I decided to take the chicken bus. It is a harder ride than the 1st class bus, but a lot more happened on the old Blue Birds. It’s like a movie short of the life of the locals, and for four hours I figured the old body could take it. As usual when I first got on, all eyes were on me. The questions in the glances, “What is this gringo doing here?” They got tired of looking after a while and we all settled into the salsa beat that was blasting on the radio.
The driver had done some personal decorating of the front of the bus: feathers, springy heads and a couple of Santa Rosas to keep God on our side. We were in the highlands of Honduras heading down to San Pedro Luis, the industrial town where I could take the bus on to Nicaragua. Most of the men wore cowboy hats and carried matches that they had to check in at the front of the bus, I guess to keep the causalities of on bus skirmishes to a minimum. Most of the faces looked worn and tired from a lifetime of hard work in the sun, hard telling the ages of the adults.
She was a throaty bus, blowing out big plumes of black smoke on the hills. Two girls in the seat in front of me were playing like a bunch of puppies. Their giggles got me laughing. It seemed that about every ten miles the bus would stop to pick up or drop off riders. At times a package of groceries was dropped off to hungry hands waiting patiently on the side of the road, a few coins exchanged. Other times some galvanized roofing was taken off the top of the bus and left on the side of the road. The bus driver’s sidekick would have to run after the bus, hang onto the rear ladder and climb in while the bus was accelerating along, obviously the highlight of the job.
We passed a waterpark and the younger kids gazed with long dreamy looks while the older kids glanced away with contempt, knowing it was an impossible dream. For a moment I wanted to stop the bus and pay for all the kids to have a go, but I knew it would not be fair to be a one-day wonder in their lives.
We would pull into these little towns whose outdoor markets were full of merchandise and bargaining, where a gang of kids with dirty t-shirts and pants ran through grabbing a quick handful of something to put in their mouths. One boy got caught clean across the face by a fast swat from a tight lipped woman. The boy, although stung, held the look of victory as he chewed on his hard won loot. The bus inched its way out of the market and off we rumbled through the highlands with open fields and palm trees.
Soon we were on the side of the road and the bus was filling up with smoke. Before I knew what was happening, everyone was on their feet in the aisle with panic in their eyes. I was buried deep in my seat feeling quite trapped and thinking about busting out the window and climbing out. Then I had visions of straddling broken glass and decided to take my chances on waiting for the crowd to thin and going out the door. The black smoke was thick in the bus by the time I retrieved my pack and got outside. One of the tires had caught fire. The sidekick and the driver were throwing water and sand on it and eventually put it out. With the front and back doors of the bus open, it aired out quickly and the bus driver hollered out, “Vamanos!” We all got back on board with the locals laughing away. Just a typical day on the chicken bus.