This post on the camioneta is written by RPCV Sasha Escue. Sasha was an Agriculture Volunteer in Chirrepec, Alta Verapaz and Pachalum, Quiché from 2011-13. She provides some tips on making the most of your camioneta experience.
The Camioneta or “Chicken Bus”
Traveling by camioneta in Guatemala is a sensational experience, but one should always be ready for the unexpected. It’s always a good idea to start as early in the day as possible. Most bus rides last a few short hours, but Guatemala’s frequent landslides, protests, road work, and parades can easily make your short trip into a lengthy journey. Delays are the least of the excitement; most trips include one, if not all of the following – chickens, defecating chickens, loose chickens, locals tossing trash out the windows, and cat-filled duffle bags – so be prepared! You will also be accompanied by vendors hawking sliced mangos, preachers emphatically spouting the gospel between stops, and sleepy neighbors using your shoulder as a pillow. While the chaos may be annoying at first, it’s exactly what makes the experience worthwhile. So take a breath, settle in, and let the bumping reggaeton set the pace for an exhilarating ride.
While not very common, ayudantes will occasionally try to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists by charging them a higher gringo price. As a result, it is a good idea to carry exact change and find out the fare ahead of time. Be cautious, as tourists are often easy targets for pickpockets. Sometimes it will be too crowded for you to adequately protect all your belongings. Spread your valuables around and don’t carry anything in your back pockets or on the outside of your backpack. Finally, there are no assigned seats on camionetas, and ayudantes will want you to squeeze towards the back of the bus. However, if you have a weak stomach, the front of the bus is your best friend. Try to board in a terminal to get a good seat, because buses will normally be uncomfortably crowded in the middle of a route. Sitting in the front will also minimize the risk of theft, as you will have to squirm past less people as you exit.
Photo Credit: Transpress NZ, Rosa Vazquez