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“Chivas”… where people dance while traveling

In red, yellow or any other colour sporting the names and faces of women, famous and religious characters distinguish the “ devils ” that roam the streets of Panama, in a kind of gallery of popular art.


Nubia Piqueras Grosso


Noisy because of the loud music that usually accompanies the passenger and the voice of the driver who bellows at the top of his lungs the various destinations, this bus transporting the masses also sports, at the back and front, curvy girls, messages, confessions, proverbs and all manner of phrases depending on the mood of its owner or driver.

According to journalist Mónica Guardia, the painting of the ‘red devils’ reflects the values ​​of the Panamanian man and his dreams and hopes as well as fear of women; but also his need to hold on to God, despite the trail of death and despair visited on passangers because of the chaotic handling of the drivers.

Homemade sound systems blaring at very high decibels liven up the journey on these buses which Panamanians call chivas (which can mean ‘rage’), in defiance of restrictive traffic regulations which inspectors enforce at the waiting ranks from time to time and which always provokes angry protests on the part of the owners of these vehicles.

And as if that were not enough, the smoke that emanates from their exhaust pipes is reminiscent of the hell that passengers endure inside, due not only to the body heat generated from people brushing against each other in the middle of the crowd, but also from environmental warming.

They are devils because they shout and snatch and run over bystanders and sweep aside other cars on the road; wicked, because they fight amongst each other for passengers, but also with the passengers themselves; and striking, for their bright colours, extravagant decorations and many lights. On the outskirts of the city, among skyscrapers and luxury shops, on fast roads, narrow streets, beaches and popular neighbourhoods these buses also tend to travel around doubling as clubs at night and are dubbed chivas parranderas (‘party buses’).

But they are so embedded among the population, that despite the authorities’ attempts to remove them from circulation, they remain a last resort amidst the chaos of the city and an inefficient public transport service – and they are even the focus of a group of fans on Facebook.

More than two thousand photographs are included on Original Retrobus, a site that commemorates the names, brands, vignettes, faces and sketches of the ‘devils’ that have been in circulation since the 70s up until the present day.

Veterans even say that in their four decades of existence, these unique buses have been the inspiration behind clothing brands, slushie carts, private temporary exhibitions and are even the envy of some drivers in Central America. For the moment,  the Guzmán  ‘Dwarf’ (after the diminutive drug lord) the Juan Gabriel, The Magnificent, The Tasmanian Demons, The General (famous retired Panamanian reggae singer) and the terrorist Bin Laden sporting a Barcelona shirt, ​​among other famous characters of the day, continue to do their rounds on Panama’s streets, although Lucifer speaks out for them as symbols of the most authentic street art of a capital city that has just turned 500. (PL)

(Translated by Nigel Conibear MCIL) – Photos: Pixabay

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