the combi life
Part of living in Perú is dealing with public transportation. I grew up mostly in Oklahoma and Minnesota, and now have spent the last three years of my life studying in Iowa. Needless to say, I do not have experience with public transportation. When I first got here the main thing that took me by surprise was the amount of traffic. I have traveled quite a bit, but I guess I never really realized how ridiculous traffic can be. Then in addition to traffic, I have had to figure out how to maneuver in the combi system of Lima.
What is a combi you ask? Well… a combi is another word for a “micro-bus” or in laments terms, a really creepy looking van that I would not get into unless absolutely necessary. However, it is REALLY cheap, and semi-efficient. There are combis that can take you anywhere and everywhere in Lima. Literally. To give you an example, when I go to my volunteer work here in Perú, it takes me a little over an hour. I only need to take one combi and it costs me about $.33, that’s right, 1/3 of a dollar for an hour of transportation.
The confusing part about combis is that there is no magical website that tells you the routes of the combis or the times that they will come by. Each combi, within the past 5 years, has been required to be part of a company. That makes it a little less shady, but still, they are independently owned underneath the company, so the condition of the combi depends on the driver and the cobrador.
The cobrador is the man, or woman, that stands at the door of the combi shouting out where it is going to, and trying to get as many people on board as possible. Some cobradors can be pretty aggressive, but most are really helpful if you have questions about where they will be going. Once you jump onto the combi, you just hope that there is a seat available. If not, you get the pleasure of standing and trying to keep your balance as the combi swerves in and out of traffic trying to get to its desired location as quickly as possible.
The cobrador will then walk through the combi clinking money asking for the “pasaje” or fare, which depends on where you are going, and the mood that the cobrador is in. I have had to debate with a couple cobradors about what the price should be and I have actually won a couple of times!
When you need to get off of a combi you yell “esquina” for the corner or “paradero” if you want to get off at the next designated stop. Depending on the driver, the driver may or may not completely stop for you to get off, and you roll/jump/fall off of the combi at your destination… or somewhat close to your desired destination.
However, for $.33 and combis available 24/7 I will take it. I must say that the first time I successfully navigated a combi by myself it was pretty exhilarating. Thankfully the host families with IFSA-Butler accompany you the first time you go so it isn’t as shocking. It actually becomes kinda fun when you get used to it. I know pictures can’t do it justice, I have included a few from the “combi life” of Lima.