Chapter 4Reliability

Chicken buses.

For the uninitiated, they're the decommissioned big, yellow school buses, shipped, driven, or towed south from the United States to Guatemala for a new life and revitalization. But to be reborn as a chicken bus, you need four things—chickens, color, bling, and exhaust.

With large segments of the Maya people living in fairly remote, inaccessible regions, public buses are largely favored over personal vehicles in highland pueblos. As an agrarian people, the Maya transport not only their produce but also their livestock to large communal markets twice or thrice weekly. I've encountered live chickens on chicken buses several dozen times—but also goats, sheep, and one “dog” that was so ugly I still believe a family was bussing their chupacabra to market to sell.

The Guatemalan highlands are the most colorful landscape and people I've ever encountered, boasting the largest concentrations of ethnic Maya in the world. The orchidaceous colors woven for centuries into their textiles are vibrantly reincarnated on the buses that crisscross the landscape's mountainous roads. Vibrant paintings of saints, the Virgin Mother, and biblical quotations are common chicken bus adornments, as are tie-dye and Christmas themes.

Every bus is also chromed to the max—its grill, bumper, and wheels, naturally, but also vintage air horns, Mercedes and Rolls Royce emblems, and spurious smoke stacks, ladders, railings, and anything else that can be polished to a mirrored ...

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