When weathered school buses are retired from commission in the United States, they don't always end up being scrapped: many times, they find a new life (and a new paint job) in Guatemala and other Central American countries. Known to English speakers as "chicken buses" because of the likelihood travelers might find themselves sitting next to livestock, these buses can be found throughout the country and are often filled to the brim with locals, budget travelers, and goods.
Across the world, many modes of transport seem unique to those of us using them for the first time — and these buses are no exception. An excursion in one of these vehicles can be chalked up to an amusement park ride, complete with the motion sickness that comes with a driver racing around curves at seemingly impossible speeds. The inside is as animated as the wild colors painted on the exterior, with people entering from both the front and back doors and vendors hopping on and off to try and sell ice cream, plantain chips, and other goodies. Benches intended for two schoolchildren are crammed with three (or more) people, with others standing in the aisles and sometimes even riding on the roof.
Most entertaining, however, is the bus driver's right-hand man, the ayudante. This helper keeps track of all the bodies on the bus, ensuring everyone pays a proper fare, organizing suitcases, and calling out the names of stops to people on the roadside. Keep a close eye on this guy, as he often finds the most opportune moments — such as when a bus is tearing around a harsh curve — to climb out the window and onto the top of the vehicle to secure packages.
It's true that these buses aren't for the squeamish, but it's the cheapest way to get from place-to-place and offers an invaluable look at Guatemalan culture.