Unlike in the US, where the dominant bus line has the word “grey” right in the name, buses in much of Latin America are covered in bright artwork, stickers, flashing lights, and anything else the driver/owners can think of to one-up the competition in the unspoken bus beauty pageant that goes on in the street. In Panama, the local festive buses are called diablos rojos (red devils) not because of their looks but because of their reputation as overcrowded death traps. In March of 2013 all 1,200 diablos rojos in Panama City were decommissioned. Owners of diablos rojos in the capital were given US$25,000 per bus. Diablos rojos drivers who did not have too many tickets or deaths on their hands were also given the chance to train to drive Panama City’s new Metro Buses. After years of “service” the diablos rojos were unceremoniously rounded up in a large dirt lot at a giant field which was part of the old US Howard Air Force Base, and taken apart piece by piece. Hundreds of wheels were loaded into containers which we were told were headed to China. Mountains of scrap metal were created. Engines were lined up on the ground. And we were there to document the demise of the diablos.
Here’s more about travel in Panama