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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Boy Toys
The Chicken Busses of Guatemala

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Have you ever wondered what happened to that old yellow bus that took you back and forth to school?

Probably not, and neither did we...

That is until we found them!

 

Billy found his old school bus!

(for the real skinny on these boy toys, scroll down...)

 

 

 

The Blue Birds have been spotted and they are flourishing here in Guatemala. Gringos call them 'chicken busses,' and the locals call them autobuses or camionetas - otherwise known as public transportation.

 

All aboard!

In our travels, we have taken these 'chicken busses' all over Latin America. But never have we seen the concentration of them as there are here in Guatemala. Brightly painted reflecting the owner's individual style, these massive workhorse machines deliver people, produce, products, and yes, chickens throughout the mountainous regions of Guatemala.

These busses have not been reborn, they have been resurrected!

A typical day at Antigua bus station. Notice on the left in this photo some yellow school busses that have not yet been painted. You can be sure, however, that their insides have all been remodeled.

The process goes like this.

Waiting at the terminal amongst numerous brightly painted and shined buses, I asked some drivers where these hefty machines originated. How did my school bus end up here in Antigua? I was told that their company goes to the United States and purchases used busses at auction. Apparently, school busses in the U.S. have to retire after 150,000 miles or ten years of service, and at that point they are put up for auction for the highest bidder and sold.

The bus we road today was from Layfette, Georgia.

 

This school bus has a second life to live!

After being purchased they are towed through the country of Mexico to Ciudad Viejo and San Miguel Duenas, just outside of Antigua, Guatemala. It is here where they are gutted, stripped of all nonessentials, and retrofitted for the demands of the rugged Guatemalan terrain.

 

We had the occasion of visiting one of the more famous factories in San Migual Duenas, Esmeralda. The owner, Senor Alvarez, greeted us and in short order introduced us to his shop manager, Victor.

 

One of the first steps is to take everything out of the bus! Looks different, doesn't it?

Victor took us to another lot down the street where we could easily see the before and after transformation, and then he explained the process that each bus is put through. After the long haul from the U.S. auction house, the busses are stripped of everything bolted down - inside and out - including the seats. The back of the bus is cut off to shorten the length, so that the bus will have 10 windows per side. This shorter bus is much easier to navigate on the narrow roads in the Guatemalan outback.
 

You see that the bus is being masked getting it ready for the super-duper paint job!

Ninety five percent of the U.S. stock busses come with an automatic transmission and hydraulic brakes which are of no use to the drivers here. These are replaced with a six or seven speed manual transmission and air brakes. If the motor is not a diesel or an International Harvester, it too is replaced.

Both the inside of the bus and the outside shell are repaired of any issues needing attention and the bus is taped and sprayed with a primer.

 

New, wider seats are put in, enough to seat 3 people on each banquette as well as overhead luggage racks. The aisle down the middle is barely navigable when empty, let alone when there are passengers with packages aboard.

The Adventurer's Guide to Guatemala

Donít go to Guatemala without this book! Take advantage of what we know. Click here

 

Brand new entryway complete with the Blue Bird logo. This Bird shines!

Meanwhile, the destination placard in the front of the bus is being re-fitted and the hood is adapted for a chrome grill. The newest converted bus we saw had an electronic sign board stating its route with moving patterned lights. Guatemalans love this, especially if they flash

!Que padre!

A fresh coat of paint is applied along with interior luggage racks and a roof rack is bolted to the roof with access ladders in the back. Then the new wider seats are installed and the windows are replaced.

 

New instrument and decorative panels are set up for the driver along with a radio and CD player.

The smaller wheels and tires are replaced with larger ones along with new leaf springs giving the bus a higher ground clearance. Also it was explained to us that the original school bus tires took about one hour to change in the likely event of a flat. The new wheels and can be changed in a matter of minutes. Important when your livelihood depends on the number of runs and passengers you can carry daily. The first bus to the stop gets the riders and these buses are in competition with one another for the money.

 

Look at this piece of art! Makes you want to have one, doesn't it?

The entire conversion process from school bus to camioneta takes less than one month and costs around $17,000 U.S. Dollars - that is if you supply the original bus. Otherwise they run about $40,000 USD.

 

We have RV'ed in the past and thought these buses would make a nice rig. I asked how much they would charge for an RV conversion. Victor's honest answer was that it depends on the owner and what they want on the inside. He mentioned that it would probably take two months to complete because everything is custom made.  They might have difficulty finding parts, but they have done it before.

Hmmmmmmm.... How can I talk Akaisha into having one of these babies?

 

Rows and rows of these spectacular busses are lined up at all the bus station in Guatemala. Pretty impressive.

The bus is now ready to be placed into service with a driver and handler. Obviously, the driver drives and with winding roads where everything is a obstacle, these men are quite competent. The handler directs passengers by calling the destination to anyone nearby, handles baggage too large to place inside by loading it on the outside luggage rack, and works his way through the crowded bus to collect the fare. This, too, is quite an art as the bus is shaking and rattling from side to side with each turn.

 

This handler or 'ayudante' is calling out the next destination and gathering people into the bus. They are skilled and friendly.

 

Here you see the handler collecting money from each passenger and giving out change. Look at the wad of cash he has in his left hand! He knows who has paid and who has not. Just to confuse things further, sometimes a person will pay for their child or spouse who is seated elsewhere in the bus, and the handler has to remember all the combinations: Who has paid, who has not, how much for each destination, and any new passengers who have just arrived. Also people use the back door to enter and exit if the bus is crowded.

Meanwhile the bus is hauling down the road!

 

In this photo our backpacks being thrown up to the top luggage rack and tied down - hopefully securely! So far, we have had great luck and have not lost our luggage on a nasty turn. However, we have seen other people's luggage topple to the road below on one of these tight turns. Always makes for some interesting drama...

 

On the road again! It's great to be back on the road again!

So the next time you see a school bus on the streets at home bringing children to and from school, you'll know they have a full second life ahead of them!

Nice scenery, eh?

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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