By Aaron Smith, Contributing Reporter

A colorful chicken bus in Panama City, photo by Aaron Smith.
A colorful chicken bus in Panama City, photo by Aaron Smith.

USA – The expression, “The journey is more important than the destination”, rang true for us as we exited Latin America, eventually disembarking in Houston, Texas. Compared to some of our stops along the way and even despite its mirrored-glass columned skyscrapers, Houston lacked luster.

Over 110 days, we had passed through eleven countries; through lands once under the tyranny of despots, lands fought over by revolutionaries, pirates, Spanish crusaders, and lost civilizations dating back millennia.

We had traversed four jungles, climbed four volcanoes and two mountains, explored two lost cities, crossed one lake and one sea, been down one river and up another, dove on six reefs, crossed two deserts and fled one political uprising. We had taken forty-one taxis, thirty-four buses, nine vans, seven ferries, four tuk-tuks, three jeeps, two planes, two fishing boats, two bicycles, two mules, one raft, one yacht, one motorbike and a canoe.

Exhausted, we were happy to relax by the pool at our Houston hotel while the washing machine rinsed thousands of miles of road out of our threadbare clothes – all before the next stage of our adventure. Reflecting back on the journey to date, it is the chicken bus that left the most lasting impression.

These classic symbols of Central American commuting are old yellow American school buses sent south of the border since the 60s. They bump and grind across the land for a handful of loose change. They are the best way to observe the everyday citizen as they go about their daily lives: transporting livestock and produce for market, going to school, church and work. They even migrate with everything they own in hessian bags and cardboard boxes, while snack vendors ply their trade in the aisles.

The buses are often painted a myriad of bright colors, with flashing disco lights, religious edifices of Catholic saints and given names like ‘The Jesus of Nazareth’. There are two possible origins of the nickname ‘chicken bus’; one, because the buses are normally yellow (although I have yet to meet a yellow chicken) and the other because sometimes commuters carry live chickens.

Vivi boards a chicken bus Nicaragua, photo by Aaron Smith
Vivi boards a chicken bus Nicaragua, photo by Aaron Smith

Some of our more memorable moments on chicken buses were:

Colombia – A suicidal driver drove most of the rainy night at breakneck speed, on the wrong side of the road, while endlessly changing radio stations.

Costa Rica – Winding up switchbacks through cloud forest as our driver read the newspaper at the wheel.

Nicaragua – Passing the twisted shell of another chicken bus where wounded passengers helped others from the wreckage.

El Salvador – On a crowded bus, an old toothless simpleton sat on my feet and spent hours looking up at me, smiling, while pawing at my leg.

Honduras – The bus crawled along at a snail’s pace through a demonstration as the country’s government fell apart.

Guatemala – After stopping for an hour by a picket-line of protesting Indians, we eventually abandoned our bus by foot to get to the other side.

Mexico – Passing through desert mountains where the road’s shoulder was a sheer drop down a rocky ravine with no barrier.

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Senhor and Senhora Smith are from different worlds; he, Aaron Smith, an Australian travel writer, still idolizes his childhood idol, Indiana Jones, and she, Viviane Silva, is a sassy Carioca ‘Sex in the City’ girl. They have decided to embark upon a trans-continental four-month honeymoon BEFORE they get married, from Bogota to New York, the Far East and Australia by bus, boat and donkey. Follow them along the Gringo Trail – it’s an epic Clash of the Titans journey to (hopefully) marital bliss at the end of the road.

For more info on Aaron’s writing check out: www.jetsetvagabond.com
To read Viviane’s blog go to: www.varaujo.wordpress.com

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