I must admit, I seem to have an odd fetish when traveling. Every time I go to a new place there is something unique that seems to gravitate to me. In China, it was the exotic foods. In Morocco, the goods at the souq. In Nepal, the prayer flags.
So what was it when I was in Guatemala? Hands down the funky, multi-colored Guatemalan Chicken Buses that grace the roads and streets throughout the country. Known as “las camionetas“, the Chicken Buses are decommissioned American school buses that are sent on a long journey south to poor countries in Central America, where they are repainted, refurbished and act as the main source of transportation for the Guatemala’s 13.8 million people.
While researching my trip to Guatemala, I had read about the much loved and hated Chicken bus. I even googled it and found several silly pictures of these elaborately decorated buses. I knew that they were cheap, relatively reliable and safe (that is for the most part) but I wasn’t sure where the name came from and whether or not there would be real, live chickens on board. The origin of the name still remains a bit of a mystery to me today as I never did see anything except people on board. Then again, I only got to actually ride inside one chicken bus so that is perhaps not very good odds.
Today, while I was tooling around on the internet, I found an interesting piece on Chicken Buses called “LA CAMIONETA: The Journey of One American School Bus” which offers a rather fascinating account of how the school buses arrived south of the border as well as some rather grueling facts about the dangers Chicken Bus drivers face. I was warned to never take a bus at night yet I met plenty of young travelers who did. Not sure how their trips ended up but hopefully they were safe.
Above is my first sight of the Guatemalan Chicken Bus! I had heard so much about these old American buses that were shipped south of the border and then painted in an elaborate spectrum of colors. My fabulous hosts informed me that each bus is color coded for its destination. Pretty clever!