13 October 2017

Pimp my (bus) ride!

Refinishing seat frames in a bus workshop,
Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala
Those of you reading this who are from the US...have you every wondered what happened to your old yellow school bus, the one that took you faithfully to & from school each day? Probably not. Well me neither. But when I started traveling in Belize, I realized that those yellow school buses became retired expats themselves, turning into public long distance buses in Central America (& elsewhere). I have ridden many a "Blue Bird" bus in Belize around that country, reminiscing as I did about time in my youth spent in such buses (and the dramas of who sits with whom & where--in front with the nerds or in the back with the smokers; jumping out the bus's back door during fire drills; and what about when you miss that dang bus?!).
Anything can be "Blue Bird" 
when you have this plate!

Here in Guatemala, I got to tour a "factory" near Antigua that converts your childhood school bus into a suh-weet looking set of wheels, ready to take you from one town to another. The tour was offered by the non-profit NiƱos de Guatemala, and according to my tour guide, there are 32 such workshops in Ciudad Vieja (4 miles from Antigua) alone, a town of some 28,000 people.

How does this all happen? Your boring yellow bus, having reached ~10 years of age, is purchased at an auction in the US, after which it is driven down to Guatemala, likely loaded with spare bus pieces & parts. Per my tour guide & a documentary on these buses, the drive through Mexico for these folks can be a bit dodgy, as robberies are frequent and bribes often requested.

Once in Guatemala, the bus goes to a "factory" to be converted for local use. The workers then do their magic, for example:

*Ditching the snow tires & doing whatever mechanical work may need to be done.

This baby's almost ready to roll
*Adding features: racks to the top of the bus for luggage storage, ladders to the back of the bus in order to reach this rooftop storage, racks inside the bus for smaller bags, maybe a rail to the bus ceiling for standing passengers to hold on to, another rail along the entry door for the "ayudante" (bus assistant) to hold on to (because most of his trip is spent standing in the open door--yes, while moving also)

*Imprinting the "Blue Bird" logo on whatever pieces they may have added or redone (seat backs, entry panels, etc.); doesn't matter that this work has nothing to do with the real "Blue Bird" company!

Finished product hard at work!

*Doing the most awesomest paint job ever so that anyone who sees that bus will want to jump on it right away, no matter where it's headed; preferred decorations seem to include bright colors and religious icons.

These "pimped up" buses at peak times will carry passengers packed three to a seat and standing in the aisles, not to mention of course the occasional live chicken. They will go speeds, distances, and over terrain never dreamed of by your school district for another 10-15 years or so at least!

Hold on tight please buddy

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