The Chicken Bus

This was one of my very first posts before I decided to really pay attention to this “blog thing.”   I didn’t yet have a digital camera, so no photos were included, and I wasn’t yet sure of what I wanted to write about as an expat.  Still, this was one of the best experiences I’ve had since moving to Mexico.  As with many great events, it only lasted a moment, but I will never forget how it made me feel.  Hope you enjoy!


I was called by a friend who needed assistance with a photo shoot.  He asked me to hop on a bus to Chichen Itza as soon as I could and I readily agreed.  Although I live in Cancun and have traveled throughout this much maligned country, I am always eager to visit one of the most famous ruins in the world.  Chichen Itza is where the great Mayan pyramid stands.   Not only is it the location of the famous prophecy declaring the “end of an era“ in 2012, but it is also where a serpent can be seen ascending the steps in the spring, and then descending them in the fall.

I threw a few things into an overnight bag, called a friend to care for my pets and asked a taxi driver, in my broken Spanish, to take me to the ADO bus station.  Once there, in the middle of crowds of  travelers from all points stood a man with a sign that had Chichen Itza written on it in magic marker.  I bought my ticket from him there, in the middle of the terminal, and he pointed outside.

When I ran out I was relieved to see a modernized bus with air conditioning and a driver with a cap.  I sat in the first seat right behind the driver, safest place for a single woman traveler to sit, or so I have been told.  I settled in for a nice, quiet ride.  I just didn`t know that I had boarded the so-called Chicken Bus.  What that meant I was soon to find out since it had little to do with actual chickens.

This bus did not travel on the highway at an expected speed that would help anyone to arrive anywhere anytime soon.  Instead it headed into the Mexico of the 50`s films complete with dirt roads and dozens of villages, hence the nickname.   It stopped frequently picking up school children, vendors with sticky sweets, singers who serenaded us for tips, and anyone traveling from one village to another.

The villages looked alike with the exception of the occasional church, or other communal building that was made out of concrete.  Most contained only huts with thatched roofs and loosely tied saplings.  Multicolored hammocks could be seen through the nonexistant doors.  Barefoot children, dogs with their ribs showing, and men with tools, or beer, were seen everywhere.  Old women sat on carved tree trunks busily plucking live chickens, or cooking over stone spits the ones already selected.  The dogs just circled and salivated.

At one of the many stops four women came aboard.  My other seat had already graced several pairs of school girls, a man returning from dusty work, and a couple who absolutely did not want to be apart.  But, at this moment it was empty.  The women helped the eldest to slowly ease into the cushions and they then occupied the two seats across the aisle.

I was mesmerized by this woman.  Her hair was incredibly long, gray, and thin and she wore it in a braid that hung below her waist.  She, as well as the other three, was dressed in the traditional Yucatan style, a whitish dress with an embroidered collar.  It was well worn.  She turned and smiled at me and the fact she had no teeth did not bother either of us.  Her skin was so very darkened and wrinkled, but her eyes were both eager and wise.

After a few minutes I noticed that she seemed chilled.  The air conditioning was quite low and I saw that she shivered.  I reached down for the overnight bag at my feet, dug through it and found the heavy, pocketed vest that I always use when working with cameras.  I placed that around her shoulders.  I then grabbed the long skirt I had brought, just in case, and put that on her lap.  She did not try to stop, or help me.

After a moment, she turned slowly towards me and without a word placed her hand on my chest in the area of my heart.  She closed her eyes and bent her head as if praying.  Over her shoulder I noticed the other ladies that had come with her excitedly whispering and smiling, giving me universal gestures to let me know that all was alright.

After a few minutes the woman said one word, but so quietly that I could not understand.  Then she removed her hand, turned and slowly faced forward again.  I noticed that she had a regal look to the way she did this.  Folding her hands, one over the other in her lap, although not a ring in sight.  I had to force myself to look away.

A little while later they had to leave the bus.  The other three came over and, with big smiles for me, helped her to remove my vest and the skirt I had laid over her legs.  She allowed them without helping, or hindering.  They helped her to stand and began to walk down the stairs.  But, just before the old woman began to step down she turned to me and gave me the gesture of goodbye that seemed to hold more than just farewell.  Then she turned and carefully continued  down the steps.

A few minutes later the bus driver motioned for me to get up and stand next to him.  I did so and he began to explain in his Spanglish that I had just been honored in the old way.  I had been blessed with an ancient Maya prayer by a village elder. He seemed to want to be assured that I understood him and I did as best as I could.  Humbled, I thanked him and sat back down.  I didn`t see another thing outside the window for the rest of the trip.  All I could do was smile.