Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The darkside of buses in Chapinlandia

This is part 2 of my experiences in Guatemalan public transportation. (read part 1)

The buses, despite the brightly colored exteriors and the steady pulse of reggaeton playing from within, are not always so cheerful and a perfect example of crime and violence in Guatemala City.

A few weeks ago, we were out running an errand (buying a new shower head so the poor gringa could have a hot shower) and we got a ride back home with el suegro. As we got closer to the house, traffic started to back up big time. While sitting in the stop and go traffic, el suegro leaned out the window to ask the opposite traffic what had happened. There was an "accident" involving a bus. "Accident" -- meaning the bus was robbed. What bus number? Number 75. Ours. The bus route we take almost everyday.

The next day on the front page of the paper was a gruesome photo of the bus driver and his assistant (the guy who collects the money when it's super busy) shot dead on the floor of the bus. Apparently, some guys had demanded money from the driver - and he had refused. The worst part about this experience for me (aside from the fact that this was MY bus route) was that I recognized the face of the driver. I'd ridden on his bus many times. I knew a US flag hung from the ceiling of the bus and that the assistant was a persistent flirt with all the young ladies. The driver was 21, and the assistant was 16.

This is most definitely NOT an isolated incident here in Guatemala. Bus driver deaths happen frequently (which makes me wonder WHY anyone would want to be a bus driver). Most people here are numb to this fact. They are constantly afraid of what might happen while riding a bus, but they also think of it as a fact of life. Thieves and gang members rob buses, people get killed, items are stolen, people are hurt. Welcome to life. End of story. I can't get used to this way of thinking ... but I guess it's easy to think this way when this has been the reality for your whole life.

Count your blessings, folks. Things could be worse. And that statement definitely applies to my situation too.

(you'll be happy to know that the shooters involved in the bus incident were caught shortly after the shooting. They ran, but the po-po have cars - imagine that!)

((to friends and family -- I'm not writing this to scare you. In fact, I almost didn't publish this post at all. But this is what happens here and I'm not going to hide it from anyone. Just know that I'm very careful when I have to go to work or anywhere else in the city.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

It's Monday: pass me the alcohol and let's pass out on the sidwalk

So here in Guatemala, the land of classy-ness, some people go to extremes to get a buzz. Ok, that's an understatement. By buzz I really mean, GET WASTED. Instead of just buying a small cheap bottle of some disgusting vodka or whiskey (as the bums in the states do), people here choose to go with the ever-so flavorful rubbing alcohol. Mmm Mmm. Sounds delish, don't it? I imagine drinking rubbing alcohol would taste like ...um.. drinking fire? maybe? I know I would totally be willing to painfully burn my throat in order to get drunk (sarcasm, people, sarcasm).

Today we walked past two shoeless individuals passed out on the sidewalk with some empty bottles of rubbing alcohol next to them. The were there last week too and they will probably be there again tomorrow. This is sadly, a typical sight.

Please, Guatemala, buy yourself a nice bottle of Chilean wine, enjoy it (and it's non-throat burning quality), and then pass out at home in your nice comfy bed. Salud!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The bright-side of buses in Chapinlandia

One of my favorite things to talk about is public transportation...I haven't had a car in almost 2 years, so public transportation is a part of my everyday life. Washington DC has a great public transportation system (complain all you want, DCians, you've got it good). Although I do wish the metro was a little less drab and depressing. Santiago also has a great public transportation system (despite what Santiago residents might tell you). It's cheap, pretty consistent, and has pretty artwork at the metro stops (yay! DC, please take notes)

And then there is Guatemala. The public transportation system here is awful.

First, there is no subway. OK, fine. Plenty of cities have no subway. So we have to rely on buses. ahh, the buses of Guatemala city... how to describe them? They are like traditional US yellow school buses - redecorated by the bus owner in order to add some... character? maybe? The buses on my line are generally painted red, but I've also seen some blues and greens out there. Many buses have religious inspired paintings on them (Jesus watching over the bus or some saying like "God is love"). The buses usually have names like Princesita or Josefina painted on the front of them (apparently all the buses are women and ita (tiny)). The insides of the buses are decorated with flags (Guatemalan and oddly enough, US flags), stickers, and old stuffed animals. And the best ones are.... the buses. that BLAST. REGGAETON. Oh yes, buses are like rolling dance clubs (even more similar with the help of overcrowding and foul body odor). I don't know about you, but there is NOTHING I want to hear more at 6am on my way to work than dame mas gasoliiiiinaaaa.

Then there is the crowdedness (and this is why they are so fondly referred to as "chicken buses"). Much like the old yellow micros in Santiago used to work, bus drivers in Guatemala earn money based on the number of passengers. So naturally they try to cram on as many people as possible. Gringos, throw your personal-space-bubbles out the window please. Once all the sits are filled, people begin to to find a spot to stand in the aisle. Always stand as close to the seats as possible because if you're standing in the middle of the aisle, the bus driver will yell at you to keep walking back (always with a polite por favor and "Sorry to bother you). Once the aisle is full, people begin to fill the steps at the front and back doors. And I mean fill. As long as you can hold onto the bars along the outside of the door - it doesn't matter if your body is completely outside of the bus. Just don't expect the driver to drive less recklessly for your benefit.

In order to get from the zona where I work back to our pueblo the bus must travel up up up a "mountain" (or so-called by Guatemalans. To me, it's a small hill - somewhere between the size of Cerro San Cristobal and Cerro Santa Lucia is Santiago) and then down down down the other side. On one side of the hill, they - wisely - made "elbows" in the road so that it winds back and forth up the hill (although the buses have a difficult time making those sharp turns, and often slow traffic for the cars in order to do so). On the other side though, the road is a straight shot. This caused an issue one morning when going to work... the bus, jam packed with people and engine weezing like asmatic, was chugging up straight up the hill... it almost almost made it to the top. But, alas, the little engine could NOT. So we had to roll all the way back down to the bottom to try again. (All was well though, the poor exhausted bus made it up on the second try).

Coming soon: The Dark-side of buses in Chapinlandia ... stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


But first a run through of the days that I've been missing in action ....

- dodged drunken Guatemalan rockers and raindrops, then smuggled cigarettes into an Enrique Bunbury concert

- started working at a language academy and I've had some amusing conversations with my students.

- cursed the public transportation system repeatedly... then stopped and cursed the government of Guatemala for not doing anything about the horrid situation here.

All there are blog worthy, BUT there is way more important news.... PERLA HAD HER PUPPIES!!

So far there are two. I say "so far" because we think there might be one more coming... ack!

They're so super tiny....

Aaaand we tired to make a video. The lighting is pretty bad and since Perla and her puppies are black.... errr, yeah. We managed to get a video with a decent amount of movement so that you can pick see the puppies a bit, rather than just a black blob.

Ahahaha, she gets stuck! Poor girl.

Edit: aaaaand there is a third one. Fourth? hmm? maybe?