Travelling with Chickens

Typed on Gionny’s irksome Olivetti Lettera 22

I haven’t. I mean, I haven’t been drunk on a bus. Hung-over yes.

“Mad Dogs and English Men Go Out in the Mid Day Sun,”

An intriguing view of a shop in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, selling only loofahs
Travelling with Chickens – An intriguing view of a shop in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, selling only loofahs.

In a previous blog I referred to a shooting incident in a place called San Pedro Sula. I’d travelled from the coast after another delightful bus ride. It was here that I started to feel the underlying tension and simmering violence I’d been warned about before arriving in Honduras.

Every shop, restaurant or cafe had a security guard outside, all of them toting a pump action shot gun. From my years with Greenpeace I treat all security guards with a healthy disrespect. I mean, they are not employed for their intellect are they? But I suppose it’s one way of reducing shoplifting.

Everybody eyes you with suspicion and I, being a classic gringo, stood out like a sore thumb. I only ventured out in daylight and only carrying enough cash to get by on. In situations like this I tend to play the eccentric English man abroad. With my stature, colouring and attire it generally works. Well at least I’m writing this, which must be some kind of proof of my theory.

Being a bit of a news junky I generally try to check the Internet on a daily basis where and when possible. After day three in the town I checked Facebook and three friends, independently of each other, warned me to NOT go to San Pedro Sula. One said it is called the murder capital of Honduras. Ouphs, I got those memos way too late!

Travelling with Chickens – One tonne Lennie the bull finally scratching that annoying itch.

I become an intellectual.

I’m going off piste here, a momentary change of narrative – I’m going modern with the jargon! During the pandemic I travelled, via the USA and Spain, from Nicaragua to Scotland. Then a few weeks ago I took a series of extremely empty trains from the shores of Loch Ness to an empty holiday complex high up a hill in Mid-Wales.

Here, in exchange for a free holiday chalet, I’m employed as handyman, animal minder and watchman for the complex. Yes, in a strange twist of fate I am paradoxically employed as a security guard, one of those animals you should treat with a healthy disrespect.

My only regret is my boss won’t allow me to have a pump action shot gun!

I’m a little sad just now. One of my charges, Lennie the bull, will be leaving me in a few days. He’s off to another farm to be with a herd of 30 in season females. The lucky, lucky bastard. 

Travelling with Chickens – Typical view from the front of a bus. It seems much faster when you’re there! The cracked windscreen was a little disconcerting.

That shooting incident triggered my departure by bus. No apologies for that pun I adore puns.

OK, back to the plot and my escape from San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa. The 5-hour bus ride was seriously spectacular. From near sea level the road winds up through the mountains to over 2500 metres. This includes passing Lake de Yojoa and the Parque Nacional Azul Meambar. We did have a 15-minute pit stop here. I would have liked longer. A lot longer, but, curiously enough, the bus driver had a different agenda to mine. But I shall return.

After the long climb we plunged down the other side of the mountains to the capital. This was a drop of 1500 metres. This particular driver seemed at times to be on a death wish. And ‘plunged’ was probably the best way to describe what would normally be called a descent.

I really don’t like big cities but in order to continue by bus towards Nicaragua I couldn’t avoid the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa. I, along with most foreigners, struggled at first with the pronunciation. Then it came to me TE-GOOSEY-GALPA. Quite simple really.

After a night in a more salubrious area than my previous nights experiences I awoke the next morning ready to head for the border. During my obligatory morning coffee I picked up a copy of a newspaper. The front page was dominated by an article about the shooting of a bus driver and his ‘ayudante’ (conductor/helper). There were graphic photos of the bodies. Reading further I discovered this was the SAME BUS ROUTE I WAS ABOUT TO TAKE TO THE BORDER. GULP! Subsequently I discovered there’s stiff competition on many bus routes and turf wars are quite common. This text is testament that I made it to the border.

A chicken leg? No, my leg beside a very complete upside down a la pollo on a bus
Travelling with Chickens – A chicken leg? No, my leg beside a very complete upside down a la pollo on a bus.

Urban Myth?

I’d long wondered if the term “chicken bus” was based on reality or the result of a pejorative urban myth. My question was answered recently in Nicaragua.

Travelling from Juigalpa to San Carlos I’d got on when the bus was relatively empty and managed to get an aisle seat. Gradually the bus filled up to sardine proportions.

Merrily trundling along I gradually became aware of a man beside me holding a chicken. As he was holding it upside down by its feet I assumed it was dead. That was until the chicken decided it had found a tasty morsel on my foot and started pecking me. I simply reshuffled my feet.

I found the experience very amusing, figuring out that if I could fly with a pig in the passenger cabin of a flight in Siberia, yep happened, why not a chicken on a bus in Central America?  

Travelling with Chickens – Ants in Costa Rica. Rather like people but far more organized and in harmony.

Social intercourse

Chicken buses are noisy, rattle and vibrate like hell. This is on a normal day. But when driven at terminal velocity normal conversation becomes a little trying. There is very little social intercourse between anybody.

However, on one bus a little wrinkled old man sat down beside me. He started to talk. He talked for over an hour and a half, non-stop. A number of factors came in to play during this discourse.

1.  I’m in denial about my deteriorating hearing.

2.  My Spanish, while passable for practical purposes, is woefully lacking for deeper conversational purposes.

3.  What ever he was speaking was not classic castellano – I got about one word in ten.

4. There was the cacophony of noise emanating from the bus itself.

I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

I would occasionally nod my head to show appreciation and say ‘si’ when he seemed to want an answer. After 90 minutes we reached his destination. As he departed he gave me a big hug and lots of smiles. I have no idea who or what he was. I don’t even know his name. A lovely little man.

Travelling with Chickens – You can buy anything you want as long as it’s made of plastic

Plastic shit, so what, who cares?

One aspect of life on the buses that irritated the hell out of me was the attitude to garbage and plastic in particular.

In my previous blog I waxed lyrical about the traders on the buses and the vast supply of food in particular. Alas, for every positive there is often a negative. All the food is served in plastic of one form or another. And as soon as the food or beverage is consumed the wrapping, container, cup or bottle goes straight out of the window with gay abandon and without a moment of hesitation.

The lovely little man I mentioned earlier offered me one of his plastic wrapped burritos. I graciously accepted and it was delicious.

When I’d eaten I screwed up the wrapping to put it into my pocket with the intention of disposing of it responsibly later. However, he held open a plastic carrier bag and indicated I should drop it in there. I naively assumed he was saving it all for later disposal. Oh no, the whole carrier bag and its contents went straight out of the window.  

The issue of plastic waste is a sad indictment on us as a species – no more so than in Central America. But there was no way I was going to change the situation by ranting and raving about the issue on a bus bouncing through potholes. It was a sad reflection of my ineffectualness. But as I’ve commented on before in these tomes:

Choose your battles!  

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