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My Dream Job as the Chicken Bus Guy

Driving through Guatemala, I was reminded of one of my dream jobs. Ayudante. Well, I didn’t know that’s what it was called, but that’s what Wikipedia says.  I am curious if anyone in Guatemala calls them that, but that’s not the point.

First, you must be familiar with the concept of a “chicken bus.” If you’ve visited Central America, you probably already know what I’m referring to. If not, let me give you a little background.

Imagine a US school bus… painted brightly and decorated with tassels, names, and religious paraphernalia. Now imagine upbeat, Spanish music blaring from the sound system. I think you can already see why I love them so much.



The name comes from the fact that some people transport live animals on the bus. In fact, one bus I was on I was sitting right underneath a chicken wrapped in a towel, sitting on the luggage rack. It was pretty spectacular.

Chicken buses are famously crowded. I once saw a woman seated in mid-air in the aisle because the shoulders across the width of the bus were tight enough to hold her in place.

They are also notorious for driving at break neck speeds though the mountains of Guatemala, racing to win passengers. Drivers have no problem passing other buses on blind curves. (Hey, they honked…) And a couple times when I was riding, I thought, “There’s no way all wheels are touching the ground.”

It’s a heart-stopping ride. I highly recommend it!

But I was most fascinated by the person that is the ayudante (loosely translated “helper”). Wikipedia defines the job description:

The ayudante is responsible for passengers and luggage, collecting money, and organizing the suitcases, livestock, or produce, etc. onto the roof of the bus–often while in motion. Loudly announcing destinations the bus is reaching is also a responsibility.

It’s the last line “Loudly announcing destinations the bus is reaching is also a responsibility” that really gets me excited. Basically, as the bus is winding through the countryside, people will wait along the road to be picked up. Upon seeing potential passengers, the ayudante will hang out of the open bus door and bellow, “Guate! Guate! Guate!” if they are headed to Guatemala City, for example.

That just seems like one of the best jobs in the world.

Not until reading the Wikipedia note did I put together that yes, I would also have to climb up on top of the bus while moving to arrange luggage. I forgot about that part. I don’t really see myself doing that. My track record suggests that plan would not end well…

These buses tend to be the central characters in travel stories from this part of the world. I guess it’s something about how near-death experiences stick in your mind. Have you ever ridden a “chicken bus”? Please… share your travel transportation stories!

P.S. You might also be interested in reading about My Dream Job as a Juror

7 comments

  1. Andres Villatoro4:37 PM

    this is hilarious. my parents never let us (to this day) let me ride one of these whenever we go to Guate responding with a "callate vos." i gotta do it one day tho. enjoying your blog sarah

    Andres

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    1. "Callate vos." Ah... that makes me laugh! I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog, Andres. Welcome!

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  2. Yup, they do call them "ayudantes" here in Guate, so Wikipedia is right about that! :)

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    1. Excellent! Good information to keep in one's back pocket!

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  3. An ayudante was responsible for getting me lost once.
    My friend and I were trying to go to Puerto San Jose, and every day I saw a bus pass that said "San Jose." I asked a friend if the bus to Puerto San Jose passed by at that particular stop (at a random gas station with no signs or schedule, or course) and she said yes. Before we got on the bus I asked the ayudante if they were going to Purto San Jose. He said yes. I clearly figured out that there had been a miscommunication us gringas were the only 2 people left on the bus and we were parking with a bunch of other buses...end of the line and definitely NOT at the beach. makes a good story now though.

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    1. That's awesome, Deanna. Yes, I felt I was always relying not only on the kindness of strangers but the hope that I was asking the right questions correctly! Great story!

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