Sitting in a Stranger's Lap

What is the largest number of people you can picture fitting in a regular sized school bus?

I know this is not an ordinary question that will come up in most conversations, but as I sat on a “chicken bus” from Panajachel to Chichicastenango this past weekend, that exact question was at the forefront of my mind.

Chicken buses are the cheapest form of transportation to get around the country. In essence, they are recycled school buses that are no longer useful in the United States, so they are shipped to Guatemala and other countries around the world for a second use.

When I stepped on the bus, I was greeted by blank stares and a driver in a hurry. Normally in Guatemala, they do not wait for you get seated to take off. As soon as you have one foot in contact with the bus, that is the green light for them to head out. Being the clumsy person that I am, I almost faced planted in the aisle, but luckily there were a few people in the way that broke my fall. After regaining my composure, I squeezed my way through the crowd to find an edge of a seat that had not yet been claimed.

As we flew around hairpin turns while dodging large boulders and portions of landslides that now blocked sections of the road, I suddenly had a strong desire to figure out how many people were on the bus with me just in case a wrecked bus carrying a large amount of people in Guatemala turned into a news story on CNN.

It seemed that as soon as one person got on the bus and found a place to either sit or stand, the bus was stopping again to pick up more people. At the fullest point, my seat alone had 5 people in it including myself. Yes people were sitting on strangers. A mother had placed her son, who I would guess to be around 7 years old in my lap. It was a little awkward especially since she did not even ask if it would be okay to put her child on top of me. I guess since there was space, she took it as an open seat.

After I did some simple math and calculated that there were 11 people in my row alone. Five people in my seat, three more standing the aisle, and another three in the opposite seat, I assumed this was probably true for the rows behind me as well. I would have looked to check myself, but that kid and the other four people in my seat made it kind of difficult to move at all let alone turn my head around.

There were twelve rows on the bus. That puts my estimated at over 120 people “comfortably” enjoying the bus ride along. To me, two people per seat makes a full bus, but I could not have been further from the truth.

Bryan Clifton

Oklahoma City, OK