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chicken bus

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Guatemala City

Guatemala Journal


 chicken bus

25 agosto
This was an eventful week
, Clara, my new maid started work a half day a week, most people here use maids for cleaning and laundry (some for cooking as well) - they are so inexpensive, and I bought a car. It's a cute little dark green Daihatsu Cuore, not a model you'd find in the states. It was a rental car - a year old, high mileage, but in good shape (says Andy, mechanic to many of the teachers). There are no emission standards here, and no power anything (door locks, windows, steering, etc.), but it was unbelievably cheap. I braved it out into traffic, the drivers are pretty crazy here, and am learning my way around the maze of one way streets. I'm mobile again!

I had been riding to school with two other teachers until just this week. The topic for discussion recently has been the chicken buses. They are named for the some time inhabitants, it's not unusual for people to bring small livestock on the buses, but not often in the cities. The buses are outcast school buses from the U.S. that have been painted bright colors. There is a pattern to which colors go to which places, possibly due to the high illiteracy rate among the people. Bus company names are painted along the bottom in wild fonts, and often decaled women's names over the top of the front window - the bus driver's girlfriend or wife's name, or sometimes his mother. The other overriding characteristic of the chicken bus is the black smoke usually spewing from the exhaust. Although it's warm out, you tend to keep your car windows closed to avoid breathing it in.

I wanted to take the chicken bus at least once down to the Central Market in Zone 1. So Saturday morning, Pam and I took a red bus marked 82, one of the many signs in the window said Mercado Central. The bus was full so we stood at the front holding on where we could, jostled around by fast turns and squeezing in to let in new passengers and others out. Pam stood up on a rise next to the driver when people came by - she looked like a masthead with her arms out for balance. As we approached downtown, many people got off so I sat in a seat about a third of the way back.

Coming into Zone 1, the traffic stopped and all the drivers were honking their horns. The bus driver apparently didn't have a horn so he revved his engines repeatedly to make noise. There was a car either stalled or double parked in the middle of the street. The traffic started moving slowly and as we passed the offending car, a pickup zoomed around the other way and tried to cut in front of the bus. The bus driver threw coins out his window onto the truck, you could hear them hit. The truck driver was furious, he came out of the car and jumped into the flatbed of the pickup so he could approach the driver's window, pulling a handgun out of his back pocket. The bus driver grabbed a blackjack he kept handy and they yelled at each other in Spanish. Everyone moved back in the bus the best they could, a young girl was crying, Pam put her arms around her. Then the truck driver jumped down from the pickup and started coming around the bus. We heard the bus doors as the driver quickly closed them. Then we were relieved to see the traffic start again and the truck driver went back to his vehicle. The passengers all smiled at each other, exhaling in relief. The girl thanked Pam in English. In a few blocks we were at the Central Market.

The market is underground. It's similar to the Mexican markets where connected stalls just go back forever in a maze of little shops. Crafts, fruit, food stands, butcher aisle, candle aisle. We were warned about theft in the market, so we wore no jewelry and held onto our purses and of course my camera. Picked up a few things at the market and after a while went out to the street vendors along the central plaza. Pam bought a bag of fresh mango slices and I bought a hunk of corn bread and we shared them for a little snack. Pam gave the rest of the mangos to an old woman beggar, she gave her a toothless smile. After all that excitement on the bus, we decided to take a taxi home.

This morning I found out there was an earthquake in the middle of the night last night, and I slept right through it. No damage, at least in the city, but it was estimated at 5.4. I can't believe I missed my first earthquake!


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