Nicaragua Notes: Love Thy Bus

There is something so fascinating and fantastic about the Latin American bus. ANYONE who has ever spent ANY time in Latin America has surely, at one point or another, spent time on some type of bus. In my experience, the lower level the better they are. Not to say safer, or more comfortable, just more interesting. I’ve spent considerable time on these babies, but Nicaragua was another story, one that involved lack of time and great distances, so our required mode of transportation was the Land Cruiser.
During a workshop shoot in El Cua I was loitering around a small recreation center where the kids were assigned to photograph group activities. From a great distance I heard the roar of a metallic beast, one that was ALL TOO familiar. My heart began to race in anticipation. Would it be a “normal” bus, standard yellow, maybe a roof rack, or would it be the heart and soul of a risk-taking nomad? What turned up was something in the middle. The overall look was standard yellow, but the owner had spent considerable funds on better suspension, heavyweight tires, and luckily for all us, chrome grill work. But people, there is so much more. So much. The sound. You HAVE to know the SOUND.

The one thing you can’t know is the smell. These babies are ALL diesel and pollution control isn’t a top priority. I grew up on a ranch, surrounded by a bevy of diesel things. Heck, I even drive a diesel now, but theses buses are an entirely new level. I also wanted to include another view of these buses, one that you will surely experience if you find yourself on the roads of Latin America. When you add the smell, dust and crawling speed it adds up to a memorable, extended moment. Trust me.

Finally, I want you to notice, in the color photograph, the guy standing near the door with his head down, leaning against the great beast. This is a common look when surrounding these beasts because they do more with these machines than you can possible imagine. This photo doesn’t look particularly scary or risky but that bus is at a nice angle and the rear end is backup against the Earth itself. The bus is also twisted, and with each millimeter the beast groaned and strained. A serious “pop” would impact a significant number of people.

In the background the kids worked the scene like pros. Ducking and dodging in and out, working on their backlighting skills, panning skills and just the interaction and dialogue required by entering an unknown situation with the goal of emerging with top level imagery. Also remember that many of these kids hadn’t touched a camera until the day before they were standing here.


And just to show you what “left of camera” was offering up. There was much going on.

12 responses to “Nicaragua Notes: Love Thy Bus”

  1. Ahhhhh. That sound file is sooo great! Makes me wanna go to Nica. Too cool.

  2. lionelB says:

    It has the flat splutter of a Hawker Hurricane. As if about to take off. I thought the guy bending his head was engaging in a moment of prayer. An understandable precaution for such a means of transport.

  3. Jason Timmis says:

    Two words my friend….Cummins!!

    Glad your health is at least at a level you could go on this trip.

    All the best!


  4. Mike says:

    Isn’t it strange how many of us collect photographic memories but not audio ones? Love the sound of that bus.
    Some good work on your website, Eric.


  5. I remember in Antigua, the bus was flying through the streets at high speed, I had my head out the window to shoot an oncoming bus until Mr. Not So Bright here remembered I had on a wide angle lens and that bus is mighty cloooooooose…lost my head, but I don’t miss it much.

    These busses are one of the most Latin American experiences one can have, they are awesome.

    • Smogranch says:

      Guatemala was my first experrience, back in 1995. I went from Antigua to Santa Cruz, and then all over from there. LONG stretches on these babies. Goldburg told me a horror story of Katmandu to somewhere in India, back in the day, while he was sick. It was awesome.

  6. Hi Dan;

    My wife is from Central America, I have seen many buses like this and crazy colorful ones packed with people on my many travels there..all buses privately owned yet public transport & spewing black smoke up into the mid-day sun. In the big cities, these buses are not very safe she says.. We took cabs and the family car instead. Great story.. I enjoy your writing!

    • Smogranch says:

      These things are so varied. I’ve taken some super high level buses as well, but there is something about the packed insanity of the country bus that has to be experienced. Glad you enjoyed.

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