Hell or the High Road

I can not stop laughing at the bumper sticker I just saw.

“Jesus Loves You! Everyone else thinks you’re an Asshole.”

Love it.

I can’t help but be immediately transported back to the maniac bus driver in the stifling hot lime green chicken bus in Guatemala. Chicken buses are notoriously unreliable. They are old, decreped school buses deemed unsafe by North American standards. Latin American standards, however, insist their lifespans are only beginning. Much like a man hitting his mid-life crisis, these buses have no use for their drab exteriors and safe insides anymore. Instead, they are painted in vibrant colours showcasing their new lives, while safety signs and maximum capicity warnings are covered in sparkly stickers shouting ‘I Love Jesus!’ on the inside.

There are a number or reasons a Chicken Bus is called a Chicken Bus. One of which being you are crammed in there like chickens in their pens. Of course, Sardine Bus would be more appropriate if this were the case. Another promising reason lies in the fact that once you have gone on one of these bus rides, you are far too chicken to attempt another. This is what I like to call having Chicken Butt (something along the lines of butterflies in your belly).

The most likely reason, however, is that as common as a third and fourth local seated beside you (in a North American 2 child seat!), there is a chicken or two or ten instead. All sorts of farm life join you on your journey actually. There is no air conditioning, seperate compartment or air fresheners available. Just you, the dry arid heat and a Rooster cock-a-doodle-dooing a tune.

On this one particular journey, Bal and I are headed to the border with Hondurus. There we will go through customs and catch another bus on the other side of the border. Timing is crucial if we want to catch that bus.

Timing should never be crucial while travelling in Guatemala my friends. Because inevitably you will be late. If you make it where you want at all.

We step onto the bus with great hope for the day. The sky is clear, the driver greets us with a welcoming smile (and words we don’t understand) and we manage a seat with no chickens or livestock around. We get on the road on time and I relax about making our connection.

That’s when we start to notice the sputtering and bouncing of the bus. We seem to be slowing down and then it croaks and wheezes as if it’s down to its last breath. And it is. We are stopped on the side of the road.

Pearing to the front of the bus, I notice the drivers smile in the rearview mirror. It is unchanged. I glance over at all our passengers. None are making a move or questioning why we are stopped. Back at the front of the bus, I notice rosary beads hanging from the mirror and crucifixes pinned to the wall. One of the tackier stickers declares “God Cares!” in shiny, metallic multi-colored lettering. Had I not been so worried about not moving, I most certainly would have cracked a ‘Wow, is that ever God-y (gaudy)!’ joke only to have Bal tell me ‘You’re such a Dork.’

Instead, I attempt to converse with the driver in spanish. Smiling that same smile, he assures me everything is fine. I am not a religious person. So as I sit back down in my seat, I put my faith in the driver who’s surroundings showcase his faith in a higher power. Eventually the driver attempts the ignition. The engine sputters and dies a number of times until finally turning over. We are back on the road.

For a very short time that is. Without warning, we have entered a graveyard. A formidable bus graveyard. Shaking my head in disbelief, it occurs to me I might be in hell. We very well may have plunged to our deaths in the lime green chicken bus. The air is hot. So hot, steam appears to be billowing off anything left outside to the elements. It creates a dreamy, drug induced state. Buses are scattered about, some upright, others lying on their sides. Some lay on car jacks, wheels long ago taken. Others have been invaded by the persistent and relentless force of the local weeds as they crawl, envelop and smother it’s parts. All are decapitated. All are victims of the unrelenting sun as metal turns into fragile layers of rust.

As the sun beats down, it casts a fierce reflection of unforgiving light bouncing haphazardly off the many window panes still intact in the buses. Squinting, I am certain those are epitaphs written in the grungy window sills. I am still not entirely sure we are not in hell. And if we are not, why are we here and how can I get out.

My questions go unanswered. “No Hay problemo!” our driver insists with his same wicked smile. Then he leaves the bus and closes the door, leaving the rest of us trapped inside the 40 degree Celcius hot box.

While plotting our escape to try our hand at hitchhiking, we glance out the window and see our driver once again. For the first time he is without a smile. No smile because his lips are wrapped tightly around a plastic hose that is placed inside one of the dead buses gas tanks. He is siphoning gas.

After grave robbing four buses, we finally have enough gas to get us to the next gas station. Had I seen this bumber sticker before, this is where I would have sat on that bus and declared “Jesus Loves You. Everyone else thinks you’re an Asshole.”

And in case you’re wondering if we made our connection, we did not. However, had we been exactly on time, we would not have either. There was no connecting bus. There never was. Instead, we jump in the back of a beat up old pick-up truck where we spend the next hour under the sun eating dust and pebbles until finally arriving in Copan.

A day later I go blind, but that is a whole other story entirely…


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