap at all times.