Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala | Chicken Bus Face Lift Capital
Yolkobsens recently took a tuc-tuc trip from San Antonio Aguas Calientes Guatemala to Ciudad Vieja Guatemala, a city located just outside Antigua Guatemala. There we discovered a booming industry: chicken bus restoration and face lifting.
Chicken buses, those lovingly restored and re-cultured American school buses, are the flashy conveyances that transport people all over Mexico and Central America at a bumpy, yet always very cheap rate. For example, it only cost us the equivalent of 45 cents each to travel 9 kms. In more rural areas, it is not unusual to find, among passengers, live chickens and other agricultural products on board. There is no extra fare charged for the livestock.
This city, founded in the early 16th century as the capital of Spanish holdings in Mexico and Central America, preceded Antigua Guatemala as the Spaniards’ New World Big Apple. That’s why it’s called “the Old City.”
Though this city has a storied past, it also has a special feature not categorized in the tourist information to be had online or in formal pamphlets. While strolling the avenidas and calles (laid out in a grid according to the Spanish model), Yolkobsens discovered a number of large garages where energetic refurbishing of chicken buses was a specialty.
In fact, our online research reveals that owners will spend up to $30,000 (USD) to hot rod a resale American school bus into the multi-hued glory that is the classic children bus. In Ciudad Vieja Guatemala there are many artists who specialize in the art of decorating chicken buses with the flourishes for which they are so well known. A flash of winging gold paint on the side body, the name of the bus (usually named after a saint or other woman) expertly scrolled on the front and back — this is their art and calling.
Azure blues, psychedelic oranges, and fuchsia and fire engine reds are irrepressibly cheerful when painted over the sappy school bus yellow of the original body.
Imported grills and bumpers hang on the sides of these chicken bus plastic surgery hospitals. This is where an ordinary yellow school bus gets hot-rodded into the turbo-charged marvels you see churning up the roads and dust in this part of the world.
This is where the looping digital signs are installed at the front of the buses. These indicate in bright screams of neon the buses’ final destination. Don’t be fooled, though. While the bus’ digital sign might say Guatemala (City) or Antigua (Guatemala), not a single chicken bus in this country is on an express route. So while a car trip from Antigua Guatemala to Guatemala City would take about 40 minutes (an hour and a half if you are stuck in traffic), the stop and start chicken bus will take close to an hour and a half on average and two or more if there is traffic. Todos aboard!