Leaving our regular tourist bus behind, all 15 of us found the bus that would take us on a joy ride from Antigua to San Antonio, Guatemala boarded the bus, paid the 3.50 Quetalas and selected a seat next to a window, for this bus ride was the beginning of an experience in the life of a Mayan, the native people of Guatemala.
It wasn’t a normal bus ride because we were riding in a Chicken Bus and sitting by a window separate from each other, leaving the aisle seats open for the native Mayans. We were instructed by our tour director to talk to the native Mayan, speaking to them only in Spanish, their language. So, after the initial hello greeting, “Hola”, I began my conversation in Spanish for the Spanish test of a lifetime.
It was a Mayan man who sat by me after the first stop and I began by asking his name, Jorge, and his age 50, and his occupation, farmer. Luckily I had 4 years of Spanish and my Spanish teacher told me to try to recognize one word in a sentence so I could perhaps guess the meaning of the sentence.
That is when Jorge took my 4-pages of English-Spanish translations from me, read the Spanish and pointed to the word “papas” and said he raised potatoes and vegetables. Now, both of us were using the translation pages to get to know each other. After learning he was married, had 4 children and his wife was sitting on the aisle across from us visiting with one of my tour mates, I greeted her in Spanish with “Hola.”
Too soon, we reached our destination and all of us exited including Jorge and his wife. It had been a 30-minute ride of a lifetime on a Chicken Bus. To sit by a person we did not know and to speak to that person in a foreign language we barely knew was a major challenge and adventure at the same.
We had seen Chicken Buses everywhere every day in Guatemala and learned that a Chicken Bus was an American school bus that had 150,000 miles on it. These used buses were sold at the USA/Mexico border to countries and people who wanted to buy them for $3000 each. Then, they would take them to their country for use as their rapid transportation system.
And it was rapid transit, allowing just a few seconds at each stop. Mayan farmers had to rush on and off the bus even though they were hauling their products to the city markets. So, they left their products outside the bus for the attendant to load while they boarded the bus. The attendant barely had the products to the top of the bus before it took off for the next stop and had to use traveling time to arrange the products so they wouldn’t blow off. Therefore, the name, Chicken Bus evolved because chickens are regular products taken to market.
To get a Chicken Bus from a school bus takes a few weeks at a shop where a super powerful engine is installed, the chassis is shortened and psychedelic designs are painted on the outside. Then it is ready for the road, passengers and produce.
Onions and carrots were in season when we visited and Chicken Buses often carried them inside and outside. At one transfer station, Mayan men were loading and unloading carrots and several of our Overseas Adventure Travel tour mates helped them out to give them a short break.
Our day experience as a Mayan continued in the Antigua Mayan Market. Given 10 Guatemalan Quetales to shop, a piece of paper naming the object in Spanish, the amount we were to buy, and the price we were to pay, we started our search. At the time of our purchase, a Guatemalan Quetal was about 8 to the US Dollar.
We could not spend over 6 Quetales on our market item because 3.50 Quetalas went for the Chicken Bus fare.
All of us had to buy a different product –fruit juice, fruit, toilet paper, rice, beans, oatmeal, school supplies and more, which we took on the Chicken Bus to a San Antonio Mayan kindergarten of 11 children who entertained us with Spanish songs and dances before we gave them the “thank you” gifts. Their teachers had told us which products the school needed.
By now, it was time for lunch and we joined Sergio, a 5-year-old in the kindergarten, and his family for lunch in their home. And the food had to be the food they normally eat, not special food for tourists.
Before we could eat, we went to the roof of the 2-story concrete home where Sergio’s Mother cooked and wanted us to help pat out and cook the corn tortillas on the big pan skillet over a wood fire. While the boys and men played ball nearby on the roof, the tortillas were cooked by the women who then went down into their house to eat.
Waiting for us in the bedroom of the house was a nicely set table full of delicious food, especially those corn tortillas that went perfect with chicken, rice, broccoli and those huge carrots. Sergio ate as much as his father because he had been running, playing and bouncing onto the wall all day as it was his 5th birthday. So we sang “Happy Birthday” to him in English. All 7 of us had a wonderful conversation in Spanish eating with Sergio, his parents, cousins and aunts, uncles and grandmothers.
Back on that regular tour bus the next day in Santa Maria de Jesus, Guatemala, we visited another Mayan market where each lady, dressed in her native handmade embroidered dress, sat cross-legged on the main square concrete floor to sell her products and produce. Of course we did our part to assist the local economy by making a few more purchases for another Mayan adventure.
one of them an orange, a glass of Coca-Cola or a banana as they washed their clothes. Noticing the women did not stop to enjoy the treats we had given them, we offered to wash their garments so they could have a short break. Washing clothes is hard work we learned and one garment we washed was their handmade embroidered blouses, the traditional dress of the Mayan females.
It was so beautifully made and ornate we worried about scrubbing it in a concrete vat with soap and water. But it was one of many to be washed that day and many had been washed with no problem. So we continued washing it for a lady until she finished her snack.
and we left Guatemala with great satisfaction and joy as we learned firsthand how the Mayans live, work hard and make it every day. Most of all, the pleasure of knowing about, giving to and helping others was 100 percent delightful. But we wanted to ride the Mayan Chicken Bus one more time to visit with another native Mayan.