This was my favorite method of transportation in El Salvador: The Chicken Bus.
Old school buses from the United States, brought back to life in El Salvador. Regular, short, they’ve got them all. The classic yellow has been painted over with various bright shades and marked by Jesus pictures and quotes, but make no mistake these buses are nowhere near new. They spew black smoke, huffing and puffing up every hill as if they should have retired ages ago. Some of the more festive chicken buses I rode had flashing lights and blared what I can only call Latin techno music…a pounding repetitive beat that could make me smile or leave me with a migraine. Oonce-dah-dum-dum, oonce-dah-dum-dum…
Rides were either a flat rate or based on your destination, generally between 20 cents and dollar. Sometimes the driver or an assistant collected money when you boarded, other times an assistant came around during the ride and yet other times you paid as you got off. Typically people would cram in 2-3 across each seat and then start stuffing the aisle. And when the aisle seemed full, you were expected to hang out the door. Then and only then would the vendors come through. They’d be selling anything from key chains to bags of sliced fruits to ice cream cones, forcing their way through the bus aisle before hopping out the back emergency door. Occasionally different vendors would board the buses and try selling products to the captive audience. Once it was $1 tubes of Olay lotion or mystery pharmaceuticals! Score! I should add that despite the affectionate nickname, the chicken buses didn’t actually cart around chicken (that I saw).
Once I was standing near the front windshield of a short bus whizzing down the highway when I saw the saying ‘You’re in Jesus’s Hands’ on the back of another bus. My life had actually never felt more in the hands of that bus driver – one slam of the brakes and I likely would have been through the windshield or falling head first down the steps to the exposed pavement below. So much for the posted sign “Do not cross the white line while in motion”…or closing the door between stops?!
To give you an idea of how hot it would get on the buses, one day I rested a plastic bag on my lap with a few slightly green bananas in it. About an hour into the ride I felt a- um- wet sensation and realized the bag was leaking. During that short duration the bananas had ripened to the point of gooey mess…making it appear as though I’d peed myself. Mmm sticky banana juice, lovely.
Ultimately the pros definitely outweighed the cons for me. From the beach to the Honduras border was right around $3 (~5hrs, 4 buses). They could be frustrating for sure – hot, sweaty, standing for an hour+ while holding onto a bar above – but they saved a ton of money, helped me tone my arm muscles and provided for some very hilarious memories.