A Chicken bus is an American school bus who has reached ten years of age or roughly 240 000 km (150 000 miles). It's at this stage in their life that they are sold on auction to start a new life elsewhere. Many buses are sold and then driven down to the countries of Central America where they get a complete make over. The more colour and bling, the more impressive they look. I have also been told that in many cases they also get a stronger engine to ensure they can handle the sometimes steep mountains. This is the how and what to expect getting on one!
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN TRAVELLING ON A CHICKEN BUS...
Personal space: Just forget about it, personal space don't exist on these buses. A lot of time you will sit three people on a seat that is suitable for two, this while you have people squashed together in the aisle. Sometimes the two people that you share the seat with will also have a kid or two in their laps. Even though you and the rest of the people on the bus will sweat like maniacs, there is surprisingly seldom any bad odor on the bus. Ok, it's not this full all the time but one tip is to always expect it to be this full so when you get a seat for yourself then you feel like you upgraded to a VIP bus.
Leg room: Depending on what country you travel through, the leg room vary on the buses but let's just say that it's not much of it. I'm 162 cm (5"3) and most of the time my knees would touch the back rest of the seat in front of me, made me feel very tall! Don't let this deter you from travelling on these awesome buses, I have seen several travellers much taller then me managing just fine!
Comfort of the seat: What comfort I might ask... I did'nt experience a single bus with a neck rest, except for the two Chicken buses I took in Honduras. After 7 hours on the bus you kind of wish you could rest your head on something and if you not comfortable resting it on the stranger next to you then forget about it, unless you travelling with someone you know that is. The padding of the seat is about as thick and soft as a bed cover. To make them durable they also made out of PVC OR vinyl.
Music: It doesn't matter if it's 5 in the morning or in the afternoon, the music will most of the time be on. What kind of music, you might ask yourself... Oh it can be all sort. Reggaeton, march and 80's & 90's love songs are defiantly whats most popular. You will hear these different styles of music mixed with a bit of Abba and Jon Bon Jovi. Just expect that the more dodgy sounds the bus makes, like something is about to fall off, the louder the music!
"HOW TO" RIDE A CHICKEN BUS...
Find the correct bus: When you get to a bus terminal there will be people getting up to you shouting the destination of where their bus is heading. I think these people are psychic because most of the time it's the first person you meet which has the correct bus. Don't be scared if the person at this point rip your big bag off you and run away with it. Just follow and you will see that they loading it on to the roof of the bus or squeezing in at the back of the bus. If for some reason no one approach you then just open your eyes because most buses have the destination written on them. Or you just ask some random people on which bus to take.
Find a time schedule: This is a tricky one because there isn't one really. Most of the time you get the answer that the bus depart every ten minutes, any 20 minutes etc.. Sometimes the buses doesn't depart until full so make sure you have patients and go with the flow...
Buy a ticket: Get on the bus, find a seat and sit down. The same guy that ran away with your bag earlier will now act as the ticket man. I do recommend to find out the price before hand by asking fellow travellers or at the hostel. If you don't know the price then check out how much the locals pay and then pay the same amount with a smile but still with a stern look. There will be times when they try to over charge and there will be times when they try to charge for your bag, never pay for your bag. I loved it in Nicaragua because there they had to display the price up at the driver. In El Salvador you have to pay to the driver when you get on the bus. So what can you expect to pay for a bus ride? If it's an hour or hour and a half ride then expect to pay around USD 1/ EUR 0.90. If it's a 7 hour bus ride then its on around USD 5/ EUR 4.50.
Keep your bag safe: Always take a seat as far in the back as possible if your big bag is in the back. This way you can keep an eye on the back door and see if your big bag is leaving without you. If you think you will sleep then my advice is to place your day bag by your feet, securing it around your leg somehow. Or keep it in your lap and lean against it while sleeping. I started to put my day bag in the over head storage after my 5th bus ride or so, maybe not the most clever thing to do but never had it stolen.
Get comfortable: If you are on a longer bus ride then your behind will either fall asleep or it will start to get sore after a couple of hours. This is when i recommend to you get in to brace position, just lean on the back rest in front of you, relax and let the bus rock you to sleep. Another position that I find comfy is to slide down in your seat, bend and lift your legs and wedge yourself so you get stuck between your seat and the seat in front of you. If short as me then you will have to slide that far down that you also can rest your head on your back rest. What you wear will also play an important role. Short shorts = very sweaty legs and sliding around in your seat. Tank top = sweating against and together with the person sitting next to you if the person is also wearing bare arms. I learned to travel in long tights and a vest top, works perfectly.
Not to do it: When the bus is full to the brim, it's about 200 degrees celsius and you have a hang over from hell since you celebrated your birthday the night before, then you will never get comfy and the only thing you will do is to sit and pray that you won't get sick all over the people around you. Yes, speaking about my own experience here and I was very happy that this trip only lasted an hour and a half... So my first advice is not to travel with a hang over because you never know if you will have a seat or not and its normally a hot and sweaty ride, this time I had a seat for half my left butt cheek.
SHOULD YOU CHOSE A TOURIST SHUTTLE INSTEAD OF A CHICKEN BUS?
Defiantly no...... It might not be the most comfortable way of travel and it might not be the fastest but it's very cheap, the bus eventually gets you from A to B, you will meet some colossaly nice people and you will defiantly learn how to get in to the mañana mañana mood quickly.
Just don't expect to see any chickens on the Chicken bus, you will see boxes of kittens, puppies, bags and bags of merchandise, people selling anything from tooth brushes, medicine, tooth brushes to drinks and empanadas. If you do happen to see a chicken then it is most likely dead, butchered, deep fried, is served with rice and you will have to fork up somewhere around USD 2-3 for it...
I decided that it was time for a career break. So handed in my notice to the company who I worked with for the last ten years. It's time to pack my bag and depart from Amsterdam which been my home town for the last 4.5 years. -"Amsterdam, it's not you it's me and I need a break!". Read more
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