Travel blogger Greg Goodman says, sure you can rent a car or take a luxury bus to get around Nicaragua, Central America. But if you really want to get to know this country through the eyes of the locals, then head to the nearest bus depot (coltran), check the schedule and prepare to ride a converted old American school bus up and down bumpy roads and mountains. It’s really the only way to experience the country and a wild ride.
After riding these “Nicaraguan chicken buses” for seven months, Greg came up with a few tips and tricks for a pleasurable ride:
Sit by the window: Trust me on this one
You want to sit by the window for the obvious reason: fresh air. The seat may be a bit more cramped, but you get some relief from breathing in dust, heat and smelly body odors, as well as from the general stuffiness of the bus.
Your window seat also will come in handy when your Nicaraguan chicken bus stops at the side of the
road and vendors come up to the side selling tasty treats like enchiladas, jacote fruits, rosquillas, cold
water and soda, cheese, tortillas and bread. There’s nothing like conducting a transaction leaning out of
the window of an old school bus.
Another equally important reason for sitting by the window is to combat the never-ending flow of
humanity. Nicaraguan locals will board and get off the bus in droves at every stop. If you are in an aisle
seat, you should be prepared to have your toes stepped on and having people falling and sitting in your
Be prepared to squeeze
If you want to get that window seat on a Nicaragun bus, you’ve got to be prepared to push your way on. Men, women and children of all ages make a b-line for the front door as soon as it opens, so forget about waiting on an organized line.
I mentioned earlier that sitting by a window helps avoid people sitting in your lap. Well, you still might get some bodily contact. It’s a safe bet that at some point in your journey at least three people will try and squeeze into your little row, often leaving you with parts of your new friend’s body on top of yours.
Wait, there’s real chickens too?
Don’t be surprised, but from time to time people bring their own livestock onto the bus. I’ve watched as locals have held out a handful of rice to allow their chicken, pig or other animal to have a snack on the bus. It makes sense: how else would they get them home.
Where to put your stuff
Most Nicaraguan chicken buses have installed a rack above the seats for passengers to store their bags while travelling. However, if you’re backpacking or have a big suitcase there is probably no way it will fit up there. At times, the opening is no larger than a book. So where do you put your big bag?
You can’t keep it in the seat with you: there’s no room. All that’s left is to put it either in the back of the
bus (assuming there aren’t seats there) or up on top of the bus. But a helpful piece of advice after riding
these buses for seven months is “don’t worry about your bag while you’re on the bus.” The busy guys (cobradors) take very good care of them and they are safer up there than when you’re walking around.
Don’t forget to take it all in
Remember, you’re not taking a chicken bus for the ease of it. You’re taking it to get a glimpse into Nicaraguan culture. Take it all in. Enjoy the preachers who stand in the front and talk about Jesus. Smile at the guys who show charts of parasites and sell pills to “cure all.” It’s a completely different world from whatever you are used to (probably) and one of the most educational and eye-opening experiences you can have.
About the author: Greg Goodman chronicles his journeys across the world through digital photographic art, storytelling and multimedia presentations at Adventures of a GoodMan, which is his answer to the age-old question: I travelled…now what.
Originally from a small island in the middle of New York City, Greg first became addicted to extended
backpacking adventures when he sold all his stuff, left home and joined his Peace Corps volunteer
wife in Nicaragua. In the years since, they have quit the rat race multiple times to travel, live like the
locals, help out and better understand our world. Greg and Carrie also would love to help you plan your
backpacking adventure across the world.
Photo credits: Greg Goodman
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