July 30, 2007

Chicobal, originally uploaded by teachingsmarter.

The first half of the pictures are up! Here’s the volcano I hiked up (it had a lake at the top). I’ll put up more — and some stories — hopefully this week.

(I’m not around much because of weddings and visits and guests and job crisis (not my job) and other stuff, but I’ll be back soon.)



July 23, 2007

Hey, everyone! I’m back from three really amazing — and cold! — weeks in Guatemala. I’ve got about 200 pictures to upload and format and stuff, but until then, here’s a little bit about traveling in Guatemala.

Let’s say you want to go somewhere in Guatemala. For example, to Lake Chicobol, to hike a volcano. What you do is take a minibus to the bus terminal. (I will explain about minibuses some other time.) At the terminal you will see the following: a giant open parking lot filled with American school buses. The buses are mostly painted red and white and green and say things like JESUS VIVE all over the windshields. There are lots of bored looking people sitting in the buses. What do you do?

Well, if you wait ten seconds, two or three men wearing cowboy hats will come over to you yelling “A DONDE VAS???” If you tell them Lake Chicobol they will take you by the arm and walk you to a school bus seemingly at random, while assuring you in Spanish that this is the next bus to leave. (They are often lying about this, since no buses leave until they are full, and fullness depends on how many people are around.) While you sit on the school bus various people will jump on and walk up and down the aisle, offering you hot peanuts and bags of candy and newspapers. Do not buy them. They probably have amoebas. Eventually the bus will leave, but not before blowing its horn approximately 700,000,000 times. (The horn is attached to a giant tassle hanging from the windshield, and both the bus driver and his assistant feel that if the horn is not blown enough the bus simply can not go.)

Ah, you say, what kind of a bus driver has an assistant? Well, the chicken bus is not like other buses. The bus driver drives the bus, but not the way you’d expect; he alternates between going so fast the bus shakes like it´s going to fall apart and going incredibly slowly so he can honk at every single person he passes, in case they want to get on the bus. Every. Single. Person. The assistant, on the other hand, has lots of jobs. One of his jobs is to stand in the open bus door — the buses generally no longer have doors, and therefore they can’t close them — and shout at people while the driver honks the horn. Every hundredth person or so wants to get on the bus and go where you’re going, and the assistant jumps off the bus to let them on. Sometimes the bus stops, and sometimes it doesn’t. It depends mostly on luck. If the passenger is carrying something heavy, the assistant puts it on his head and climbs up a ladder to the top of the bus. He does this while the bus is going, mind you, and then he teleports back inside the bus using skills Batman would envy. Another of his jobs is, at arbitrary times during the journey, to suddenly announce the ride costs 2 quetzales, and then walk up and down the bus collecting two quetzales from everyone. He does not have change, so don’t ask. Sometimes the bus will simply stop for half an hour for no apparent reason nowhere special. The assistant then jumps out the back of the bus and screams at everyone who walks by until enough people get on the bus that it can go. (This involves honking as well.)

It is possible to travel anywhere in Guatemala by chicken bus, provided you only want to spend about 2 American dollars for your journey, you don’t mind it taking anywhere from an hour to five days, you don’t care that the bus will break down at least twice and leave you stranded, and you don’t actually want to know where you are going or when you’ve arrived.

And no, I didn’t see any chickens on the bus. But there certainly could have been, and I wouldn’t have noticed.