The Chiva Party Bus From Hell

Chiva party bus
Our chiva party bus

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.

Brock and I laying low
After initially spilling beer on my camera, and right leg, I managed to get this photo of Brock and I squatting on the bus floor.

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 bench-style 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.

Modern chiva
This modern chiva is actually designed for partying, with a tall roof, wide open dance area (minus the bench seats), and working disco lights and sound system.

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 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.

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  1. You beat me to it!! I need to do a similar post about this… interesting experience after the new year. Think I will liberally steal from your great post here (and link you back, of course). 😉

    It was a truly odd night. And the driver and the organizer deciding to leave you, while a few of us were protesting, was one of the low-lights. But like most stories, the bad ones are more memorable usually than the good ones. And if I’d had your date that night…. they could have left me somewhere also.

    Was really great to finally meet you in person in Medellin and get to hang with you a bit. Even on the night of the worst chiva ever.

  2. Wow! I spit out my tea, I laughed so hard.
    I can’t believe they left you behind! My only bus experience leaving members of our party behind was in Barbados when my husband and I were shoved on a bus by well-meaning locals, leaving my in-laws just watching us drive off. In that instance, the bus kept going, but one of the guys who worked on the bus actually ran back and collected the stranded passengers.

    I love reading about the same entertaining event told from different perspectives, so I’m looking forward to Mike’s blog post as well!

    • jajaja, glad you got a good laugh Anis! I really couldn’t believe the bus left without us, despite me knowing Lina who organized it, and the protests of my friends like Michael. I ended up going back a few days ago to spend more time photographing the Christmas lights by the river. 🙂

  3. Hi,

    I have also been in such a bus, it’s great. A long time ago, this were the only buses in the region. In fact, I have bin in such a bus in regular operation as a “bus”, transporting region from rural areas to a town… even in such operation, this buses are always like party 🙂

  4. Man, I know exactly what you mean. The first time I was invited to take a chiva ride in Medellin, I experienced the head knocking on the steal ceiling beams for about an hour until I just decided I could not take it anymore and got off in Caldas and took a taxi home. However, what happened to you is horrible. Unfortunately that still goes on now in 2015 and complaining about the driver is a waste of time. Customer service is not very important for these types of companies. So, when looking to hire chivas in Medellin is good to ask a lot of questions before paying. I have hired a couple of chivas for company parties since then and have found that the best company out there have all styles of chivas, but the customer has to know what they really want. If they tell you that the capacity of the vehicle is 50 people, then plan on only inviting 30 so that you can all have a good time and be comfortable.