I’d been anticipating my first chiva ride for weeks, if not the several months since Ana had mentioned they’re popular in Medellin during December. As the holidays drew nearer, I saw more and more cruising past my apartment on Avenida Las Vegas, music blasting and disco lights flashing.
During visits to Parque Envigado, there were chivas everywhere. It was as if they had rolled into the valley from all around the country for this one month only. The people on them always looked to be having so much fun, and I wanted to jump on board and join in.
My turn arrived on Saturday, December 11th. I’d helped spread the word, and recruited several friends and a date to join me. The cost was 20,000 pesos ($10) per person, which also covered the purchase of communal alcohol and beer.
Mike (USA), Brock (Canada), Michael (USA), Sebastien and Angela (Colombia) all met up with me at the pre-party on the roof of my old Belen apartment. Jason (USA) was living there, so he was in the mix for the night as well. Lina, my Colombian roommate from the Belen days had been the point person for the whole night, and none of what I’m sharing here is meant as a reflection on her party planning skills.
While we were having drinks on the roof, I noticed the chiva parked on the street below. My first impression – smaller than I expected. Lina said the maximum capacity was 50 party people, and judging from the crowd on the roof, we were close to it. The bus also featured rows of seats in the front and back, with a small dance floor and two poles in the middle. I’d hoped for a bus with seats around the perimeter, because you can’t mingle when you’re sitting in church-style pews.
Just before we got on the bus, Lina informed us the disco lights were broken.
We boarded the chiva around 10:15 or 10:30 pm. I watched as people streamed onto the bus, which in retrospect was a smart move. They took all the benchlike seats, leaving me and my friends to the middle area dance floor. The first thing I noticed after climbing aboard was how low the ceiling was. Even for the Colombians shorter than me (5’8″), it was low.
Within minutes of the driver taking off, people were banging their heads against the exposed 2×4 support beams running above us. Ouch! To avoid banging my head, I squatted, which was uncomfortable, but less likely to result in stitches.
People began drinking rum from the bottle, Colombian style, and beer. I immediately managed to pour beer down my right leg while trying to put my camera in my pocket using the same hand holding the beer. Luckily, my camera was spared a dousing, but I decided to forget about the beer drinking for the time being, and ended up giving my camera to Angela for safekeeping (in her bag).
It was all too obvious there would be no salsa dancing on our chiva, so I focused on comfort, eventually resting my ass on one of the benches toward the front. It was painful, and felt as though the combined weight of the 2-3 other people also resting their asses would collapse the bench with one short stop by the bus driver.
Our tour of the Christmas lights began in downtown Medellin, where I saw the Myths & Legends parade a few days earlier. Between being stuck in the middle of the bus, and all the people, I was unable to see anything we passed. So much for taking in the city lights! Around this time I was starting to feel bad for recommending the chiva to so many friends who were only in town for a few nights. We all tried to make the best of the situation.
When our chiva started driving alongside the Medellin River, I saw all the lights there for the first time, and it was an amazing display. But our chiva wasn’t stopping so we could get out and enjoy them. Eventually, after we passed ALL the lights, it pulled over into an empty space, and everyone got out on the right side, which was our only option. This required dodging all the speeding cars and motorbikes that were zipping past us. Safety first in Colombia!
After everyone was off, I went back to get beers for Angela and I, at which point I asked the driver how long we’d be there. He said 30 minutes, meaning we should be back by midnight. Angela and I went for a walk to actually look at the lights, which was a big part of why we were all on the chiva in the first place.
No more than 15 minutes later, we walk back to to find the chiva left without us! I pulled out my BlackBerry to see a list of missed calls from Mike and Jason. I couldn’t believe we’d been left behind. That’s never happened to me, ever.
(11:52 pm) Mike’s message: Far far away. Think ur f’ed. Still driving.
We hailed a cab and headed for Parque Envigado.
(12:04 am) Mike’s message: In Itagui now. Still driving. Kill me.
It became clear that our runaway chiva was going all the way south to the town of Sabaneta first, and then back north through Itagui, before arriving in Envigado.
Angela and I hung out in the park, enjoying the lights and festive atmosphere. By the time we were ready to find a bar or club for dancing, they were all packed. We called it a night at 1:30 am, never having reunited with our chiva from hell. Later, I’d also hear that the sound system stopped working as well, so in addition to no disco lights, there was no music either.
(1:37 am) Mike’s message: Worst chiva ever.