The Chicken Bus
Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
108Trip End Oct 23, 2009
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Well, the stars did align for me albeit in the form of King Quality Bus Lines
So right on schedule at 0530 the bus pulled out of the depot under the watch of an armed guard into the predawn streets just now coming alive. By now I had fully justified my little splurge as I settled into a seat better than anything in first class airplane cabins and cool airconditioning blew gently across me. The on board attendant kept us fed with meals, snacks and drinks while movies played in English with Spanish subtitles. Not bad at all I must say. I really hadn't contemplated a chicken bus with 4 inches of legroom and a stifling hot cabin, did I?
One of the best conveniences for that extra cash was remaining on board during customs and immigration thus avoiding the great unwashed masses I am normally a part of. Yes, let La Migra come to me. Why should I have to wait outside in the humidity? The border agents looked inside everyone's carry-on luggage but ours, and we were the only gringos enroute. A golden retriever even sniffed around the cargo hold for drugs while we watched from behind our curtained windows
After arriving in San Salvador's relatively decent Puertobus terminal, a short taxi ride to the Terminal de Oriente bus depot for departures to the north and east of the country delivered me to a whole different animal. Utter chaos quickly snapped me back in my element and King Quality and that VIP feeling were all but distant memories now. Trust me, the average gringo would not dare dirty the bottoms of his shoe soles in this muddy third world visual assault. Giant puddles of orangish water, rickety wood stalls selling anything and everything plus hustlers looking to rip off the only gringos there swirled all around me as I tried to make sense of this crap dump. I guess I was expecting a proper bus station but this depot is nothing more than a muddy parking lot inside a chain link fence packed with buses in no particular order.
A bus to Suchitoto luckily was idling right near where the taxi set us down, and we hopped right on high fiving each other for our awesome luck. Thirty seconds later we hopped right back off after we figured out this was not the next departure. Oh hell, back to the crap dump to try to find the right bus. Luckily another brightly painted schoolbus with a multicolored Suchitoto sign was spewing its black exhaust a hundred or so yards away and we maneuvered past all the creative street "merchants."
Like all chicken buses down this way the driver personalized his front windshield and driving area with all sorts of posters, religious images and soccer banners
As the bus winds it way through streets barely passable from all the pedestrians and vendor stalls, a young guy shouting "Suchitoto" over and over and over and over stands in the door. I will be hearing Suchitoto in my sleep for a week now. Every once in a while Lungs passes up the aisle to collect the fare which is a whopping seventy cents for an hour and a half intercity ride. Yes, that is right, seventy cents total per person is actually cheaper than MARTA by a wide margin. But that extra expense aboard MARTA buys ambiance in the form of foul smelling urban outdoorsmen camping out inside the train and loud explicit hip hop that are totally lacking here. All I got for my 70 cents on board the chicken bus was mariachi music blasting out of speakers positioned all through the cabin.
And the beauty of El Salvador is that the US Dollar reigns supreme as its currency so I even got my change in the form of three dimes I can use back at home. You know how it is when you travel and you end up with all that useless change in Pesos and Dong that piles up in some tacky dish you bought in a third world market stall that now rests in your junk drawer. Getting dimes back is quite usefull. Maybe I can apply it towards the $1.75 MARTA fare one day.
Whenever the bus stopped in traffic hustlers would jump on and push their way through the standing room only crowd selling everything from watermelon slices to candy to Colgate toothpaste (probably the same Chinese made lead infested crap recalled from the dollar stores back home)
Some cowboy looking men even had machetes in leather pouches hanging from their sides and I watched one sway back and forth only inches from my face. OK...where's the TSA when you need them??!! When someone needs on or off, the "Suchitoto" shouter whistles from the back door to alert the driver to stop and whistles again when it is safe grind the gears into action while leaving a huge exhaust cloud in our wake. The bus ride up into the mountains on horrible roads is by far and away one of the highlights of my trip since it was a cold turkey immersion into local Salvadoran life.
This 30 year old bus with both Daffy Duck and Jesus as its co-pilots somehow got us in one piece to Suchitoto where time has stood still for hundreds of years except several lost years during the Civil War when it was a FLMN stronghold. This collection of white washed colonial style buildings topped with red tile roofs is built on a mountain ridge overlooking Lago de Suchitlan. The view of the lake is one of those you could stare at for hours without any hint of boredome
Ninety minutes on board a chicken bus and I am a million miles away from the melee of San Salvador. A whitewashed church overlooks the quiet main plaza and other single floor colonial era buildings line the cobblestone streets. The place echoes with street vendors selling roasted corn, drinks and candy and church bells ring out from time to time. How often can you sit at a sidewalk restaurant in remote El Salvador and watch a style of life so different than at home?
Relxation is going to be very easy here in a town where time seems to stand still. Straight from the pages of the Suchitoto's very own website I learned the principal economic activities of the municipality are the cultivation of livestock, basic grains, sugar cane and fruit, along with tourism, artisanal fishing, and remittances. This is rural El Salvador at its best and coming here was a good choice.
The best part so far is that no one has asked me if I am from CNN. I guess they haven't struck here like in Tegucigalpa.