Buses of Managua

Managua is a relatively low-density, sprawling city. After the 1972 earthquake heavily damaged the historical center, rebuilding radiated outwards, with a great deal of construction taking place in outlying lots owned by the Somoza regime. The first old school buses from the US came in the mid-1970s as a response to the earthquake, and their history in Managua is intertwined with the city’s sprawl. On an average day, about 800 local buses are on the road in Managua, transporting 855,000 passengers on 34 numbered routes. While many of these buses are conventional and transit-style former school buses (with back doors added), some are transit buses manufactured by Dyna (in Mexico) or Kavz (in Russia).

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Bus Music Videos

I found a frequently running TV commercial for a local Nicaraguan radio station to be quite interesting. The commercial opened with a scene of a crowd of people waiting at a bus stop, looking frustratedly at their watches (a situation that most Managuans can easily identify with). A new Kurgansky Avtobusny Zavod bus finally pulls up, and the petulant passengers board and sit down. The bus driver then turns up the volume for the advertised radio station, and the passengers start smiling and dancing happily in the aisle.

The use of the bus in the commercial was interesting enough, but I decided to do a bit more research on the song to which the passengers were dancing. The song, which I also heard on some of my daily microbus commutes from Ticuantepe to Managua, was Juan Luis Guerra’s “Bachata en Fukuoka.” Yes, that’s Fukuoka, Japan – the lyrics include the “kon’nichi wa,” “ohayō gozaimasu,” and “arigatō gozaimasu.”

To sum up, I was watching a Russian-made bus in a commercial for a Nicaraguan radio station that used a Dominican artist’s song that includes the Japanese in the lyrics, and for which the official music video has shots of the Los Angeles skyline and the Metro Gold Line. As David Harvey writes, “collage and eclecticism have recently come to dominate” in contemporary music (The Condition of Postmodernity, p. 301). The song’s music video (which also happens to involve people sitting on a bus) exemplifies the “depthlessness…in a whole new culture of the image or the simulacrum.” The split-second clips of freight locomotives along the Los Angeles River or Japanese characters on a storefront have nothing to do with their actual significance or meaning, but are instead used just as images.

I couldn’t find the Nicaraguan commercial online, but here is the official “Bachata en Fukuoka” music video:

The “Bachata en Fukuoka” video’s various transportation mode are nothing compared to the buscentricity of another one of Juan Luis Guerra’s songs from this year, “La Guagua” (“The Bus”). The refrain of the song can be translated as “Shift into gear and straighten it out | so that the bus will go in reverse!…| Bring me the maraca and give me a party | so that the bus will go in reverse!” The majority of the music video (embedded below) was filmed on a 1980s Blue Bird All American FE. Highlights include the bus driving backwards through the countryside, the driver eating spaghetti and shaving behind the wheel, a cow with 3-D glasses, a trombonist wearing an I ♥ Fukuoka shirt (in reference to the previously discussed song), and the climactic scene of party-goers at a concert for which the stage’s background is the silhouette of the back of a school bus. I’m not sure why Juan Luis Guerra is so interested in buses, but I’ll take the music videos for these two songs (both of which were on A Son de Guerra, the 2010 Latin Grammy Best Album) as a sign that buses figure prominently in the collective consciousness of Latin America.

Vehicles of Ticuantepe

Various vehicles that regularly passed by where I was staying in Ticuantepe.

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On my first trip to Nicaragua in 2008, one of our group’s last stops was Masaya’s old market (touristy and quite clean). This time around, I decided to visit Masaya’s new market (local and less clean) and the attached bus terminal on my walk around the city.

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Crazy Bus Drivers Cross Flooded River

Enjoy the video above (filmed by someone other than me about 30 miles from where I spent my first night in Nicaragua). Note that the sound is a bit loud, and that if you’re reading my blog through your email, you may need to click on the title of the post above to view it on my website.

As the rainy season has followed me through south through Central America, I’ve managed to avoid landslides, downed bridges, and (completely) crazy drivers. I’ve heard of school bus drivers making it through some rough weather, but these buses seem to be taking an unnecessary risk. La Prensa reports on the government’s response:

The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (MTI) warned that it could suspend the concessions of companies that put the lives of passengers in danger, as was evident in a video captured of various public transportation vehicles crossing the flooded Coco River, in Quilalí, Nueva Segovia, during the recent rains…
Authorities from MTI’s Ground Transport Department noted yesterday that whatever company operates service in the country and puts the lives of users in danger can be subject to heavy sanctions and its operating permits can be suspended indefinitely.

This is probably a harsher response than would normally be expected. The video hits a bit to close to home for Nicaragua, which is mourning for five Red Cross workers and a journalist who were killed in a flash flood while trying to bring supplies to a community isolated by the rains.

Buses of Honduras

While the fleet in Honduras had its fair share of old school buses from the United States, there were also a number of newer, more comfortable models. Bus and road facilities along the main routes were fairly well developed throughout the country. The Grand Central Metropolitan Bus Terminal in San Pedro Sula, Central America’s largest bus station, even has its own Dunkin’ Donuts.

The Grand Central Metropolitan Bus Terminal:

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Buses of San Salvador

Buses in El Salvador’s capital had some of the most eye-catching modifications I’ve seen yet. Quite a few of the school buses had lifted front suspensions so that they drove down the highways tilted backwards, some nearly to the point of having their back bumpers on the pavement. While I didn’t get the chance to ride on a bus modified like this, I imagine it would make boarding fairly difficult. Other common decorations included Freightliner truck-style spoilers and numerous shark fins; maybe the buses are trying to be scary to discourage extortion?

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Statistics for Vehicles Ridden – Belize

I’ve compiled a few statistics on the vehicles in which I traveled from Los Angeles International Airport to the Benque/Melchor border between Belize and Guatemala.

In Belize, I rode 23 vehicles that were formerly school buses, the majority of which (16) were Blue Bird All Americans. Blue Bird was the predominant body manufacturer; I also rode two Thomas Conventionals, one Corbeil Type A, and one Crown Supercoach. In buses, I traveled 753 miles over the course of 35 hours – on average, more than an hour on a bus per day during my stay in Belize. Twenty years was the average age of the buses for which I could determine a model year.