How Does a Chicken Bus Cross the Road (And Answers to Other Questions You Didn’t Ask)

We took an excused absence from school today and took a chicken bus to the small Mayan village of San Antonio. In case you never heard of a chicken bus, they are OLD US school buses that are driven to Guatemala, repainted in vivid colors, and possibly refurbished by adding luggage racks on the roof or other modifications. They are called chicken buses because the riders often bring live animals on the bus. We walked to the bus depot on the edge of town.

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We found the bus that had our destination painted on the front.

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While we were waiting for the bus to leave the station, various venders came through the bus hawking their wares. The bus stops for anyone along the way at any point. Once a women in uniform got on collecting for some charity, rode a minute or so while she collected donations, and then got off the bus.
All chicken buses have an assistant driver who spends most of his time hanging out the open door of the moving bus.

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His job is to see that the bus clears any obstacles on the right side, to attract passengers, and to collect the fares. This brings us to the answer of how a chicken bus crosses the road in Antigua. Actually, it is rather carefully in many instances. Because the sidewalks are very narrow and the buildings are right next to the sidewalk, it is hard to see oncoming traffic without getting right in the middle of the intersection. The bus stops at the intersection, the assistant goes into the cross street to check for traffic, signals the driver when it is safe to cross, and hops on the bus as it crosses the street.

Where do you get your shoes Shined?
We like to go to Central Park and look for Tony.

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Does it rain in Antigua?

We literally have not seen a drop of rain in five weeks!

Did you really go to school for four weeks?
Yes, we did.

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Are you ready to go home?
Not really. This has been a wonderful experience for us. We are a little concerned about whether we will enjoy Europe as much since the culture is more similar to ours.

Would you go to Antigua again?
In a heartbeat!

The Ruins of Antigua

If you like ruins, Antigua is the city for you. While the city is in an area that has experienced severe earthquakes, they are mostly only indirectly responsible for the damage. The main cause of the damage was neglect when the capital was moved from Antigua to Guatemala City after a major earthquake in 1773. The population of the city plunged after the capital was moved, and many of the churches in the city were abandoned. Following are pictures of a few of the ruins in the city.

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Affordable Clean Water

Clean, safe drinking water is hard to find in Guatemala. More than 97% of the water supply in Guatemala (including here in Antigua) is unsafe to drink. Many children don’t live to ten because of diseases transmitted in the water. An Ecofiltro is a low cost solution to this problem that was invented in Guatemala and is manufactured in Antigua. The filter is made from clay, sawdust, and colloidal silver. When the filter is fired to harden the clay, the sawdust burns out leaving a porous filter. The colloidal silver kills any bacteria in the water. You can pour lake water, collected rainwater, or water from a mud puddle in the top, and potable water comes out the bottom at the rate of about two quarts per hour. The company’s business model is to sell units in the cities for about $50 and use the profits to subsidize units for the rural areas. A filter lasts for two years, so it is much cheaper than either bottled water or boiling water. For $35, they can provide a new Ecofiltro to a rural family and replace their filter every two years for life! They presently are providing Ecofiltros to thirty third world countries. We have an Ecofiltro in our house and we can vouch that we have survived for over three weeks without problems.

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Our Casa

Our house is located one long block outside of the historic area of Antigua. When you arrive at the first gate, a guard with an impressive looking rifle on his shoulder opens the gate for you. We have discussed under what circumstances he is going to use this gun, but we really don’t want to find out. Every bank has similarly armed guards at their door.

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We give him a “buenos tardes” and proceed about a quarter mile past two other communities to the second gate at the entrance to our community. We have never seen this guard with a gun, but I have to think there is one there somewhere.

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Another “buenos tardes” and we are at the entrance to our house.

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The house is built around a courtyard and veranda. The kitchen and dining room are one room and you can go between the master bedroom and master bath without going outside. To go between any other rooms you must go outside into the courtyard or the veranda. To put it another way, there are three doors to the courtyard downstairs and four doors to the veranda upstairs. Another interesting feature is (like almost every building in Antigua) there is no heat or air conditioning. The walls are thick and it is always springtime here. I am comfortable in shorts and a tee shirt between 9 AM and 4 PM. I switch to long pants and a light fleece when it starts to cool off. When outside walking, you simply walk on the sunny side of the street if you are cool and on the shady side if you are hot. You may ask “But what do you do if it is cloudy?” I don’t know. We don’t have that problem!

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Valentine Day in Antigua

The day started off picture perfect with our volcano showing its tippy top. Off we went for our one mile walk to school. The director of the school came around and gave all the ladies a rose,which was a nice touch.

After class Bruce and I went to sit in the park.It was filled with students especially boys trying to get a Valentine kiss. The vendors were out strong but Bruce was not getting off that easy with a trinket necklace. We stopped on the way home at a lovely shop and I picked out a pair of earrings that I really liked.

The topper of the day was dinner at a lovely inn near our house..Candles set the mood for the room they call the cave. The setting was very romantic and not typical of Antigua restaurants .

It’s going to be hard to beat this year but who knows where we will be next Valentine.
Susan

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Sunday in Antigua

We had a most enjoyable day last Sunday. After a late breakfast, we walked about a mile to attend mass at la Merced church. The church was opened in 1767 and has walls fifteen feet thick to withstand earthquakes. We went primarily for the cultural experience and left during the Spanish sermon which we couldn’t understand. However, I am wondering if Susan is thinking of converting, since she suggested going to mass at San Francisco church this week???

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After church we toured the ruins of the adjacent monastery said to contain the largest fountain in Hispanic America.

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We enjoyed lunch on the rooftop terrace of a crepe restaurant. Most of the restaurants in Antigua have beautiful terraces or courtyards. The lunch was so good and the atmosphere so relaxing, we returned here for lunch this week. Following lunch we went to Parque Central to enjoy the music and people watch.

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There were also Mayan dancers in the street adjacent to the park.

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We then explored some of the area near our house before finally returning home to practice our Spanish like good students should.

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Some of you with lots of snow and ice have said you don’t want to hear it, but the weather here is absolutely delightful. We are already talking about coming back. Many of the students in the school have returned multiple times.

Volcano Letting Off Steam

Antigua is surrounded by three volcanoes. We can see the top of the dormant Volcan Agua (water) from our veranda.

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There are many classic views of this volcano around town.

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Volcan Fuego (fire) is an active volcano that has been relatively quiet during our stay. We can get a good view of it from our Spanish school; and during today’s break, it let off a nice plume of steam.

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The third volcano is Volcan Acatenango, which has been dormant since 1972. It is joined to Volcan Fuego by a ridge which you can see to the right in the above picture.

Getting Around Antigua

The historic area of Antigua (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is an area about ten blocks by ten blocks. We live just outside the historic area in a residential area that appears to be occupied primarily by expats. All the roads in the historic area and the one in our residential area are cobblestone. This means that the roads are rounded rocks embedded in sand. It makes an extremely uneven surface that is unpleasant to walk on and very bumpy to ride on. It is very common to see stones that have become loose and are sitting on top of the street. Every morning, they are repairing a small section of one of the streets. It is a total mystery how they pick a section to repair, as the whole street could use repair.

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Walking in the city requires your full attention. The sidewalks are very narrow with the walls of the buildings immediately next to the sidewalk. While the sidewalks are more even than the streets; they have many slopes, holes, cracks, and uneven spots that require your full attention. To make it more exciting, most of the windows have ledges at shoulder to head height that protrude up to 18 inches into the narrow sidewalk. This can be particularly unpleasant if you turn your head toward the street and keep walking. The occasional dog also adds to the need for care. Crossing the street is normally not too bad, since the cobblestones force most drivers to go slowly.

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We saw a funny incident on the way home today. A chicken bus had driven down the wrong street and was trying to back up and turn down the side street. Four random bystanders were all yelling directions at the driver and waving their arms wildly to clear the other traffic to make room for the bus. The policeman seemed to contribute little to helping the situation.
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To bring you up to date, we watched the Super Bowl at a restaurant in town. All restaurants and bars were showing the game, but it didn’t draw many people. After 18 days of almost all sun, we had a mostly cloudy day today. There was no rain and it did clear late this afternoon. No, we don’t expect any sympathy from all of you suffering through the snow and cold at home.

Saturday in Antigua

On Saturday we woke up to our fourteenth consecutive blue sky morning. If you could specify what weather you wanted each day, you might well specify the weather here in Antigua! Like all students, we were excited to have a day off from school. We decided to walk to the five star Santo Domingo hotel on the other side of town.

We live in one of four walled and gated communities off a side street which is accessible only by passing through another gate with a guard who usually has a rifle slung over his shoulder. We said our normal “buenos dias” to the two guards and headed down the cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks into town. Our first stop was a street craft market where the women shopped and the men looked at the ruin next to the market.

We then went to the hotel and its six small museums. The hotel is built on the grounds of the ruins of a convent. My favorite museum is the pre-Columbian where each display case contains some Olmec or Mayan artifacts together with contemporary art on a similar theme. The hotel was setting up the former sanctuary of the convent for an elegant wedding. We decided if we were ever to renew our vows, this was the place to do it!

The hotel also has a restaurant/convention center on a hill overlooking Antigua. We took a hotel shuttle up to the restaurant where the Rotary was having a banquet in the convention center. There were models posing as statues along the route to the banquet. We had a wonderful lunch outside with views of the volcanoes. On the way home, we encountered a religious street performance.

We agreed it was another wonderful day in Antigua! Pictures below.

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The Travel Blog of Susan and Bruce