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!


  1. u have no idea how much i laughed while readin' this... omg... for real... xD

  2. Hey, thanks for linking to my blog, TEFL Tips. Sounds like the buses are like the combis here in Peru. After five years, I'm more than ready to leave :)

  3. This reminds me of the busses in El Salvador, especially that they all have names and are multi-colored. Sometimes it was even hard to read the number because they were drawn with such elaborate fonts and hidden among all the "decoration".

    Hey, sorry for being ignorant, but why do you call Guatemala called Chapinlandia?

  4. kurt - thanks! means a lot coming from a chapin ;)

    Sharon - I haven't even been here for 2 months and im ready to leave. But that is due to the crime and violence... :(

    Abby - seriously, those "decorations" can be a little too much sometimes. "Chapin" is local slang for Guatemalteco (like costa ricans are known as ticos). So since people tell me I'm from "gringolandia," I tell them that I'm living in "Chapinlandia." :o)

  5. Sounds a lot like the buses in Venezuela. Fun. I might write a post about it and link back to you :p