Chiva Express

Transport, Best Wishes, Tours

Loaded front-to-back and floor-to-ceiling with packages of coffee, banana bunches, chickens, pigs and dogs, and people, las chivas roam the rural roads of Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Venezuela.

Usually given the names of women, these ungainly buses are baptized by village priests with a few drops of holy water. The ritual is meant to protect the chiva, the driver and then, if any magic is left over, the passengers, too. They need it: in a world of American and European safety standards, a chiva is an endangered species with no seat belt, animals on the loose, and drivers who often have not finished their elementary-school educations. Tourists love them.

Once a rickety chiva ends up in a junkyard, it will probably find its way to the road again disguised as something new. In Ecuador, one old chiva has been converted into a train called the Chiva Express. The typical chiva roof was kept as a sort of terrace from which passengers may admire the Andean scenery, the tires replaced and the bus' grille exchanged for a piece of tin that simulates the nose of a train. But even this unusual mode of transport, this creative re-imagination of a bus as a train, was taken off the road in 2010, when Ecuadorian safety law created a strict list of security features that the Chiva Express could not hope to meet.