Thursday, November 26, 2009

Guatemala and the Amazing Technicolour Chicken Buses (& Nicaragua too)

After a long bus journey from Monteverde we arrived in Granada, Nicaragua. It was a really pretty little colonial city, but there wasn't really much to do there. We spent a day just chilling out in hammocks at Laguna Apoyo, a volcanic crater lake and then headed on to Esteli. It#s a real cowboy town that was significant in the civil war because it was the last town to fall, and forced the end of the Samoza rule, bringing democracy to the country.
Then we had to fly over Honduras becuase the political situation there isn't the greatest and they suspended all civil liberties about a month ago for a while, and we didn't fancy getting stuck there. It wasn't too bad though because we flew Business Class, it was US$50 cheaper than economy.
We spent only spent the one day in Guatemala city because of all the warnings about how dangerous it was. Our next stop was Antigua. It was so nice we stayed there a bit longer than we intended. It was all cobbled streets, cute little houses, and an overload of churches, some of them in ruins. The highlight there was probably the trip to visit volcan Pacaya. It's one of 3 active volcanoes in Guatemala. We weren't allowed to hike to the crater because it was so active when we were there, but we did get to within about 5m of a lava flow. It was amazing. About 20m up hill from where we were standing we could see red hot molten lava oozing out of the volcano.

It cooled quickly and lost it's redness but was still hot enough to toast marshmallows over by the time it reached us.

Our trip was cut a bit short when the wind picked up and sent some rocks/mini-boulders hurtling in our direction.

From Antigua we headed to Chichicastengo for the famous market there. We arrived the day before the market so we got to see all the vendors arriving from the nearby villages. They were carrying all their wares on their backs, as well as the sticks to assemble their stalls. They have such hard lives, we wouldn't work animals as hard at home. Most of the stuff there was handmade, there were some really amazing weavings and textiles. You'd be ashamed when you see gringos (like us) bargaing the prices down to a pittance, and you wonder how the people manage to survive on that sort of income at all.

From Chichi, it was a very long night bus to Flores, to see the Mayan ruins in Tikal. They were really impressive, some of them were huge. When you climbed up the tall ones all you could see was the jungle canopy with the tops of some of the other ruins poking out, real Indiana Jones stuff.

Ok so the chicken buses...
Chicken buses are what becomes of US school buses when they get too old or unsafe to transport American kids around. Central America is like the graveyard for these deathtraps, but somehow they manage to resusitate them and pimp them up to the last. Think lots of chrome, brightly colored paintjobs, and so many lights that at night time they're like a crazy funfair ride. Actually getting on one at night wouldn't be too different from a crazy funfair ride. They're bad enough by day.
Once they're all done up they're paired with drivers, whose only neccessary qualification for the job is that they were boy racers in former lives.
Anyway inside these beauties there are no individual seats, but two rows of bench type seats. Originally, one row was made for 3 schoolkids, but in reality only takes 2 and a half adult sized rears. The other would probably have fit 2 children but is only big enough for one and a half fully grown (or overgrown) behinds.
In Guatemala it seems to be the fashion to remove the smaller benches and replace them with the larger ones. This makes the aisle ridiculously narrow, and impossibly so if you've got a big backpack on, as we found out when we literally could fit on the bus from Guatemala City to Antigua. That was fun.
Anyway on our way back from Chichi, the bus was fairly full by the time it picked us up. This meant that we were the 3rd people on the 2 and a half seater benches. So only one ass cheek got a seat. There was 3 people on the bench opposite me so that meant myself and the guy on the opposite bench were actually propping each other up and stopping each other from sliding of the bench and crashing into the aisle, as our crazy driver sped around the hairpin bends without even considering slowing down. My hands actually cramped up from gripping the rail in front of me so hard.
But some people manage to get quite comfy on the buses. About an hour into the journey, the guy in the seat across the aisle from me, who is actually sitting next to me, decides he knows me well enough to fall asleep on my shoulder. I woke him up when I started laughing at him.
However, the real beauty of the chicken buses is that they have an unlimited capacity for passengers. Just when you think they're full (i.e. at least 3 people crammed into every seat and the tiny aisle full of people) they manage to squeeze another 20 people in. The upside to this is that you don't have to worry about sliding off the bench anymore, becuase you are jammed in so tightly that you couldn't move even if you wanted too. The downside is having someone's ass in your face for the last hour and a half of the journey.
I suppose for €2.50 for a 3 hour journey, we probably shouldn't complain!

Jan and Paul.

1 comment:

  1. brilliant!!! Drinking my tears here - can just picture ye in the bus!!!! You will miss all that when you hit the USA------ it will be a bit too civilised for you and you won't have any tales of chicken buses!!!!!! Mexican films aren't off being real life are they. Glad you can laugh at it all and enjoy!! See you both very very soon Mum Dad & Paul