Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Traveling In Peru

Traveling in Peru is always an adventure. Where you’re going and how you’ve decided to get there determines how much of an adventure it will be. Let’s look at travel from a long, medium and local perspective. Over long distances you have two options; air travel or bus.

Flying in Peru means LanPeru, and that means you will fly through Lima no matter where you are or where you are going. It also means a minimum of several hours lay-over in Lima and possibly 3:00am flights on the return trip to Lima. Not a good situation but it may be preferable to a 20+ hour bus trip. Which brings us to the other long-haul option, the omnibus.

An omnibus is a big cushy bus that cruises the highways day and night. The more reputable and established bus lines have well maintained and comfortable busses that include attendants, meals, movies and bingo to pass the time. Not surprisingly they also have the better safety records. Other bus lines offer bare-bones service including a maddening amount of unscheduled stops to pick up and drop off anyone anywhere on the highway. They also have terrible safety records but because they are so inexpensive the majority of Peruvians choose to ride them.

Spectacular bus crashes are a fact of life in Peru. The majority of them occur in the mountains and involve tumbling down several hundred feet until crashing to a halt against some large boulder. The cause is usually operator error. The narrow roads are often unpaved or in poor repair. Shoulders and guard rails are largely non-existent. In fairness to the bus industry I should point out that at any given moment there are thousands of these big busses on the road. I would guess that the ratio of accidents to hours or miles driven is low.

That pretty much covers long distance travel. For medium range travel we’ve got three options, beginning with the Custer (pronounced cooster). This is a small bus holding about30 people that travels between towns to a maximum of approximately 50 miles. Though they tend to be ancient, they are relatively comfortable and inexpensive to ride.

A combi is a van that’s been retrofitted or built new to hold 15 people but always packs in 20. In Peru there is a special law of physics that says two bodies CAN and indeed SHOULD occupy the same space at the same time. That law is never more apparent than on a combi. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m sharing a seat or having sex. If it’s a cute Latina chica sitting next to me that may not be a bad thing, but if it’s Luis the goat farmer it’s a somewhat different experience. Like the custer the combi operates between towns but also within a town.

Next is the colectivo, which is a private car operating within and between towns. Most of them are of the 1960 vintage Dodge, Fords and Chevys. The window handles and arm rests have long ago disappeared. The driver will not begin his trip until there are 3 passengers in back and 2 up front.

For local travel the workhorse taxi is the diminutive Daewoo Tico or Matiz. They are usually painted yellow and there are never less than 25 in sight, all blowing their horns to get your attention. Riding in one of them in the central city during rush hour is not for the faint hearted. I vividly remember thinking my first day in Peru was going to be my last.

Lastly we come to the lowly moto; a three-wheeled motorcycle. They operate within the city and in an attempt to limit vehicle congestion are prohibited from the city center. They are the least expensive form of transportation, averaging between one and two soles to anywhere in town. In the city my wife and I usually walk, both because we enjoy walking and for the exercise. If I do take transportation I ride a moto because it is easier for me to get in and out of.

There you have it. Now that you know all about traveling in Peru, in the next post we’ll take a trip somewhere. Fasten your seat belts (even though they probably don’t work).


1 comment:

  1. Have you ever been published? If your answer is not, you should think on doing it soon. This time you make me laugh several times. That was because I know what are you saying is exactly the truth, only that I never could have written it the way you did. Tom, you are a magnificent guy that enjoys the good life. Hope you will not be mising your cheese soon.