On the magic school bus.

If you grew up in the 90’s like I did, you know exactly what I’m talking about when I mention the words, The Magic School Bus. These words should conjure memories of Ms. Frizzle, her wacky red hair, and the misadventures of her class of students who got more than they bargained for on their many field trips in said bus.

My favorite book from the series: "The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body."

After spending some time in Central America, I’m convinced that the book’s author, Joanna Cole, has spent significant time there herself…and that the public transit system there convinced her that nothing is impossible for a seemingly ordinary yellow school bus.

Allow me to explain.

Public transport in Honduras looks strangely familiar. Regardless of where you need to go, 9 times out of 10, the way to get there will involve one of these:

The Honduran version of The Magic School Bus.

According to a colleague of mine from the Global Health Advisory Committee at UNC who came to visit our project in Honduras for a few days, and who spent some time in a former life as a worn-out-school bus-salesman (seriously!), when school buses are deemed too old and decrepit to safely transport America’s youth – they get sold to bus driver’s in Central American countries like Honduras. His Honduran contact, Hector, would purchase one several times a year. He’d travel to the US with his handy mechanic, tinker until the bus was up and running again, then make the dangerous drive from Louisville or Cherry Hill or Tulsa (or whatever other school district happened to be selling at the time) back to his home country – sleeping on the worn, vinyl seats at night and paying bribes at the borders along the way.

After seeing what these trusty machines can do long after being deemed unroadworthy…I’m convinced that we in the US give up on them long before they’ve reached their full potential.

Take this bus for example – above the front door, it warns a maximum capacity of 72 persons. During the bumpy ride from Choluteca to El Corpus, I lost count at 109 persons, 32 chickens, 16 oversized sacks of rice, 1 mattress, 12 baskets of tomatoes, and 22 gringo’s Osprey, Northface, and High Sierra packs.

Sardines in a very hot, sweaty can.

I also watched the same bus climb a steep, muddy, rocky incline that no sane Idahoan would ever attempt to climb without huge tires and a lift kit.

Just kidding. No self-respecting Idahoan would ever be seen in a truck as ridiculous as this.

These school buses can ford rivers, make 3-point turns on a narrow mountain road bordered by a cliff, and make excellent time on an 8% grade.

She'll be coming around the mountain when she comes...

But don’t worry, if the magic school bus tilts sideways as it slides down into a ditch – your bus driver will know just what to do…he’ll have all the passengers move to the high side, put the metal to the metal, and work some magic of his own…and rather than rolling over as you assumed would be your fate, you’ll be back on the road (horizontally) in no time.

No picture of that one. Do you really think I would take the time to snap a photo under such circumstances?

And when you’re really lucky and land on a truly tricked out Magic School Bus…you might just get to watch totally rad 1980’s music videos from the U S of A:

Don't recognize her? Click on the photo to find out which 1983 Bonnie Tyler hit serenaded us from Tegucigalpa to Choluteca.

These buses also have more get-up-and-go than one might think. Sometimes if the pick-up truck laden down with gringos in the back is going too slow on the pot-hole infested muddy road…the bus might really show what it is made of and pass said pick-up truck on the grassy “median,” despite oncoming traffic. They don’t call it a “chicken bus” for nothing.

Nothing wakes you up at 5am in the morning like a bumpy ride over pot holes and being passed by a chicken bus at 60 miles per hour.

Yes, I will always look fondly back on those Magic School Bus books and videos. My host mom in Spain was a doppelganger for Miss Frizzle….and the Honduran public transportation would give her fancy yellow bus a run for its money in terms of impressive journeys into the impossible.


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One response to “On the magic school bus.”

  1. Jeannie says :

    Glad the “chicken bus” got you safely from Point A to Point B. Love the song choice too! Hey, you drove the “Beast” in some grizzly conditions….you’re no pansy….you can handle it girl…You gutted a pheasant and cooked it with nohelp! Honduras can’t break Jenna Farmer Garrett! Love you and am more of you by the day! Especially after reading your posts! Dazzle on Beautiful Daughter! Mom

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