My first chickenbus experience! Not nearly as traumatic as I´d been led to expect -- once again, don´t believe everything you read -- or maybe I´m getting better at this travel thing. Percy helped me find the right bus, headed to Antigua, and I squeezed on with my huge pack. For the uninitiated, chickenbuses are old US schoolbuses, tricked out in bright colors outside and many "God Bless" statements inside. You soon realize why all the god-fearing rhetoric is necessary once the bus starts moving. The driver barrels forward like a mental patient, stopping random to pick up anyone who flags the bus down, even if the vehicle already seems packed to capacity. There´s a minimum of three to a seat -- sometimes four -- and keep in mind that these are seats outfitted for 9-year-old schoolchildren, not full-grown adults and their entire families. The aisles are so narrow that people actually sit suspended *in* them, that is, if the crowd isn´t standing packed into that same aisle. The real fun starts when the bus rockets up the side of a mountain, swinging left to right along violent curves. Everyone hangs on for their lives. And if the bus happens to stop at an intersection, vendors climb aboard offering everything from the daily newspaper to bible stories to "chuchitas." (Never did find out what those were, since nobody ever seems to buy them...)
Good times! Seriously, the most fun you can have for about 50 cents. I think this is a brilliant form of transportation and fully endorse bringing this system to the States. Provided someone can come up with a way for these hulking vehicles to run on some sort of clean-burning renewable fuel.
Anyway, the ride into Antigua was an adventure, and so was getting to my chosen hostel, The Black Cat. Apparently I´d written down the wrong address (I´d spotted a flyer for this place on the board at Gringo Pete´s) and went to the completely opposite side of town. Fortunately Antigua´s not that big, and I eventually found my way to the right place. After settling into my room, a stuffy dorm crammed with four other people, I decided to go out and explore a bit.
There seemed to be only a handful of things to see in town, most of them ruins of some sort. Working my way through the ones closest to the hostel, I ended up at Las Capuchinas, a well-preserved convent previously inhabited by Capuchin nuns. The gardens are beautiful, and they´re in the process of restoring parts of it, including the creepy "cells" where the nuns used to live. Parts are blocked off by sinister-looking iron bars, and there are creepalicious mannequin nuns praying in dark corners. Good stuff.
I went back to the Black Cat and planned out my next few days´ activities for a while, and when it got too dark to read (the place was curiously lacking in well-lit nooks, and there was someone sleeping in my room) I went down to the lounge to hang out. Met a interesting quartet of folks -- two Lucys and their friend Dan (all Brits) and a Peace Corps dude named Kody. Funny, funny folks. The Lucys picked Dan up on a bus somewhere in Nicaragua, had been traveling together for several weeks, and had tons of great stories to share. Including the time in Belize when an entire golf cart full of beauty queens rolled by, and Dan insisted they stop so he could have his picture taken with them. And apparently Miss Honduras grabbed his bum. We all had a lot of laughs comparing British and American slang, and learned that there is a series of hand signals to convey the derisive phrase "Whatever, minger, your mom works at McDonalds." Remind me to show you sometime.
We all went out to dinner, and were joined somewhere along the way by some other random Brit named Tristan. Grabbing a big table at Cafe No Sé, we managed to be the loudest group in the place. Kody entertained us with Guatemalan trivia about the upcoming elections, the fact that a mullet is referred to as a "Quetzal," and various hand signals to convey the size of one´s member. And we´ve all learned something today!