Combis, Cajons, and Chicha oh my!!!
I can’t believe that I’ve been in Perú for nearly a month now, but like they say time flies when you’re having fun! I’ve been so busy with my classes, exploring Lima, and taking every opportunity to improve my Spanish that I rarely have time to think about anything else, except when I’m enduring the long commute to University in a combo or micro.
These small bus/van vehicles are the heart and soul of Lima’s chaotic system of transportation, and though they may be small, cramped, and confusing I am learning to love them. I really have no choice, seeing as I have to spend a significant amount of time inside of them throughout the week on my way to school every day.
Buses in the United States tend to follow a schedule, maintain uniform appearance, and other forms of consistency. This is not the case here. Every combi looks different, is most likely owned by a different company, is a different size, and you never know how long the ride is going to take. Sometimes its 25 minutes, sometimes it’s and hour and 25 minutes. There is no apparent algorithm to deduce the probable length of your journey either, it doesn’t seem as if the conventional rules of rush hour and these types of things apply.
That said, every combi is playing a different blend of enticing music; at times exotic, in some instances familiar. You’re most likely to hear chicha or some Peruvian cumbia, but reggaeton is also quite popular, and I’ve even heard “Gold Records from America” on the radio on several occasions. Let me tell you, listening to Yes, ABBA, and Neil Diamond while taking a crazy ride on some hybrid of a city bus and Volkswagen hippie van is quite the experience.
The cajon is an instrument that originated in the Afro-Peruvian communities of Perú. It’s exact origins are a mystery, but whether it was created to deceive malicious white slave-owners into thinking that it was not a musical instrument or was simply made out of the resources available it has become a staple of Afro-Peruvian music and many other genres (such as flamenco) in different countries as well. “Cajon” means drawer or chest, and this is essentially what a cajon is: a wooden box with space for the sound to travel in the back. During my time in Perú I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to view many late night Afro-Peruvian and Latin Jazz concerts, and am always struck by the intricacy and complexity of the rhythms that cajon player is able to execute on what is essentially a wooden box.
Chicha is a corn based soft drink that is commonly served by sidewalk vendors and at a variety of restaurants and cafés. It is made from a special variety of corn that gives it it’s rich purple color and has a taste unlike anything I have ever before experienced.