Let me start this post by saying that I will (probably) NEVER complain about the buses in Seattle again!
I´ve seen a lot of chicken buses in the last week or so and yesterday was my first chance to ride in one. From the outside they are all old school buses from the 50s, some still yellow and black, others brighly painted with green, red, yellow, purple, white, and other colors. They often seem packed with people inside and packed with baskets and boxes of things on the roof of the bus. And they often seem to be in an incredible hurry - speeding through town and countryside at unbelievable rates, taking corners so fast it looks like they´ll tip over, and passing cars and trucks (especially around blind corners or in narrow streets or if other vehicles are coming at them).
There are no bus stops that I can see. People congregate alongside the road and if you see a bus coming that you want, you hail the driver or the helper. I know there is a name for these guys, but I can't remember it right now. There are one or two helpers per bus. They help the driver by letting him know if there are people who want to get on or off, by running ahead in towns to check intersections, by taking money on the bus, and by putting packages on top of the bus (and retrieving them later).
For my first experience, I had gotten directions to go to the corner of the park near my house and wait there. Buses kept coming down the street and I finally spotted one that said Antigua, Parramos, Chimaltenango. I hailed the driver. He stopped just long enough for me to get my foot in the door and then took off. The doors don't normally close because one of the helpers is always standing on the step hanging outside the bus.
I found a place a few seats back. After awhile the bus left Antigua, Jocotenango, and Parramos and headed into the country. The helper headed back through the bus collecting money from every who hadn't paid yet. Four quetzales and he gives change. We headed up a hill past a cemetery, then through farmland with lots of corn, down into a valley past a mustang ranch, up another winding hill road, more farmland, down into another valley past a fun park with a water attraction, then up another steep winding road and Pedro Molina Escuela is at the top of that. The ride is about half an hour.
The ride was fun and I had no troubles, but my adventures hadn't truly begun yet! That night when I left work I crossed to the other side of the street from where I got off the bus and waited for the return bus. I assumed it was a bus stop since there were several other people standing around. Eventually the Chimaltenango, Parramos, Antigua bus came into view. It was packed. I could see people standing all the way to the back, all the seats full, and people on the steps of the bus. Three boys at the stop decided to get on. Two were literally hanging outside the bus as it took off, one of them balancing himself on the front wheel guard so he didn't fall off. The buses take curves so fast I wouldn't be surprised if people went flying off the bus from time to time.
I decided to wait for the next bus.
It arrived with standing room only, but I was able to fit inside this time. Now, I'm sure the school buses I rode in grade school weren't this small, but I could be wrong. The aisle in the buses is about 8 inches wide, barely wide enough for most people to squeeze through sideways. During the busy times, you'll find three adults per seat, with other people somehow managing to stand in the aisle (even sardines aren't packed so tightly), and sometimes children sitting on laps as well. No - the seats are not wide enough for three people. The person on the end has one cheek on, one cheek off, and with your narrow aisle, that means the people sitting on the ends are, uh, cheek to cheek. =) So I don't know how people manage to stand in the aisle when it is so full like that! Lets just say you get really, really close to people.
Once I was packed on the bus, careening through mountains and valleys and countryside, I looked around at the inside of the bus. The drivers spend a bit of money on decorations and nice speakers and paint. At the front of my bus yesterday hung a big poster of Jesus. He was partly covering a large cross stitch that said something like "Jesus guards your entering and leaving, something-something now and forever." Hanging from the roof of the bus on either side of Jesus and the cross-stitch were two round dangling key-chain pictures of Mary. They were those pictures that change as you move the picture left and right. There were pink and blue tassles hanging off of these. Then there were two multi-colored rabbits feet hanging off the mirror. There was also a small wooden cross hanging off the mirror. Right in the center of the window was a big wooden crucifix with Jesus on it and half a dozen rosary necklaces hanging from it, all set in a bouquet of red and white flowers. On the wall behind the driver was a big sticker of the Tasmanian Devil.
I couldn't help but smile all the way home.