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La vida loca! Wished you were there? We did, so here we are on our big adventure! A year in central America, to make sense of this vida loca...

Chicken Bus Challenge

GUATEMALA | Friday, 3 April 2009 | Views [4976] | Comments [1]

Chicken bus extraordinaire

Chicken bus extraordinaire

Missing the direct bus from Chichicastenango to Quetzaltenango (Xela), in the west of the country, we instead got a chicken bus to the junction with the InterAmericana at Los Encuentros.

We were ushered onto a chicken bus by the youthful, slightly manic conductor. ´Oia, Oia!´, he cried, and we were off, tearing at break neck speed down the narrow cobbled streets, while Rachel and I bumped down the aisle with our packs, before landing, like upturned beetles, in an untidy mess of legs and flailing arms on an empty seat at the back. Our driver - a middle-aged man, baseball cap firmly wedged on his head, hunched over the steering wheel as he swerved in between parked vehicles around the circumference of the town until we zoomed out, horn blaring, onto the road to Los Encuentros.

As we emerged from town a rival bus joined us going the same way. Its driver was a paunchy man with an impressive moustachio, shirt top open to reveal copious chest hair. When I looked back at him through the rear window, he stared at me with ominous intent. The fate of fares to Guatemala City hung in the balance. The race was on. (Cue adrenalin-inciting music).

Our driver floored it. Smoke and fumes poured up around the conductor in the front. Crunch! Third gear. Crunch! Fourth gear. Just outside town the road dives steeply into miles of hairpin bends down the mountain. Our driver hunched some more and sent us careering round the hairy bends, using racing lines. The bus banked alarmingly. On some bends I could even feel the back starting to come out. I looked behind. Rival bus was still near our bumper.

Out of the hairpins and into steep mountain curves. Our driver started to pull the stops out, overtaking vans and cars in the way with seemingly no regard to the possibilities of stuff coming round corners. THe rival bus did the same. We weren´t shaking him. A slow van came into view, but a steep corner around the mountainside was just ahead. Our driver hesitated momentarily, then with an ´Oia, Oia, Oia!´ from our mad conductor he swerved round it and took the bend on the wrong side of the carriageway, the driver yanking his horn furiously as he did so. Not sure what stuff coming the other way was supposed to do of course. Launch themselves into the ravine I guess.

Around the corner safely, and a straight bit of road. Our driver floored the accelerator again. A 4X4 was overtaking a lorry coming the other way. Surely our driver must slow to allow him to get back in. Silly me. Guatemalan Chicken buses don´t slow down for anything. You get in the way, you eat chicken bus. The 4x4 swerved in front of the lorry seconds before we hurtled past.  Looking back, rival bus had done the same crazy maneuvers and was still with us. We came to a village with parked cars. Our driver hardly slowed down, but weaved in and out of the chicane. ´Oia Oia!´ shrieked our clearly insane conductor. We hung on for grim death in the back. The Mayan ladies in front of us chatted in a relaxed manner as we looked at each other in a wide-eyed I-think-we-might-die way. Obviously this was not an abnormal piece of driving.

We hurtled past a sign for ´topes´ (the copious speedbumps everywhere in Guatemalan villages). He must slow down! Yes! He slammed on the brakes metres away from the first bump and we jolted over it. Rival bus, seeing his chance, came alongside and took the bump at the same time. For a moment rival driver and I eyed each other, but, then he shot back as our driver crunched rapidly through the gears again.  A hopeful Mayan gent with a large sack indicated he wanted to get off.  Of course, we couldn´t stop, as that would allow moustachio to burn us off.  So, as we lurched to slow for a tope, the man tossed his parcel off and then jumped off the bus, with a helpful push from our crazy-eye conductor.

At this point a funny thing occurred to me.  I hadn´t seen any Guatemalan suicide dogs in the villages we´d been through. But then it struck me.  THEY¨RE ALL DEAD ALREADY.

The final village before Los Encuentros.  The road guys here had gone one step better than topes – negative topes – eg: gouged holes in the tarmac.  Our driver saw his chance and accelerated toward the first one.  Now, any normal car would lose its undercarriage if it tried to go over the holes fast, but our trusty chicken bus was up to the task, and instead, the passengers were just catapulted into the air, bums clear off seats, hands sliding over the rail, threatening to deposit you in the lap of the nice Mayan girl in front.

That was it, Moustachio didn´t fancy totally wrecking his suspension, and took the negative topes at a sensible speed.  We´d won!  We charged into Los Encuentros, rounding the corner on near two wheels.  The mad max conductor grabbed my bag and with Rachel and I stumbling behind with backpacks and bags of Guatemalan textiles, we launched ourselves off the bus.

We stood on the pavement, and looked at each other in a slightly dazed way, before being shoed onto the next bus by another keen conductor.  We´d survived the Chicken Bus Challenge.  Well, this one, anyway.

Tags: mad guatemalan bus drivers, near death experiences




this is a Panama Diablo Rojo

  Hello Jul 5, 2011 10:46 AM

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