Unlike in the US, where the dominant bus line has the word “grey” right in the name, buses in much of Latin America are pandimonious converted Bluebird school buses 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. You can still see these moving pieces of art across the country but in March of 2013 all 1,200 diablos rojos in Panama City were decommissioned, deemed too gaudy, polluting and dangerous for the city’s shiny new profile as Miami South.
Owners of diablos rojos in the capital were given US$25,000 per city 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 which are the same drab make and model as buses that ply Mexico City and other metropolises.
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’re told were headed to China. Mountains of scrap metal were created. Engines were lined up on the ground. And we were there to witness the death of the infamous diablos rojos.
Read more about travel in Panama