From the illustrious resort areas of Cancun, Mexico to the nitty gritty Central American capital of San Jose, Costa Rica, to the dusty highways of Nicaragua, I've ridden public buses. While they varied greatly in terms of appearance and comfort, every one I rode had come from somewhere else as in they were de segunda mano (second hand). When buses are deemed eligible for retirement status in the United States, or in some instances, unsafe to be operating/too expensive to repair, they often end up in developing nations like Guatemala and Honduras, where parts are either sold or the bus is recommissioned.
Living in San Jose meant that I rode the public buses a lot. While I occasionally took inexpensive taxis during my semester living there, I still rode the bus more. It was in Costa Rica that I saw every kind of public bus imaginable. In my first month there, I took classes at a center that was about three miles away from my host family's house. Every morning I walked a block to the bus that would take me into the center of San Pedro, a suburb of San Jose. Some days it would be former American school buses, just like the ones I used to ride as a child (some even had the school district labeling on the side). However, unlike the golden buses from my childhood, these were completely different; some had been painted over with bright colors while others simply featured wild spray paint designs. One day to my shocking surprise, a Greyhound bus rolled up. It was comical to see a bus that big and relatively fancy (well, for a residential Central American neighborhood) being slowly driving down the pot-hole ridden streets. Unlike in American cities where exact change is required (most cities, in fact, have done away altogether with money on buses with passengers using fare cards instead), you could get change on the spot for your fare and incredibly, the money was just sitting out. Granted, while fares on Costa Rican buses were significantly less than a dollar so the money in a fare box was not comparable to what's found in a bank safe, in a city where crime is rampant, it was still "open season" all the same.
I've not been to a Latin American country since 2008 and with the possible exception of riding public buses at the glitzy resorts there, I think my public bus riding days in Latin America are over. When you live abroad, there are just some experiences you can never replicate as a tourist. And while I cringed on many a bus ride over fears of being pickpocketed or broke into a panic when thinking I wouldn't be able to get off in time, bus riding in Latin America, regardless of the country is a unique experience.