How a “Chicken Bus” in Nicaragua Transformed the Way I Travel

Part of “The Trip That Changed the Way I Travel” series.  
kayak nicaragua
After an unsettling ride on a chicken bus in Nicaragua, the author couldn't help but wish she'd stuck to getting around by kayak.

I had no idea that an ordinary “chicken bus” ride in Nicaragua was going to transform the way I travel—and my life itself. But that’s how it is with the road; it changes you when you least expect it.

I no longer remember what our destination was on that trip, only that the chicken bus—so called because people are crammed in like chickens—was far more crowded than usual because it was the day before New Year, and the locals were heading home to the rural countryside. I thought I was lucky enough to get a seat, until an old Nicaraguan lady boarded the bus and stood next to mine. Her arms filled with foodstuff she was ostensibly carrying home for the holidays, she kept her sack next to my feet, and I felt it move! When staring didn’t work, I asked her in polite Spanish to move it. Minutes later, I felt something poking my back, for that’s where she had moved it. Much to my horror, inside were three little squeaking chicks trying to survive in a sack without a hole to breathe.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the lady got off at her stop. Clearly she had taken the “chicken bus” literally.

What I didn’t realize then, was that I was going to carry the breathlessness and helplessness of those squeaking chicks with me.

A month or so later, while making myself an egg in my friend’s apartment, the incident came back to haunt me. I know the eggs we eat are not fertilized, but I wanted to know what eggs really were, and what conditions they came from. That began my journey down a deep, very dark hole that had me examining the cruelty of the egg and dairy industry. I read about battery cages, cattle being injected with hormones, and the plight of male calves that weren’t producers of milk.

I found myself toying with the idea of veganism for the first time, but the idea of giving up milk, cheese, chocolates, and all the foods that contain dairy and eggs seemed extreme at the time. I gradually started reading blogs and watching videos about being a vegan traveller, but the tipping point was meeting a college friend in Germany who had gone from being a meat eater to being vegan. If she could do it, surely I, a vegetarian of over 12 years, could cut out all animal products from my life.

It’s now been over a year since I’ve eaten dairy or eggs (or honey or ghee or other animal products)—as far as I can help it. And to tell you the truth, the transition wasn’t as hard as I had imagined. I’ve found substitutes for everything I cut out, I feel healthier, and I appreciate my food a lot more now than I did before. I’ve continued my nomadic lifestyle, and somewhat magically, the universe has led me to places around the world where my vegan lifestyle has not only been welcomed, but has also led to my hosts and fellow travellers to contemplate and experiment with a plant-based diet.

If it weren’t for that chicken bus ride in Nicaragua, I wouldn’t be the foodie I am today!

  • Shivya Nath quit her corporate job for a nomadic life over three years ago. She has hitchhiked through northern Romania, lived in a nunnery in Ladakh and boarded down a volcano in Nicaragua. She tweets as @shivya.

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