Adventure by Chicken Bus: An Unschooling Odyssey Through Central America (Resource Publications, 2019)
By Janet LoSole
When the author first reached out to me requesting a review, I didn’t know what to think about this book. As in, What’s a ‘chicken bus’?* (Kimber: “Can I eat it?”) I was dangling on the rim edge of Not Interested. As a veteran homeschooler myself, however, I decided to give it a chance.
What a ride.
Adventure by Chicken Bus is a thoroughly entertaining, fascinating ride along with a family of four as they travel through Central America over the course of roughly a year and a half. With two little girls in tow, ages then-five and eight, the LoSoles roam all over the region, including the Caribbean coast, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico.
It’s quite the odyssey.
Floundering beneath a mountain of debt, the “environmentalist Quakers” sell all their worldly goods and leave Canada for Costa Rica on a “community-based tourism” adventure and unschooling odyssey with daughters Natalie and Jocelyn. “Unschooling” (yes, I’m familiar with the term) is learning without the use of an official, text-based curriculum. It emphasizes learning through natural life experiences. Learning ExperiencesAccordingly, the girls’ first lesson is science at a sea turtle conservation project in Costa Rica, “land of rocky roads, monstrous potholes, and bone-jarring buses.”
Additional experiences include:
- Egg-frying-on-the-sidewalk sun.
- Coping with blistering heat and soaring humidity.
- Bob Marley tunes.
- The Sea Turtle Conservancy.
- Challenges of living, eating, wandering and finding reliable (sort of) transportation on a limited budget.
- Soda (not a drink).
- Hammock swingers at Rocking J’s.
- El Puente (The Bridge) soup kitchen.
- Poison dart frogs.
- Bug suits.
- Stretching dollars and learning to live like the locals.
- “Canadian roasting in an adobe oven.”
- Cultures “unencumbered with the nine to five world.”
- Parade rehearsals.
- Snorkeling and body surfing.
- Panama City, “one of the most geographically privileged metropolises in the world.”
- Tramitdores and border paperwork.
- ESL lessons.
There are also lots of trips to museums, art galleries, open air markets, hikes, and a birthday with double rainbows. Rushing rivers, dense forests and testy volcanoes.
Overall, this is a fascinating read. The style is breezy and chatty. The writing is fresh and vibrant. Descriptions are captivating, often accompanied by a hefty helping of rapier wit and droll humor. The book itself is informative but neatly side steps pedantic.
By the close of chapter 11, the family has spent sixteen months backpacking along the Caribbean coast, including several weeks in Panama. They’ve hiked, swam, spelunked, sweated, trudged, kayaked, camped, climbed mountains, and explored volcanoes. They’ve made cheese and chocolate. Saved sea turtles. Studied monkeys and macaws in the wild. They’ve also weathered blistered skin, ant bites, and bacterial infections.
It felt like the epic should either end here or wrap up quickly. I’m feeling fatigued myself at this point. But there are seven more chapters until we reach Home and Epilogue. Running out of steam a bit, the story starts to sag here. (How many trips to museums and beaches and tent sites do we really need or want to hear about?) The narrative also wanders off course now and then, veering into politics best left at home.
Even so, Adventure by Chicken Bus is its own unique genre. Basic recipe: Part travelogue, part outdoor adventure, part family relationships, and part personal journal. Stir in some social and cultural learning experiences. Add hefty doses of local food, history, color and language learning. Lots of smiles and many kindnesses. Add stress. Fatigue. Health issues. Family bonding. Stir. Simmer for nineteen months. Serve up a lifetime of delicious memories.
If you’re looking for something unique and unusual, Adventure by Chicken Bus is a good place to start.
Our rating: 3.5
*A chicken bus is a “colloquial term” describing “run down, discarded school buses from North America sold to Latin American countries, where they are repainted in riotously bright colors, outfitted with stereo speakers, and upcycled with more seats to accommodate potatoes, avocados, chickens,” and a family of Canadian backpackers.