chivas bus

Rustic buses are old artisan modified buses used in rural Colombia and Ecuador where they are known as chivas (kid goats) or escaleras (ladders). They are used as public transport and more recently used as party buses in both countries. These are varied but characterized for being painted colorfully (usually with the yellow, blue, and red colors of the flags of Ecuador and Colombia) with local arabesques and figures.

Most have a ladder to the rack on the roof which is also used for carrying people, livestock and merchandise. They are built upon a bus chassis with a modified body made out either metal or wood. Seats are bench alike, made out of wood and with doors instead of windows.

The owner or driver usually gives the vehicle a unique nickname. Chivas were first introduced in the Antioquia Department in the early 20th century. Peasants of the region usually relied on horse-drawn vehicles for the transportation of goods and themselves. In 1908 Colombian engineer Luciano Restrepo and Colombian mechanic Roberto Tisnes imported a chassis from the United States. In Medellin they built the first body. This first bus was used in a route between downtown Medellin to the town of El Poblado. The first models were very basic, with a canvas-made roof and four benches. The body of newer models were modified with a roof rack so peasants could transport their goods.

There is no official account of when this kind of buses first arrived to western Antioquia. The most reliable account is found in the book ‘Notes for the History of San vicente’ (‘Apuntes para la Historia de San Vicente’) Colombian author Ricardo Zuluaga Gil narrates the arrival of the first chiva: ‘There was an event that altered the heyday of Saint Vicentians: The arrival to the town in 1922 of the first engine powered automobile. It was an escalera truck. It was brought from Rionegro by Mr. Lino Arbelaez by riding on the old Royal road for this they needed spades and shovel.’

The term escalera (ladder) was coined because the buses have a ladder, usually located on the rear of the bus. This ladder allows people to put their belongings and goods on top of the bus. The bus became a rural solution to the need of moving both cargo and passengers simultaneously.

Chivas are recognized nationally and internationally as a symbol of Colombian culture, in particular of rural Colombia. On the other hand, they have been controversial and a subject of criticism. The main reason being that chivas rather than being a symbol of Colombia’s diverse urban and rural culture, they are instead a symbol of underdevelopment and of the rustic hacking of a machine intended to be used in urban areas.

As of today, chivas or escalera buses are still used as the main transportation system in very poor and isolated rural areas of Colombia, however, in most places they are slowly being replaced by newer, faster and more efficient minibuses. In the cities they have found a service as party buses especially in warmer cities. They are also combined with advertising for promotional campaigns and as tourist attractions.

Currently, these vehicles also are used in various parts of Colombia as walking clubs, provided a good sound equipment, disco lights, microphone, to dance tracks and other accessories that make them look more Rumba. The ‘Jeepao’ is a similar version of the chiva, but in a Willies Jeep.

Not only can these unique buses be found in South America, but also other locales including the United States. As the population of Colombian Americans and Ecuadorian Americans has risen in New York City, New York; so has the use of this customized bus. Developed into party buses equipped with their own bar, these can often be found carrying partygoers around the city. Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz arrived in a Chiva for the New York premiere of ‘Charlie’s Angels.’


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