Tierra de las combis
After being in Lima for two weeks, I can neither say that I am completely familiar with its public transportation system (predominately a hodgepodge of vehicles to which one could loosely apply the term ‘bus’), nor that I am particularly a large fan of it. What I can say, without a doubt, is that I am daily at the mercy of the combi. Although “las combis” by no means share identical routes, they seem to have been created for a single purpose: to transport as many beings as humanly possible, as quickly as possible, while ensuring minimal comfort. In a world where form tends to denote function, the combi reigns supreme. Their relatively flat-frontedness, for instance, is ideally suited for tailgating at high speeds (when the obscene traffic allows for such high speeds), while the sliding windows that accompany each seat function inside and out, allowing for the perfectly timed heists of bags sitting in unsuspecting passengers’ laps by skilled Limeñan thieves. Although I, myself, have not yet been pitted against the sly hand of the Limeñan “ladrón,” or thief, I have had many an experience aboard the combi. On one particular trip back from the University, I was enjoying the fact that I was one of only 20 or so people on the ride and could actually sit semi-comfortably. The music was uncharacteristically loud and was a rather lively mix of Latino-pop. The driver, however, was particularly reckless and was nearly the cause of three separate accidents, taking the opportunity to throw his head out the window and curse at each of the other combi drivers as if it were their fault as he continued to weave in and out of traffic. At one point in particular, our “cobrador” (the person in charge of taking your fare when you board) had to get off to fix one of the mirrors that was now hanging precariously from the combi thanks to one of our “run-ins.” Ahhh the streets of Lima…a love-hate relationship if I ever have seen one.
Before this takes on a negative air, though, I must say that in a city of nearly 9 million, the combi is not only necessary, but is well adapted to serve the needs of the city’s people in a highly cost-efficient manner. For a 45 minute ride from my home in Miraflores to the University, for example, it costs me a “luca china,” or 1.50 soles. This is less than $0.60 US. In other words, it is ridiculously cheap. A taxi ride to the University is roughly 10 soles, which is less than $4 US. As in the case of the combis, there are no shortages of taxis in Lima. They circle “las calles” constantly and make up the greater proportion of the vehicles that clog up the city’s streets. In addition, they add to the cacophonous display of horns that compose a Limeñan street symphony to which not much can compare.
“Las combis” and the traffic in Lima were only some of many first impressions upon my arrival in Lima. Orientation lasted for two weeks, and I had the pleasure of getting to know 21 other “gringos” and a handful of “patas” (Peruvian students from the University with whom we are paired). On our second night here we were paired with our host families, and I have now been integrated into a family that consists of my “mamá anfitriona,” my brother José Carlos and our golden retriever Max. We also have a network of extended family that live relatively close to our house in Miraflores, with whom I have already shared many stories over dinner and pisco sours (one of the most famous “tragos,” or drinks, in Perú).
While on the subject of dinner and piscos, the food here is fantastic. Ceviche (raw fish marinated and essentially “cooked” in acidic lime juice with onions, tomatoes, and peppers), already one of my favorite dishes before coming to Perú, can be found in abundance in Lima and is some of the most delicious that I have ever tasted. Papas rellenas (fried potatoes filled with meat) and lúcuma (a local, sweet fruit that resembles an avocado with a large black seed inside) top out the list of my new favorites. I recently tried “sangre,” or curdled cow’s blood, as well. We’ll just say that didn’t make the cut.
Now, because I have a mountain of reading to do for classes next week, I’ll leave you with a little photo journey of some of the stops on our orientation tours and outings…until next time, y’all.
Our trip to central Lima and the Plaza de Armas: