Diablos Rojos

Apr 22, 2011 in

When I arrived at the bus terminal in Panama City, this was one of the first impressions.1

These former American schoolbusses serve as public transportation in Panama and as I found out when I travelled northwards, actually every country in central america except Costa Rica uses these kind of busses. In Panama City however, these busses are painted more colorfully then anywhere else in Panama.

Some busses are painted all over, with one great graffiti-style artwork after the other, pimped up with big speakers and powerful subwoofers inside the bus, additional blinkers, and flashing lights that the destination of the bus seems to be an almost negigible detail.
I asked some local about these busses and how they are organized. However, it was really hard to understand what he was saying. This was not because of any strong accent but because the bus driver put on some Reggaeton music at full volume. It is normal in busses here that the driver puts on some music though.

The bus in above photo is going to “Tumba Muerto”… if you look close enough, you can see it :-)

How much the busses are pimped (and how secure they are) pretty much depends on the owner of the bus. There is no central bus company like the HVV in Hamburg, instead there are a bunch of people who each own and run some busses; theoretically, if one owns a bus and has a public bus drivers license, he could just start his own route. Of course if he starts to charge anything else than the standard fare (25 cents within the city), he will jeopardize his license.
That the busses are privately run like taxis might be one reason why the bus drivers are often happy to stop for anyone who wants to get on or off the bus in the middle of the road :-)

The busses, though, are really really old which makes them a bit dangerous. One can see and one can hear that – some engines get so loud when the driver steps on the gas that the ground literally starts to shake. Locals call these busses “Diablos Rojos” (=Red devils), probably because of that. The one I talked with said that “they sometimes catch fire and burn out”. Hm.
He also told me that the Diablos Rojos will vanish from the streets of Panama City within one year and be replaced by the “Metro” busses. These busses look as modern as our busses with proper seats, are not painted, have no additional blinken lights, no sound system and the destination is displayed in big letters on a digital display on the front. They are completely white and feature overregulated air conditioners which is why the locals also lovingly call them “Frigorificos” (=Refrigerators). The complicated and more expensive fare system is inclusive. :-P

Snippet from the newspaper

If you want to see some more pictures of the Diablos Rojos, there are plentiful.

1 Yes, you read right: Panama actually managed that its capital has ONE central bus terminal, as the only country in central america :-P