A chicken bus ride through Guatemala is an unforgettable experience, but a microbus ride is something else. Designed for nine or ten, it’s more than a squeeze when twenty seven people pile in.
“Let’s go, we need to get to Chajul before dark” says Dan. We pack our rucksacks and wander to the bus stop in Nabaj to find a Camioneta (Chicken Bus). Chajul is an Ixil word, not Spanish and has to be pronounced as if you are about to clear your throat, otherwise nobody understands you. After a dozen attempts to say the name of the village, we are eventually guided towards a microbus (a bus designed for 9 or 10) .
We climb in, Dan in the row behind the driver, me at the opposite side in the row behind. Our bags are tied on the roof. The bus is full. We’re off!
Christmas songs blare through the speakers and there is constant tuk tuk tuk chattering as the locals talk about whatever it is they talk about. A sweet sickly smell of coconut oil, sweat and diesel fumes fill the van.
A mother, with three children in tow climbs aboard. The driver says something to the effect that five adults should be sitting in each row. I do some mental arithmetic. Twenty? Including the driver, I think to myself. I realise that doesn’t include children as the latest passenger distributes her progeny to the empty knees of those in the back row. Another couple flag us down. The ‘Wing Man’ (a sort of conductor, passenger spotter and luggage loader) piles their goods on the roof as we weave through the traffic. He swings from the roof, like Spiderman, slides the door open and proceeds to collect the money. Dan’s eyes light up with arrival of the next passenger, a smiling woman with long, sleek raven black hair. He offers her his knee. She giggles displaying her gold dental work then plonks her rather ample bottom on my thighs. My body is contorted into an unknown Yoga pose. My head is forced sideways and I see nits in a passenger’s hair.
We pull off the road and the driver and wingman jump out – a tool box appears. Within seconds the minibus is jacked up (no time for unloading people) and a wheel is replaced at Grand Prix pit stop pace.
One of the displaced babies is crying. The woman who holds it offers her breast and the baby is quiet. She is not the mother. This is sharing on a new level, I think to myself. The mother with the three children departs and her children are passed forward like precious gifts. They are quickly replaced by new passengers. I count twenty seven people. My mind wanders to thoughts of being crushed by an Anaconda. “Don’t exhale, you will have the last breath squeezed from your body,” I tell myself. “Are we nearly there yet?” I long to whine. There are pins and needles all over my body and the stench of BO is suffocating.
The sign says Chajul. We’re here. We spill from the bus, uncoil our limbs and wait for our stuff. Baskets of live chickens, bales of firewood, plastic basins with their contents wrapped in brightly coloured cloths are lowered then finally our backpacks are flung from the roof. I reach up to claim my bag and realise the BO sufferer is me.