Sugar, Coffee, and Chicken Buses

On Thursday we had a nostalgic visit to Antigua, Guatemala, which was the first place we visited when we started our version of the “home free” lifestyle. We lived in a house there for a month and took Spanish lessons. It was a 1.5 hour drive each way from the port to Antigua, so our guide taught us about three major symbols of Guatemala.

A major crop in the Pacific lowlands is sugar cane. The production of sugar cane requires a lot of manual labor. Sugar cane is planted by cutting healthy stalks into foot long sections and burying them horizontally in shallow furrows. New plants will sprout from the joints in the stems. The sugar cane blooms look much like the bloom of pampas grass. When it is time to harvest the sugar cane, the fields are burned to remove the snakes and the outer leaves of the sugar cane which our guide said are dangerous to the eyes of the workers. The burning is of course controversial since it adds carbon dioxide, ash, and pollutants to the atmosphere. The sugar cane is then cut manually with machetes before the snakes move back in. The harvested sugar cane is hauled in large trucks with three open box beds. These trucks are two heavy for the road and have caused lots of breakage which made the bus ride very rough. I was thankful that I didn’t have a headache!

The other big crop in Guatemala is coffee. On the Atlantic side the trees grow in the sun, and our guide said that coffee was too strong and bitter.In the highlands on the Pacific side, the coffee trees are grown in the shade of other trees resulting in the “perfect” coffee. You can see the red beans ready for harvest in the picture above. After harvest, the shade trees are pruned back to help the coffee trees develop the next crop.

In the United States, school buses must be retired after ten years or 100,000 miles. These buses are purchased by Guatemala entrepreneurs at US auctions. The buses are driven from the auction house to the US border and down through Mexico to Guatemala. There the windows, seats, transmission, and engine are stripped out. The automatic transmission is replaced with a new manual transmission, and the engine is replaced with a strong, Diesel engine. Wider seats are installed along with new windows. The bus is then painted in bright colors and decked out with shiny chrome bumpers. We rode one of these chicken buses to visit a nearby town when we stayed in Antigua previously. Gringoes gave the buses their name because farmers used to use them to transport chickens and other farm animals.

Antigua was as pretty as we remembered and we did recall many of the places we visited. I was particularly pleased that I recalled the exact location of our favorite crepe restaurant. Susan made some comment about all I remember is food, but I chose to ignore that.La Merced Church has beautiful, detailed designs on the outside.The city has the ruins of many old churches that were damaged in earthquakes and were too expensive to rebuild.The cathedral occupies one side of the central plaza.The plaza was packed with people visiting from Guatemala City for the holidays. This meant the vendors were out in force. Hopefully, this vendor will be able to make enough money to visit a dentist.These children were having a good time playing on the fence around the cathedral.

We loved seeing Antigua again and are plotting our return. We have three days at sea before arriving in Cabo San Lucas on New Years Day. Since this is the last planned blog for 2017, Susan and I would like to take this opportunity to wish each of you a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year.

13 thoughts on “Sugar, Coffee, and Chicken Buses”

  1. That was a fun trip. Remember the avocado trees that shaded the coffee behind the house on Atitlan? Ron picked up windfalls and we ate guac till it came out our ears. A little cool here this morning – minus 12 before figuring the windchill! 19 days to Pto Vallarta. I’m ready! Happy New Year to you too!

    1. We remember Lake Atitlan well. In fact, we have reminisced about it and told others about it – including the avocado tree – several times already this trip! Stay warm.

    2. Hi Susan and Bruce:
      I am enjoying reading all about your trip. We took a Panama Canal cruise in October/November and stopped at some of the same places where u have visited. Unfortunately I was not feeling well when we visited Guatemala and so we missed Antigua. Our last day was Cabo. WE walked through the town. It seems that there is a lot of new development in nearby San Jose and I am sorry that we did not take a tour there. Enjoy and Happy New Year.

  2. Did you by any chance get a picture of the brightly colored ex-school buses? They sounded very interesting, as did the rest of what you described. I never knew about the coffee beans grown in the shade vs. sun. I thought it was the method of brewing that makes a lot of coffee strong and bitter. As always, thanks for the education…and a happy and healthy New Year to you both.

    1. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the guide was going to tell us about chicken buses until we left Antigua where you could see plenty of them. This is a link to a good picture on the internet:

  3. Wishing you both a very happy healthy new year! Enjoy your adventure.
    We are having a nice weekend at LBI in the snow. That’s a change from our usual New Years celebrations.
    We’ll be following you faithfully on the blog.
    Judy and Richard

    1. White snow instead of sand. We are near Cabo but having New Year at sea. Big outdoor gala planned for tonight. A Happy Healthy Year to both of you. Having Lobster tonight like our New Years in Morganvile. Susan

  4. Happy New Year! We enjoyed your visit to Guatemala and are looking forward to Cabo, actually any place warm sounds wonderful as the wind chill is 15 here now! We hope that 2018 brings you 365 days of happiness and good health!

  5. Bruce and Susan
    Wishing you a very happy 2018 filled with lots of adventures.
    NJ is sub frigid, but we are staying in an watching lots of NYD football and a crappy auburn football game.

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