Open Road

The Chicken Buses of Honduras: A treasure I took for granted

Unlike many people, I can say I know what it's like to live in a third-world country. While doing volunteer work in Honduras, I lived like the locals. Fortunately, my apartment had a tile floor and wasn't just dirt, I used a camp stove on cinder blocks to cook meals and I even had a mini fridge. Like pretty much everyone else, I hardly ever rode in the old Datsuns that served as the fleet of taxis in Tegucigalpa. Instead, I got around on chicken buses almost every day.

A number of my adventures in Honduras relate to cars: hitchhiking down the dreaded Corridor of Death, fording remote rivers in Land Rovers or using a Montero to crawl over huge rocks on undeveloped streets in the capital. I even rode on a wooden bus once as it ambled slowly along a lonely dirt road in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

Not a day went by that I didn't have some crazy or interesting experience, but for some reason I never really thought much about the chicken buses. They got their name because people often board them with small livestock, especially chickens. That's not even the half of the bizarre things that come with riding on them.

Imagine an old yellow school bus painted an interesting combination of colors. Nike Swooshes, Tommy Hilfiger insignias, Bible verses and Calvin peeing on a Mexican flag adorn the exterior.

Inside, people are crammed together like sardines, along with some animals, boxes of produce and other random items. You're likely standing up, hanging onto a bar for dear life while the driver maneuvers through crowded streets like a 16 year-old just off his learner's permit. Music blares through the speakers, with the treble turned way up, because Hondurans always love loads of treble and hate bass (never figured that one out).

Then there's the fare collector. He would push through the already-packed bus, shoving his hand in people's faces, saying "pasaje, pasaje, pasaje" while clicking a bunch of coins together. If you didn't hear his request over the blaring music, he would become more aggressive, poking you in the ribs and yelling at you.

A few times the buses would be so crowded I had the good fortune of standing in the entrance, bracing myself by holding onto the side mirror arm while getting hit by tree branches. You haven't lived until you've taken your life into your hands on a Honduran chicken bus.

Once, I was on a particularly crowded bus. The collector had finished his rounds and was hanging off the side mirror, like I'd done before. A woman screamed and yelled out that the collector fell off the bus. Everyone lurched forward as the driver slammed the brakes hard, ran off the bus and crouched over his bloodied buddy in the street. Nobody offered assistance as they piled off. Instead, everyone started looking for another chicken bus to board.
It'd be fair to say I didn't truly appreciate my crazy, cheap transportation while living in Honduras. In fact, I barely thought about the chicken buses since returning to the United States. But now I'm realizing just how interesting the stories are, because there's really nothing quite like it stateside. Now, I just climb into my comfortable, private car and drive wherever I need to go, without anyone screaming "pasaje" at me while high levels of treble make my head throb.

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