Riding on a bus in Central America is a total free for all. I have learned to expect the unexpected, guard my shit and hold on for dear life.
Here are the standards for public busses:
Anything is allowed on board: that includes Pigs, Chickens, Motorcycle Engines, Ducks, Rotting Fish, Moving Boxes filled with Eggs, Bicycles or whatever item you’d want to bring anywhere.
Maximum Occupancy does not exist: Full? Never. Even when each bench is filled with 4 people and the isles are crammed with people standing sideways, that means the bus is only half full. When it is no longer possible to uncomfortably jam as many people in one old US school bus, they strap the back door open so 8 more people can travel while holding on to the back bumper, and then there’s the roof of course!
Respect women and your elders: Elderly? Disabled? Carrying a baby? Simply a woman? Whoever is sitting in the front row will -no-questions-asked sacrifice their seat for anyone above 60 years old, and most of the time, if youre a female forced to stand in the aisle for the duration of the trip, a man will almost always offer you his seat.
Keep your money somewhere where the sun-dont-shine: It doesn’t seem to happen as much as Lonely Planet says, but people get pick pocketed without question, or even noticing. I mean obviously when someones crotch is jammed against your shoulder, there’s not much room for guarding posessions. I’ve had things stolen and I’ve met several people who have.
Free Onboard Entertainment is almost always possible: Besides the entire experience being entertaining, different types of “performers” will jump aboard to try to get some change or tips out of you for their amazing talents. I’ve had the honor of seeing creepy heroin addict clown man in Honduras, Scary Screaming end-of-the-world-religious-doom-sayer lady reading bible quotes, dressed as a nun with “Vanilla” puffy painted on her white nunsuit. The Blind and also tone deff vocalist and the uncomprehensible stand up spanish speaking comic.
If youre stomach is weak, its not for you: Not only am I referring to the NAUSEA you will endure from the insane driver, but more so I am talking about the disabled beggars. I saw a man talk about some type of birth defect, and how he needed money, then lift up his shirt exposing his entire length of small intestines hanging outside of his body in a clear ziplock bag. Then I saw a man with a gnarly ulcerative wound sticking his finger in his pus-filled wound and rubbing the ooze on a paper towel, just to show us that it is in fact real. Not all of us can have Nurse-Strength stomach. Keenan will never forget the man “scooping his goop”
Dont bother making that stop at the grocery store: The salesmen come to you. I have seen the following for sale on a bus: Chips, Toothpaste, Vitamins, Vegetables, Turtle Lotion, Shampoo, Boner Pills, Plastic Childrens Toys, Books, CDs, Marijuana Skin Salve, DVDs, Fruit, Carne Asada, Any Beverage you want, Fried Chicken, Candy, Cake. Etc. I may not know spanish entirely, but for any items including a single toothpaste container, you will recieve a ten minute high energy sales pitch on why their item is better than the rest.
Get to know the people around you: Taking “Shuttles” are very popular with the backpackers, and are so very lame. Not only are chicken busses RIDICULOUSLY CHEAP ($1.00 for a 3-4 hour trip) but what’s so great about paying $50 to be stuck in a van with a bunch of other white people in it? We mostly began taking the chicken busses as a way to save money, but then we realized that in order to really experience a country in its entirety, you must live like the locals. Eat where they eat, drink where they drink, dance where they dance and travel how they travel, otherwise whats the point of being there? We have met some of the most amazing people ever on busses. We have had some weird stares, great conversations and hilarious moments. One senile lady in El Salvador made Keenan and I cover our exposed skin, APPAULED that we had no children, discgusted that we weren’t married and had to know what church we attended every Sunday. She also told us that since we had tattoos, the cops would slit our throats with knives. Not something you want to hear in San Salvador, but I had a feeling she was a bit kooky.