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Friday 2 Dec 2005
Guatemala City, Guatemala

Chicken buses

After a tranquil couple of days spent reading, canoeing and generally relaxing at Denny's Beach (see previous blog). We decided we'd had enough lazing around, and headed for Antigua, a lovely colonial town with cobbled streets, and beautiful coloured buildings, surrounded by volcanoes.

Antigua is famous, amongst other things, for its Spanish Language schools and we intended to go back to school for a week in an effort to fast track our Spanish.

Until now we'd had a very gentle, even pleasant introduction to public transport in Central America. First class buses with fully reclining seats and air con in Mexico, and specially charted tourist boats in Belize.

Guatemala was different, and the trip from Rio Dulce to Antigua included a six hour coach journey with broken seats and no toilet to the capital, Guatemala City where we were to change on to the infamous 'chicken bus' that would take us to Antigua.

The coach was over crowded with passengers, and at every stop the aisles were crammed with street traders selling everything from chicken and tortillas (Rob labelled death in a bucket), to fruit, coffee and bread.

We didn't intend to spend long in the capital, we'd not heard good reports, and immediately set off in search of the bus to Antigua. Guate, as the locals affectionately call it is a shit hole. It really does have absolutely no redeeming qualities. It's a smoggy, chaotic mass of 60's style buildings, over crowded with people and traffic. The city is on a major fault line so maybe the authorities are waiting for the next earthquake before they rebuild it.

The streets have no identifying names or numbers, and after 2 hours hulking our rucksacks aimlessly around the city we were relieved when a very kind woman took us in hand and led us to where the buses stopped.

Previous to this we'd stopped about 10 people in the street who all seemed to disagree about the location of the bus. And of course, we arrived only to be told by a passing policeman that the bus stop had been moved to another part of town only three days ago.

The woman apologised profusely, but we'd had enough and jumped in the nearest cab. The taxi fare turned out to be more expensive than a black cab in London. Feeling ripped off we waited at the bus stop, which was on a busy dual carriageway leading out of town.

Bus stop is a slightly misleading term. The bus didn't actually stop as such, it just drove slightly more slowly past while a conductor shouted at us to get on. Boarding a moving bus with a 15 kilo rucksack isn't easy. The bus was rammed with commuters coming home from work, and we were told to put our rucksacks on our knees to make way for more passengers.

The secret to good bus driving in Guatemala seems to be to floor it down hill so you have a chance of making up the next one. It was two hours before our kamikaze bus driver safely delivered us in Antigua. My legs were numb and we were both exhausted.

We were thankful that our hostel, The Yellow House, turned out to be our best find yet . Clean, with hot showers and wonderful breakfasts of fresh fruit, bread and hot pancakes. We spent the next day watching cable TV in our room. Bliss!

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