The back of a Guatemalan bus (Along Dusty Roads)
Blog Words : Blog of the week | 14 July

8 things learned from Guatemalan buses

Our featured bloggers, Andrew and Emily, reveal important life lessons earned on the bumpy backroads of Central America

Public transport in Guatemala is certainly an experience.Safety may not always be at the forefront of drivers' minds, but local buses are cheap and offer a great opportunity to see a different side of this country's vibrant culture that can not always be found if solely relying on expensive tourist shuttles.

Chicken buses – old American Bluebird school buses that have been given a second life – and small minivans known as collectivos, are the most common ways of getting around. As we said, they're a great way of seeing the country. Just beware of a few of their 'eccentricities.'

1. There is no such thing as full capacity

There has been many a trip on our travels when we have been forced to become a little too well acquainted with a fellow traveller's anatomy. On a good day, it was merely an elbow. On a bad day, we got up close and personal with a crotch or two. The standard two-person per seat formation simply doesn't exist in Guatemala. Our record was five people. It became startlingly obvious that  there is no such thing as 'full capacity' on the buses of Guatemala.

2. Speed limits are only a guide

On an unpaved, pot-hole ridden dirt track, a Guatemalan bus drive will reluctantly adhere to the speed limit, solely out of concern for the well-being of his vehicle. Such concern goes out the window, however, on hairpin bends or in thick fog.

On a terrifying bus journey along the treacherous, serpentine Inter-Americana highway, our time was largely split between assessing the exit routes in the event of a crash and leaving permanent nail indentations on the seat in front. As we said, road quality is the ONLY limitation to speed.

Having said that, we did arrive 30 minutes early.

3. You can buy anything from bus stop vendors

The Guatemalans have got something right here. Unlike back home, where service station breaks mean trudging across dark car parks in the rain to pay £4 for a stale sandwich or tepid Wild Bean coffee, here, at regular intervals friendly vendors will supply you with ice-cold water, fresh mango, tamales and.......viagra. You don't get that in a BP garage back home.

4. Overtaking is a game of chicken

As fans of Grease, we're up for taking part in drag-races. However, when that drag race consists of two mini-vans - with a maximum acceleration of 50 mph - jockeying for first place side-by-side with a blind corner only 40 metres away, you feel less like John Travolta and more like a soon-to-be John Doe.

5. A mechanic is rarely needed

No matter what noises or smells a vehicle makes, Guatemalan bus drivers refuse to believe it needs a mechanic until the said vehicle stops moving altogether. On more than one occasion we have heard a noise that could only mean that some essential part of the vehicle was about to fall off. Save a cursory glance out the window, the noise was largely ignored.

6. Innovative ways of dealing with steep inclines

Whilst battling against an ever increasing incline on the way to Chichistenango, we were surprised when the driver stopped and directed the majority of his passengers to get out and join the already full van behind us. The remainder of us were directed to the front to balance the weight and join collective prayers that we would make it to the other side.

Perhaps what was even more concerning is that the only thing stopping us from rolling back this steep incline was a strategically placed brick.

7. Wear a supportive bra.

As with safety belts, fully functioning windows and a fully functioning gear box, suspension appears is a luxury. To women everywhere with more than an A-cup, wear a supportive bra as riding the bus in Guatemala can be akin to an aerobics class!

8. There are disappointingly few chickens on chicken buses

Save for a single hen tucked away behind a variety of fruit and vegetables, we were dismayed to discover a distinct lack of livestock to share our journeys with. Not that we were expecting to see cockerels strutting up and down aisles, cock-a-doodling at regular intervals, but a few more feathered friends would certainly provide a little entertainment.

A paltry amount of poultry, one might say.

Along Dusty Roads | Andrew and Emily

Andrew and Emily (Along Dusty Roads.com)

Travelling and photography are two of our greatest passions, so one rain-soaked and gin-fuelled evening in East London, we decided to make life more interesting and take a chance on doing what we love.Twelve months later we were on a one-way flight to Mexico, with several cameras and enough money to last for two years.

Our website is to give a lens to those travelling, or hoping to travel, Latin America. By living on a joint budget of £30/$50 a day, we want to show that experiencing the world doesn't have to break the bank. We hope it can be a catalyst for you to find your own dusty road.

Take a closer look at Andrew and Emily's blog Nominate your blog now

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