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The Chicken Bus to El Paredon

After three weeks at the Spanish books, I needed to get out of Antigua for the weekend, so I planned a surfing trip to a small fishing village in southern Guatemala called El Paredon. After hearing about my plans that week, a few of my classmates decided they wanted to come with me, so at 1pm last Friday Jossie, Kylie, Meredith, Paul and I walked to Antigua's bus station with a mind for some adventure.

Antigua's bus station is actually a dusty, weird-smelling dirt lot located behind the market with no ticket counters or posted schedules. A cacophony of voices assaults the ears as the ayudante for each bus yells his destination. We followed a man yelling "Escuintlaescuintlaescuintlaescuintlaaaaaa" to a brightly painted chicken bus.

I should take a second to talk about chicken buses. Originally American school buses, once they reach a certain age or mileage or something they're sold second-hand and driven across Mexico to start new lives in Guatemala as medium-distance private coaches. Often painted bright colors and tricked out with lights, these glamorous but cheap transportation options have become a symbol of Guatemala for many travelers as they careen around corners and barely stop to let passengers on and off.

Our bus, which was packed with more and more people (hence the name "chicken bus") as the ride went on cost us 8 quetzales (about $1) for the 1.5 hours to Escuintla. In the hot dry streets of Escuintla, we found and boarded a bus headed for the coastal community of Sipacate. Twenty more quetzales, 1.5 more hours and 2 overly long rest stops later, we were dropped off in Sipacate, where we hailed two tuk-tuks.

Oh, what's a tuk-tuk? Travelers to southern and south-eastern Asia might be more familiar with these, but apparently they're big in Guate as well - super-charged, golf cart-sized three wheelers that serve as taxis for shorter distances. Our two tuk-tuks raced us down a long rural road, 7 kilometers through rice fields to a lonely pier on the Acoma river called El Escondite.

At the river I negotiated for one of the men operating a small river boat to take us down the river and up a different branch to isolated El Paredon. The sun was setting as we passed through thick mangrove forest on either side, curious leaping fish and other animals peeking at us from the water.

We arrived in El Paredon right as dusk was beginning to set and were welcomed at La Choza Chula by a small local boy and two of the house's inhabitants, Seth and Kate. The trip had taken about 4.5 hours and 48 quetzales (~$6) to reach the isolated paradise of El Paredon.

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