If you ever ride an eccentric and flamboyant Central American chicken bus, you will begin to understand the term ‘foreign’. These retired American and Canadian school buses are plastered with outlandish stickers, painted in vibrant colors, and anointed with bumper stickers confessing their love for God, Jesus, soccer, and Playboy bunnies. Chicken buses ooze of strange aromas like a mixture of sweat, cow manure stuck on the bottom of flip-flops, rice and beans, and strong perfumes. There is NO concept of personal space and there is always room for one more…one more person…one more chicken…one more basket of fruit…one more crying baby..one more sack of rice. Everyone and everything can ride on a chicken bus. Discrimination is not a word in a chicken bus’ vocabulary.
Loud music blasts from speakers taped in every corner of the bus. Vendors and beggars board at every stop pushing their way through invisible aisles hawking Flintstone vitamins, Chiclets, alien drinks in plastic bags, and preaching sermons or displaying x-rays of their guts ( or somebody’s guts) for a cordoba or two.
Chicken buses are a wacky form of entertainment for me. I chuckle at the sayings on the Goodwill t-shirts because most of the people that wear them can’t read English. Recently, a bus driver wore a t-shirt that said on the front, “What do you call a woman with PMS and ESP?” On the back it said, “A bitch who knows everything.” Exiting the bus, I told the bus driver that he had better not show that t-shirt to his wife. He just laughed, of course, with no understanding of what I was talking about.
Riding a Central American chicken bus is certainly one of the most exotic and foreign experiences I have ever had. Truthfully, I’m addicted. I’ve held sleeping babies, crowing roosters confined in rice sacks, and birthday cakes dripping icing in the tropical heat. I’ve even balanced my backpack on my head because there was no place to sit…for hours! Life on a chicken bus brings the world smack dab in front of your face…it’s a macro of foreign, the stupendous of strange, and the ultimate alien experience.