We are really only about three weeks into our travels, but wow have we ventured in a number of situations already. Starting with our “chicken buses”, I began to question if Belize has any road safety restrictions or guidelines at all. Pardon me a moment as I clear up: chicken buses are not literally transportation vehicles carrying chickens. Sorry guys, I was expecting birds too.
In Belize and Honduras (so far), they are old school buses that have been brought down from the US, some have been updated or fixed up, and they basically use them like the city or county buses do in many populated areas. Now I spent a pleasant year moving around by public transportation in Santa Rosa, and the city and county buses are quite comfortable. They have wifi internet, no pee, soft seats and clean floors. Riding on these chicken buses was like combining the high school bus full of pre-pubescent farm kids who havent discovered deodorant yet, with rush-hour BART traffic. Not a joke. We filled these buses to the gills and then when all the seats were full, you just find a spot to stand. Then when the aisle is full, the “conductor” will just ask everyone in the aisle to start squeezing back to create more space that doesn’t exist. It was wild. I was lucky enough to be standing near a very nice woman who insisted that the stranger next to her scoot in closer so I could at least squeeze a cheek onto the seat with them. Bless her heart.
The operation of these buses was really quite smooth. Each bus had a driver and a conductor. It was the conductor’s job to collect the money, check that people got off the bus where they say they will, that rider make room for others, and possessions get stored appropriately. This makes SO much sense, so then the driver literally only focuses on driving. Way to go chicken buses! Our first conductor was maybe 14 years old. Just kidding, that would be ridiculous. But she was very small. That sweet woman smushed her way all the way back down the overcrowded aisle to where we were sitting as the bus sat at an intersection, merely to confirm our needed stop and to tell us we had arrived. Our plush, clean Sonoma County buses would have MAYBE just yelled that from the driver’s seat.
Our second chicken bus was a party unto itself. From what we could gather, each bus line or route had separate owners and operators. It seems that multiple bus services will run each route and you might catch one line one day, but a different one the next depending on your timing. That seemed confusing, but we caught a bus on the time frame we needed each time so I was not going to worry about it. So our second bus line was quite the party. This bus had 10″ speakers installed in the back, colored lights down the aisle, street art-style graphics, and light effects that changed and throbbed with the bass. I’m not joking! (In case you have been keeping track, that’s USA public transportation-1, chicken buses-3). This bus not only had pimped-out style and took us from point A to point B, but they seemed to be making grocery and propane deliveries along the transportation route as well. Every once in a while we would stop without a passenger leaving and I would see the conductor hop out to hand off a plastic bag to someone waiting along the road. (I know what you are thinking, and it was not a drug run. I saw Cheetos.) (USA-1, Chicken-4)
Our final chicken bus experience in Belize took us from the capitol city of Belmopan, all the way to the southern-most town of Punta Gorda. It was about a 6 hour drive. Our conductor this time around looked like Pitbull’s older brother and wore sunglasses well after the sun had set. He was big, scary, bald and I kept waiting for him to say Dale! or something Pitbull-ish. This bus stopped a few times to let us off at various stations to use the restroom or get snacks, which was really nice. However, at one point, a young girl about 14 or 15 years old hopped on the bus with two large plastic bins. Almost right away, I heard people from the back of the bus shouting and calling to her. My initial reaction, because she was so young and I am apparently a jaded old lady, was to get defensive feeling for this girl being harassed. As I turned to see who was calling to her, I see a man maybe 30-something was holding cash up in the air. What in the world?! I turn back to see this young girl nod in acknowledgement, cock her head to the side a bit with her hand behind her ear. Haha what a sass, she already knows how to handle creeps on the bus! Then she reaches into one of her bins as the woman next to me also calls out very rapidly, and the girl reaches into the other bin and makes her way down the aisle. Oooohhh. No one is harassing her, she boarded the bus to sell pastries. Well this is new to me. The girl was on the bus MAYBE 10 minutes, sold out all of her breads and pastries, and then hopped off the bus again. Vendors like this hopped on at one other time at a break point, but did not travel with us anywhere. We had people selling fish empanadas (delicious), pizza (sure, I guess) and baked goods. Each bus station we stopped at also had small vendors of home made items, and corner store type snack and drinks. It was really great for the long ride through the country, and nothing says “trust me” like a wrinkly toothless man selling parchment-wrapped, home-made sandwiches. Seems legit. I guess that’s why most vendors were youth or used their children to sell things. Marketing at its best. (USA- 1, chicken- 5)
As we neared the end of the line, Pitbull’s brother (sans glasses) approached us to confirm our stopping point and asked if we already had accommodations. We said no, we had not expected to arrive into town so late, and had not booked anything yet. When he found out we were looking for cheap and one-night only, he made a few suggestions to us and even gave us directions! Walking around the town in the daylight the next day, we realized that not only did he majorly help us out with his suggestions and kindness, they also dropped us off at the closest point to the hostel he suggested, which was not a bus stop, nor was it their actual route. They drove off course to get us to the closest, most easy to navigate part of the town! Way to go James Bus Line, and thank you. (USA- 1, chicken-6)