By Saundra Amrhein
Shortly after 9:30 p.m., the school bus rolls down Armenia Avenue and into the parking lot of La Pequeña Colombia restaurant in Tampa, located in Central Florida. People start heading toward the bus – women in high heels, men pulling coolers.
The school bus that comes to a stop – with neon and flashing lights ablaze inside and salsa music pouring out of its open windows – is called La Chiva Bus de Tampa. In Colombia, the colorful chiva buses – yellow, red and blue – are a familiar experience and places to pass fun times drinking and dancing with family and friends.
Now throughout Central and South Florida, La Chiva party bus services are spreading and have become a unique way to enjoy Florida not just for nostalgic Colombia-Americans and visiting relatives – but for Latinos and Americans of all backgrounds. The music and sabor, however, remains purely Colombian.
“It’s like your own discoteca,” the owner Gabriel Hoyos, 47, says once the 40 partiers are on board and the party bus is slowly cruising down the road at about 35 miles per hour. “You don’t need to worry about anything.”
Behind the driver’s seat and Hoyos’s tiny deejay station, the partiers dance in elegant and sensual steps to cumbia and salsa, occasionally reaching up to grasp a bungee cord that Hoyos has rigged along the sides of the bus to help dancers with their balance on the moving bus. Along the perimeter are cushioned seats that Hoyos installed, creating the open rectangular space in the center for the dance floor. Partiers pass each other cups of sangria or rum and coke.
A favorite song blasts out of the speakers, and the few remaining seated people bolt to their feet to join the other dancers. “Cali pachanguero!” they all sing along. “Cali luz de un nuevo cielo!”
Each chiva outing is different depending on the group’s request, Hoyos says. In general it can run $20-$40 a person and include three to four hours of dancing and music and pre-arranged free entry into nightclubs in the historic district of Ybor City or drives to the beach, where they put out lanterns and dance in the sand to the music coming from the chiva party bus.
This particular evening, the partiers are decked out in costumes, ready for a shorter ride just to a causeway beach and back before heading to dinner and a nightclub party. On the bus dance floor, a pirate couple spins each other to salsa Colombiana. A tipsy clown loses her nose and scrambles for it as it rolls down the bus floor. A bumble bee struggles to hold onto her wings amid turning, dancing bodies. And everyone forms a conga line to the cumbia, “Colombia tierra querida.”
Pulling through historic Ybor City – well-known for its night clubs and people watching – La Chiva Bus de Tampa quickly becomes the center of attention. Several guys dressed as nuns and a giant elf stop and stare as the Chiva turns onto Seventh Avenue, the salsa blaring and chiva’s partiers honking horns. A man on the street dressed as a cow pauses to wave.
When Hoyos gets a break from deejaying, he dances with his wife and with some of the passengers, including Angela Vasquez of Tampa and her mother visiting from Medellin. Angela also brought friends who are originally from Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
For Angela and her mother, the chiva bus is a nice, if smaller, version of what they are used to. For her friend Rosa Manzanero, originally from Venezuela – dressed as a hippie with dreadlocks and ripped jeans – it was a novel experience.
“I haven’t been on anything like it before,” she says.
When you go…
To learn more about La Chiva Bus de Tampa call (813) 458-2078
To learn more about Chiva Rumbera Orlando, call (407) 429-9289 or (407) 429-5294
To learn more about the Limo Chiva in Miami, call (786) 344-1172 or visit Limo Chiva on Facebook.