So it is time for a quintessential Peace Corps Peru blog entry: The Combis.
The inexpensive public transportation system in Peru is unorganized at best. While there are really nice buses that travel long distances the buses that transport most Peruvians (and Peace Corps trainees) on a daily basis are a different story. The combis are small, crowded, hot, noisy, and crazy.
The first, and most important, thing to remember when riding a combi is that it can never be full. No matter how many people are on the combi there is always room for one (or five) more. There are many combi drivers that take the same routes so the drivers want to get as many people on their combis as possible in order to earn the maximum amount of money. An understandable business model but it makes for some interesting rides.
In the morning, the combi is usually pretty crowded by the time we get on. That means that we’re usually squashed into the aisle, hanging onto the bar for dear life. The combi picks up speed as quickly as possible and doesn’t slow down until absolutely necessary. The quick starts and stops usually send the gringos lurching all over while the Peruvians stand as still as statues. When lucky, I’m able to grab a seat next to a bored looking Peruvian but this rarely happens.
The combi team consists of two people: the driver and the money man (not his official job title). The money man stands in door of the combi and tells the driver when to stop. He collects money while the combi pitches around and yells at people to move faster when getting on or off the combi.
There aren’t any official stops on the combi route so it’s important to pay attention to where you are. The route is always the same but there is no guarantee that the combi will stop where you want it to unless you’ve told the money man (and even then it’s not a guarantee). There have been a few times we’ve had to back track since we’ve missed our stop.
The combi rides are crazy but I love them. One PCT accidentally fell into the lap of a Peruvian when the combi started when she wasn’t ready, great 80s music in English that allows us to all jam out, realizing that six more people are going to get on a combi that I considered at capacity, needing help from Peruvians to translate to the money men where we’re trying to go, realizing we’re being ripped-off but being too exhausted to do anything about it… just some of the highlights of a combi ride.
Come to Peru… you’ll never be happier that you own a car.