Screaming, waving, jumping and squeezing in – if there is one thing I have become good at since my arrival in Lima it is riding a bus. As a European one might think that this is not a thing you have to learn, but let me assure you that it is. In my first week in Peru I have taken 17 (!) different Busses, all while successfully avoiding taxis and ‘Cruz del Sur’, the luxurious but expensive long distance bus company popular with tourists. How this worked out for me? Surprisingly well. And though I have by no means figured out the whole system yet (if there is one) let me pass on what I have learned so far…
To understand how peruvian busses work it is important to know that there are roughly four kinds: micros, collectivos, city and long distance busses. The latter are easiest because once you have found the right bus terminal (there is one for each company) they even have a timetable which might be followed. City busses however are on a whole different scale, especially in Lima.
Imagine standing in a crowded pavement where you have been told your bus stops. There is probably some trash on the dusty pavement and most defnitely no shade. Next to you a Street vendor is selling avocados out of an old shopping cart while reggaeton is blasting from some old car or radio. Honking busses and cars are passing you by constantly, treating the different lanes as if they were mere suggestions. In this chaos some busses approaching the bus stop (and I am using this term loosely) reduce their speed while the drivers assistant keeps screaming the name of its final destination at passers by. And this is where you come in: quickly you try to spot the right bus in the sea of traffic, searching for a tiny number somewhere on the colourful bus as it is almost impossible to figure out what is shouted at you with all the noise going on. If you think you have spotted the right one: congratolatuins! now it is your turn to scream your destination and hurry towards the bus, because surely it will only stop for seconds (if at all). Your best bet is therefore to run and jump into the bus, quickly grabbing a seat before the driver speeds off again. Pro tip for tall people: don’t even try to fit into the inner seat and watch your head! From there on your fate is in the hands of the drivens assistant who will collect money from you within the first 2 to 15 minutes of the ride. They will hopefully tell you shortly before you reach your destination so you can prepare to get off just as quick as you got on the bus.
As you can see, reacting fast is key to successfully riding city busses, but another kind of attention is needed for micros and collectivos. These “busses” typically used for lesser travelled routes are a lot smaller. Whenever people tell you to take a taxi – ask again! – because there is usually a micro or collectivo going right to your destination for 1/4 to 1/10 of the price. As they often wait until full there is much less running and screaming involved. But while city busses are easily indentified as such, micros an collectivos are much harder to spot. Even calling them busses streches the definition of the word. Sometimes they are mini-vans, but more often than not just normal cars. And of course if I say normal cars I mean the type of vehicle that would never in a million years pass the german TÜV. My favourite micro that dropped me off in el Carmen even had a broken front window. So the trick is to find the right spot and then look for a crappier looking taxi that isn’t actually one. Luckily I’d say that asking 2-3 people will usually get you to the right bus and to my surprise even taxi drivers will gladly point you in the correct directon. Also, with about four passengers the thrill of getting off at the right spot is much smaller, but most drivers make up for this with increased speed. So if you enjoy a bit of speed and chaos, peruvian busses are defnitely for you. Who needs rollercoasters, right?
Of course I haven’t even arrived in the Andes where roads are smaller and steeper, so I guess there is a lot more to local busses I still have to learn. So be warned, there might be an ‘advanced guide to peruvian busses’ yet to come…
PS: If you are wondering why there are no pictures with this post – think again! My multitasking has its limits.
The dusty village of El Carmen
The place was mentioned briefly in my lonely planet and I thought it sounded interesting. Now that the micro driver is dropping me off in the middle of a nameless street after rushing through the countryside at an insane speed I am having doubts. Ballumbrosios family house seems to be just that: some families house in the middle of a dusty village. kids are playing on the street and the sun is burning. I grab my huge backpack and shyly approach the only adult I can spot. He asks me what I came here for and I say music and dances. He tells me to wait because the family is eating so I take a seat on the bench in front of the colourful house and watch the kids play. A little boy, six at most, starts to dance toward me and leaves me impressed. He sure knows how to shake his butt. But though he seems to enjoy the attention he looses interest quickly.
The playing Ballumbrosio children
After less than 5 minutes I am invited into the house where everyone is still eating and sitting around a long table “Hola Lea, welcome to the family”. I feel a little bad for interrupting their dinner. But then I am offered wine, food and even more wine. After a few glasses I realize that I am still on antibiotics and really shouldn’t be drinking, but I figure that at this point it won’t make a difference. The room where we are sitting is decorated with hundreds of photos showing the whole family, dancing and smiling through several decades and of course there are paintings of the great Amador Ballumbriso, deceased head of the family and father of not less than 15 children who are now sitting around this table together with their own families and children.
A family that enjoys spraying each other with beer is a family I like
I meet a photographer from Lima who has documented the life of this afro-peruvian family since the 80ies and in the process has become a family friend, if not part of it. He says that dancing is the way to make friends with the Ballumbrosios and I can see why. The music is now blasting at club-like volume. I can feel the base and see how the street is turned into a dancefloor for young and old. Today is a special day I am told. One of the sons has been living in France for 15 years and has come to visit for the first time in four years. This is his last day in the village El Carmen. And so the family gathers in a circle around him, dancing, clapping and one-by-one saying their tearful goodbyes. It is great to meet this family who share so much love and turn their meetings into celebrations. I think about what would happen if I put on the newest salsa and reaggeton tunes at full volume at one of my families gatherings. I doubt my aunts and uncles would dance on the street or even that our neighbors would tolerate the noise.
Sitting on a mini-cajon, watching the big ones dance
This family is different though. The children are freely playing and dancing on the street, but are still looked after by all family members. It is hard to figure out who the parents of which child are as even the youngest are passed around frequently. When the small ones get tired of dancing they take a seat on one of the mini cajons, especially made to teach the children. From my research I know that the cajon was indeed invented by afro-peruvians from this region and I am sure they know how to play their instruments just as well as they can dance, but today is all dance and party. And so I try to blend in as much as possible, dance, watch and enjoy myself. In the end I am happy I took this detour from the classical tourist route.
To be honest I had planned to start this blog on a more positive note. In my mind, three days before my flight to Lima I was going to be excited, perfectly prepared and without doubt but I guess life hardly ever plans out like imagined. Now I am a ball of nerves, sitting in my parents guest room with stuff all over the floor, a long to-do list of things to bring into storage, organize on my computer, e-mails to be send and last minute buys to do. Feeling poorly due to a throat infection and having been reminded of taxi kidnappings (thanks Jason) certainly doesn’t help my worries either.
But then I also know that once everything is packed, I feel physically better, have survived the 13h flight and found the way to my first couch surfing host things will probably look different to me. My general plan this year is to plan less and have faith that everything will turn out great so this is probably just the first small challenge of letting go and trusting more. And while I have medicine for my throat, I have a list of things to look forward to for my mind. Because despite my plan to plan less I do have a list with some personal goals and ideas for the following months which includes in no particulat order:
- being aware of my needs and taking good care of myself
- learn peruvian embroidery and / or weaving
- going on a multiday hike in the Andes
- asking people more questions about their passions, views and inspirations (instead of e.g. their jobs or which sites they visited)
- explore the Amazon
- do some yoga
- write a diary to hold on to beautiful memories and new ideas
- approach new people openly
- regularly share photos and blog about experiences
- take the time to mindfully enjoy new places
Just looking at this list now makes me excited and a lot less worried. So I am positive that everything will turn out amazing. I’ll try to keep you all up to date on this blog (I might switch to German from time to time) and hope to seen you again happy and well at some point in 2016 (or 2017)…