Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On The Bus, towards Tikal

FUENTE DEL NORTE AT FRONTERASPhotobucketFree of chores for the first time in weeks, we broke out of the marina for a trip to Tikal, supposedly the premiere Mayan ruin in this part of the world. It's about three hours on a direct bus to Flores, then another half hour or so to Tikal, in the middle of the "Mayan Biosphere".

First decision is: do you want to travel like an advantaged gringo? In that case, you hire an air-conditioned van, maybe try to share it out, or you take the 3 PM one-a-day Maya del Oro air-conditioned express bus. Open your wallet.

Or, will you ride like a regular Guatemalan? Wait across the street in the other bus station, and see what shows up, and when. Most days it's a normal, although well-used, bus like the one above.

Partly it was an economic decision ($7.50 Rio Dulce to Flores, versus $20 MdO, or $150 van) and partly cultural. You probably can guess what we chose.

So, what are these chicken buses all about?
Well, here's the chicken.
chicken at bus station
In the beginning, we each had a seat. Doug gave his up early to a woman with two very young children. A Dutch tourist did the same, and a second woman with child squeezed in, and then a husband came to hover over them.

I lost my seat at the Mediterranean fruit fly inspection station, late to board because I was talking to an inspector about the American apple Granny Smith #4137 I had ignorantly chosen to pull from my pack and eat at that time. (Not a problem. Apples are a concern in large quantities, but not in tourist-sized doses. Or something like that)

We spent the rest of the ride elbow to shoulder with our fellow standees, shifting from foot to foot, heads in the overhead rack-osphere. The locals, a foot or so shorter, could see where we were going. The windows were open, the breezes were good while the bus moved, and other than the fact we didn't know how far we were going, for how long, and couldn't see anything, it was a tolerable situation.

Observations: Guatemalan, or in this case I should say Mayan, children, are incredibly well-behaved/passive. Young children will stand expressionless in the tiny space behind the seat, without fidgeting, fighting, or whining. Babies don't cry. For hours.

A preacher boarded with us, stood next to me in fact, which made me put my politely interested face on when he began to address us his estimada hermanos and hermanas, and then harangued us about "Cristo viene pronto" until his stop came up twenty minutes later. The Dutch tourists eventually gave up their conversation, and most of the locals were again totally impassive. It made me think this is a regular occurrence, like the newspaper and food vendors in the towns we passed through.

Otherwise, voices are kept low, even on cell phones. No one plays a radio, or shouts to their buddy at the other end of the bus. Nor do the adults complain. In an sub-optimal situation (ie not enough seats on a long bus ride), these people respond with equanimity, or with resignation, hard to tell the difference. It was fascinating to watch, and feel, how smoothly everyone dealt with the crowding and having to move through it to get on or off. Fascinating, and impressive.

And, to be fair, this wasn't really a chicken bus. The bus to Flores originates in Guatemala City, which is why there are probably not any seats when it gets to Rio Dulce; also it seems the chickens don't go from city to country. From Flores back to the city, you can get a seat, reserved on a computer whose graphic has no relationship to the actual bus. The chickens do take this route, but they don't get seats.