Bluebirds of Xela

I drove a school bus mornings and afternoons through college back in Minnesota, so I was amused to see so many former school buses (that I drove 40+ years ago?) here in Guatemala.  “Chicken buses” are a common mode of transportation in Xela (and Guatemala) and are notorious for speeding around mountain curves, occasional spectacular crashes, occasional banditry – but cheap transport.

Virtually all the buses are former US school buses, specifically Bluebird branded buses, and for whatever reason, keeping that Bluebird logo (on the roof above the driver) appears to be mandatory.  Many of them are gorgeously decorated:







But while most are customized, the ones I get a kick out of are…

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We were graciously invited to be a part of a Posada celebration.  It is a celebration re-enactment of Joseph and a very pregnant Mary traveling up from Egypt and trying to find lodging in Bethlehem. At the end of the re-enactment, the “pilgrims” stand outside the “inn” and sing a request for lodging.  Inside the “inn” the “innkeepers” sing to the “pilgrims” outside the closed door that there’s no room in the inn and to go away.

The dialog goes back and forth and finally, in the chorus, the door is opened and both the “pilgrims” and “innkeepers” sing together in a welcoming of lodging (here’s a YouTube video of the beautiful Posada song).

We started the evening at our language school with Leslie helping make tortas for later in the evening.


We then hiked for 20+ minutes or so up a steep road to an orphanage high above Xela (over 8,000 feet elevation – lots of huffing and puffing!) where we assembled to gather our “torches” for the procession back to school.


There was an “ark” with statuettes of Joseph and Mary that was carried along on the procession.


Leslie and I were given “torches” which were lighted candles wrapped in a red cellophane enclosure – and the kids were really excited to carry their own torches!


Once everyone had their torches lit we assembled to start down the trail back to school. Notice how high we are over Xela…


This time, going down, we took a trail – I suspect to more realistically re-enact what Joseph and Mary might have experienced.


Reaching the school, we waited for the people inside the door to get ready to sing…


Now we’re singing back and forth to the “innkeepers” inside…

…and this is the Posada song we sang back and forth.


The door is opened!  We all sang the welcoming chorus and went in to mix, mingle and eat!


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Navidad in Quetzaltenango

The celebration of Christmas is huge in Xela.  Several blocks from our apartment is the “democracia” – a commercial area of several square blocks of small shops surrounding a small park.  During the year, makeshift vendor stalls crowd the sidewalks, streets are shared with people, buses (old Bluebird school buses from the U.S.) belching diesel fumes, small passenger vans (“micro buses”) and lots of motorcycles.


Someday I want to spend some time photographing the variety of “chicken buses” that provide the transportation from/to/and around town.  These are all former Bluebird school buses from the U.S. and for some reason, everyone keeps the Bluebird logo on the roof.


The “micro-buses” come in two sizes: small and packed…


and a bigger version. Leslie and I usually ride this version because it’s taller inside for standing.  Every bus or micro-bus has a young assistant riding the step calling out the destination/route, helping people on and off, and collecting the fares.  A lot of the time he’s helping the driver navigate through traffic, intersections, around obstructions (other buses, stopped trucks, etc) with shouted instructions and  whistles while always hawking for more riders!


But over the past couple of weeks, the streets have been completely shut down.  Vendors have built stalls in the street selling everything related to celebrating Christmas – food, firecrackers (LOTS of firecracker vendors!), clothing, children’s toys, etc.  It has created traffic jams and delays that would make LA rush hour proud.  It takes us almost an hour to go across town when it used to take maybe 20 minutes.

Each section of street is generally geared to one type of product – this street is the fruit and vege section where Leslie’s picking up some stuff for dinner.


Living here during Navidad is certainly exotic, adventuresome (sometimes challenging!) and fun!

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