Is the Chicken Bus Offensive?

We arrived in Guatemala City in earnest on Saturday morning around 1230 am, and accomplished the first task of getting from the airport to the hotel without incident. The Barcelo was a big hotel and convention center kind of place, and fancier than we would stay in under most circumstances, but the price of $80 US was affordable when we paid in while working and making US dollars, and we wanted a soft landing, particularly since we arrived so late at night.

The goal in Guatemala City was basically to stay the night, find some breakfast, and make our way to the bus station so we could get to Lake Atitlan Saturday afternoon. (We decided to stay over at Panajachel, or Pana for short, on the recommendation of a Guatemalan co-worker in Las Vegas.)

There were no major incidents in the city, and despite its reputation for being dirty and dangerous, we found it to be basically just a city. A bunch of fast food, office towers, hotels, and sprawling suburbs for miles and miles. We walked an hour through the neighborhoods to the bus station without anything akin to an uncomfortable interaction. (The worst thing that happened actually was that we didn't do our exchange rate calculations well in The Barcelo, and accidentally agreed to buy an espresso that cost $6 - about 6 times the going rate here!)

After our walk, we got on the local bus and rode three hours to Pana. Which brings me to my question, is the term "chicken bus" offensive? All of the English language guides and web sites I've seen refer to the local buses, which are refurbished US school buses, by the term, but it seems like it might be a bit colonial. The story of the term is that locals used to transport chickens with them while travelling, and when we used it in our hotel when trying to locate the bus stop, the employee seemed to cringe a little. Probably just the first in many cultural miscues that will reveal me to be either dumb or bigoted...

Whatever the case, when we got on the bus it seemed like our full immersion began for real. Music was blaring, the bus was packed tight, and the road was as bumpy as it is supposed to be. Again, no sense of danger - just kids and their moms stacked three high and guys somehow sleeping through three hours of full blast mariachi and hairpin turns. People would occassionally hop on the bus and begin shouting about the items which they had for sale - food, toothbrushes, keychains - and then hop off. People somehow coordinated laundry deliveries en route, with vendors jumping on the bus while it was still moving to hand off packages. It seemed chaotic, but was clearly operating according to a well understood system.

After three transfers, we made it to Lake Atitlan, which really felt like something for someone having to navigate fully using only Spanish for the first time. Hours of practice on our DuoLingo app genuinely did seem to help. Pana was a fine little tourist town with a bunch of cheap accomodation (about $15/night for both of us), but we actually decided to camp about a kilometer outside of it at the Lake Atitlan nature preserve, in a cool little slice of managed jungle. We could've stayed in a hostel for less, but at this stage we are happier camping, and our accomodation included access to a private beach and after-hours access to the small trail system at the preserve, where we spotted about six wild coutis - cool little animals that are related to raccoons and look a bit like them - along with a couple of spider monkeys in captivity.

This morning we had a slow start with breakfast (the food here is good and cheap, and surprisingly varied - better selection than in similar sized towns in Spain), then took a public boat across the lake to San Pedro. We found a great little cafe for lunch, then met the guy from our Spanish School. He coordinated to have one of the young daughters (5 years old maybe?) of our host family, along with a friend, lead us to the place where we'll be staying. Tons of kids and their mom, and a clean but spartan little room with a bath and kitchen we will share with the family. No English speakers in the lot so it should be a great place to learn!

We are settled in for the week, and probably 1 - 2 more, but this portion of the trip is all about playing it by ear, so we will see what happens!

Some observations so far:                                  
1) Lake Atitlan is super pretty!
2) Guatemalans are nice and patient with our poor Spanish.
3) San Pedro has a remarkable number of evangelical churches.
4) The coffee is great.
5) It should be easy to focus on learning Spanish here.
6) It should also be easy to find time to get some writing done.
7) It might be a bit harder to figure out how to stay active in San Pedro. Road running is free though, as is true everywhere, and there have to be some trails around here.
8) The dog of the house, "Dokky" sleeps on the stove.
9) This whole thing here in Central America really feels like something.

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