I spend four hours a day, five days a week sitting on Belizean "chicken" buses on the commute between my home town of Punta Gorda and the "banana belt" villages where I work. If it wasn't for my finely honed ability to sleep anywhere, anytime, I'm not sure I could handle it.
Those who have never ventured south of Texas on the American continent may wonder what happens to retired US school buses. Those who have ventured south know all too well: they are pimped up and forced down every kind of road imaginable, packed full of every variety of person and produce under the sun.
A Panamanian Chicken Bus
Belizean buses don't get decorated as creatively as some of their Central American counterparts, but they are everywhere, and carry every kind of character. I am sitting on the bus as I write, surrounded by:
Two Garifuna & 3 Mayan women breastfeeding; 3 other babies of various ages and hair arrangements; a smiling old "Spanish" man in a hat, who I took to the eye clinic 2 years ago for cataract surgery, two traditional very blonde Mennonite families in blue and green dresses and overalls; a young Mestizo man selling "golden plum look nice taste nice with salt an peppa"; tens of young Mayan men returning from a week's work at the banana or shrimp farms; Paul Mahung, a reporter for national TV and radio and the man who conducted our wedding ceremony; some local NGO workers; a nurse; some Belize Defense Force soldiers; various other children, young men and women; plus one backpacker who looks like he is losing the will to live as he adjusts his too-long legs that are jammed in to the seat meant for school children.
Inside a Belizean Chicken Bus
The view outside is a panorama of tropical jungle dotted with Mayan villages with the Mayan mountains and setting sun behind them, and the Caribbean sea visible in the distance in the other direction. I am given a few seconds extra to enjoy and replay the view as the bus reverses for 30 metres in order to pick up a passenger the conductor just noticed running out of a small thatch house as we thundered past.
The view to the Mayan villages from the southern highway to PG
Indeed, they may not be comfortable, or timely, but for customer service, Belizean buses, or at least good old James bus line of southern Belize, excel. They drop you outside your front door, carry your bags inside, wait for you if you forgot something in your house, and ensure all needy people get a seat: "come now man I know yu tired afta yu di pick banana all week, but yu cyahn expect her to stand with a lee baby deh". And they are cheap, especially for a country where petrol is $6USD a gallon, they are for most people, the only affordable way to travel.
My James Bus home to PG
And so, my four hours of daily chicken bus commuting will continue, until someone invents and donates a 60mpg supercar. All donations welcome.
I will leave you with a link to a rather lovely poem all about James busline of Belize (below the timetable!), and of course the Warasa Garifuna Drum School