Chicken Buses – Only Five Hours to Go
Some years ago the US and Canada rounded up all their old school buses and herded them south of the border. For those of you who were wondering where old buses go, they are alive and thundering around in Panama and Nicaragua. They call them “chicken buses” probably because the name reflects some of the clientele. You might not even recognize them as the yellow school buses that you once rode because they have undergone major fashion overhauls. Bright colors, glossy fabrics, dingle balls and home-made speaker surrounds add to the excitement of riding these not so comfortable and very crowded buses.
Drivers range from good to bad to indifferent and they are alway accompanied by a muchacho whose job it is to keep order, stow items and collect the fares. Often the muchacho is your only contact with the “bus company” and they can be very helpful regarding schedules and directions. Terminals are like rodeo corrals, wild and dingy places and once you’re off your ride you just want to clear out, and there are plenty of clowns who want to help. If that’s not possible you will find a collection of restaurants with dirt floors and few if any amenities but as we discovered they can have good food.
Leaving San Marco – Leon Here We Come
The 8:00 AM bus from San Marcos to Leon was nearly full when we arrived at the station. Davie hurried aboard the bus and claimed the last two seats for us at at the very back of the bus which sadly were above the motor. Hot doesn’t begin to describe the six hours in the sauna that is a chicken bus with not a spare inch in which to stretch and my legs dangling from the too high long bench of seats that make up the back row.
With only five hours to go, we were grateful to have gotten the last of the seats as there was standing room only by the time we were an hour out of San Marcos. Shortly after getting underway I noticed a middle aged woman dressed in a dark business suit standing in the aisle. She had impossibly large and well coifed hair and seemed to play an official role of an indeterminate nature. At first we thought she worked on the bus and that her job was ensuring that seniors had seats given up by recalcitrant youth. But then, in the kind of voice that soars above an aging engine and for the longest period of time humanly possible, she proceded with a lecture that included, amongst other things, medical and beauty tips. Finally her speech over, she squeezed her way up and down the crowded aisles selling books, the source of her lecture topics. What was really impressive is that she could expend so much energy in such unforgiving heat for such a long time and not drop one bead of sweat, managing to keep her hair very much intact while mine dripped and clung to my scalp, losing all sense of decorum.
A good place to stay in Leon is not in Leon at all as it turns out, but some 20 kms west of Leon in the beach town of Las Penitas. A quiet fishing village we were lucky enough to decide on while we had six long hours on the chicken bus to read about and to reflect on how hot the city of Leon might be without the advantage of an ocean breeze. Chester the cab driver took us from the terminal in Leon out to Las Penitas and patiently waited while Tom jumped in and out of his cab several times before deciding on a suitable hotel. As usual Tom picked a winner and we each had a bamboo cabana at the beach front Boca de Oro hotel for 25 USD.