This bus is from El Salvador and a lot newer than
the buses in Barranco, but it’s the closest I could find
to how the Peruvian buses of that day were painted.
Many different buses traveled Barranco’s boulevard on the cliff, so we had to study each one with carefulness. They were not the modern German-engineered buses that travelled the boulevards of our neighborhoods with their destinations written in large, clear letters over the windshields. No, the buses that travelled Barranco were bent in many places. They had been repaired so many times that more of their parts had once belonged to other buses than to them. Their fenders were crooked. Some were held on by wire and whatever welds you could buy for a few beers. And yet, they worked. What perhaps looked to Charly’s American eyes like something about to collapse into a pile of metal, looked to me like mechanical wonders, traveling monuments to the indomitable character of the Peruvian cholo and his struggling, proud, and resourceful barrios.
There were so many different buses. Some that were red and had round shapes, with magnificent radiator grills built in the 1930’s, steered out of the boulevard’s flow of traffic and came to our stop with their destinations painted under the windshield and around the side windows. You had to read fast!
The drivers, they were artists of the transport. Each had his own scheme for colors. Red, yellow, and green like the Amazon parrot. Yellow, purple, and green for El Senor de los Milagros. Always three colors. Because two were not enough.
For some, even three colors were not enough, so they hung beads of even more colors along the top of their windshields. And those drivers who had a brother or a tio who owned a muffler shop, they roared past, their engines free from those restraints of civilization, accelerating with a loud, staccato blast, and decelerating with a spine-tingling, gurgling sound of something being sucked away.
And if the beads were still not enough, you could always add purple pinstripes that curled and ended in little explosions of sparkle the color of gold. And hang religious medals off the driver’s visor, glue blue and cream plastic statues of Mary the Mother of God to the dash, and paint prayers to patron saints in scroll along the top and bottom edges of the windshield.
Excerpt from Cerro San Cristobal, Chapter 37 of Tocayos Part 2, which I will publish in the Summer of 2016.