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The unseen side of Guatemala: Chicken Buses

The unseen side of Guatemala: Chicken Buses

By Robert Weigel, field intern

Robert is a Friendship Bridge intern in Guatemala for the summer. He is a great asset to both the U.S. and Guatemalan teams, as he has been traveling throughout Guatemala collecting client stories and photos. We’ll be sharing some of Robert’s experiences this summer on our blog. Stay tuned for more close-up looks at Guatemala!

I have been in Guatemala for a short 3 weeks and each day has been a unique adventure. So far I have been to 15 towns, written 6 stories, taken 923 photographs, and met an uncountable number of friendly people. I have been repeatedly pinching myself to make sure that I am not sleeping, because this had been such a surreal and wonderful experience.

The long trips I have taken – some requiring me to wake up at 4 a.m. – have given me the opportunity to slip into deep, meditative thought while also getting to see the beautiful countryside. To my surprise, the majority of the main roads are very smooth and well built. This does not mean that the rides themselves are smooth, however. The vessel of transportation that you will take is determined by how much you want to spend and where you want to go. Typically, I find myself riding the famous ‘chicken buses.’ Let me tell you more about them.

In the United States, it is law that a school bus may not be driven for more than 10 years. After that, the buses are not usable in the United States, so many are sent down to the US – Mexico border, where they are auctioned off to the highest bidder. From the border, those headed to Guatemala are then driven directly south until they reach the country. There, the buses go through somewhat of a “Pimp my Ride – Guatemalan Edition” – the exteriors are brightly painted, head racks are installed, loud speaker systems are hooked up, and at times, TVs are installed that play nonstop reggaeton. It’s a boisterous ride.

I could write an entire book about what an amazing spectacle the chicken buses are, but I will save that for later. Thank you all for your interest in both Friendship Bridge and my experience with them this summer. I will continue to photograph and document my travels so that you may all share this experience with me.