On the Road
A consistently reliable indicator of how a country is developing is its public transport system. As a country’s economy develops it can afford to spend money on safer and more comfortable transport. If you travel around Mexico these days, even in second class buses, you get a relatively comfy seat all to yourself with enough leg room so that you don’t have to travel with your knees bent up to your chest. Go further south to countries such as Argentina and you can catch yourself a bus with almost fully-reclining seats, blankets, hostesses and a hot dinner. Here in Guatemala the so called “pullman” buses are on the rise, with companies adding more and more destinations to their repertoire with each year that passes. So does this mean that the infamous chicken buses will soon be a thing of the past in Guatemala? And, more importantly, will they be missed?
We think so. Sure, when it comes to taking a pullman bus you get your own seat with a head-rest that’s high enough for someone taller than a five year-old child to rest their head against. But then you lose out on making friends with your neighbour after you’re practically forced to sit in their lap whilst sharing your two-person seat with three others.
Pullman buses may leave on time, drive relatively safely and don’t stop along the route, but they still don’t generally arrive as quickly as their chicken bus counterparts, whose maniac drivers can make journey’s more likely a rollercoaster ride than a pleasant trip across the country.
On fancy buses you may get to watch a film on a TV screen, but it’s unlikely that it will be as entertaining as having someone climb on-board and shout out a twenty minute lecture about some magical cure for colds that they’ve found and can sell you for the bargain price of Q5. Luxury buses may also provide you with an on-board meal. But when chicken buses stop you get offered a full-blown buffet as vendors clamber on selling everything from crisps, to fruit, to entire Pollo Campero take-away meals.
Chicken buses are like that loveable old relative who always gets far too drunk at family reunions and in the process embarrasses themselves and everyone around them. Yes, they’ve most definitely past their prime; yes, they certainly make for some uncomfortable situations; and yes they can get on everyone’s nerves and cause tempers to flare. But at the same time, they’re also the ones that leave you with the most enduring and fondest of memories: family reunions are far more memorable when you have someone drunkenly telling rude jokes, asking inappropriate questions and telling embarrassing stories, than they are when everyone simply sits around a table eating dinner and talking about the weather.
In much the same way, the most memorable journeys for someone who hits the road are not those where you simply get on a plain-looking bus, fall asleep in a comfy seat and then wake up at your destination. They are those when you’re forced to squeeze into a two-person seat with a family of four on board a rickety, colourful, noisy camioneta that looks like it could fall apart at any minute but nevertheless goes hurtling round every corner at speeds fast enough to make you hold onto the railing in front of you for dear life. So enjoy Guatemala’s chicken buses whilst they’re still around. They may be a pain, but they’ll be sure to provide you with some golden memories to take home with you.