In the 1990s, Alberto Fujimori was responsible for bringing a huge influx of used vans and buses in from South Korea. This linked article is in Spanish, but it tells of the country’s ills that required the vans, or “combis” in the first place. Now, say experts, they’re unnecessary.
So what is a combi?
The ugly of Lima traffic
Imagine taking a VW van and gutting it of everything except its shell and engine. Maybe keep the cut-up seats as-is, or install new ones of poor material that are quickly laid waste by the whims of younger people who don’t think twice about cutting the fabric for fun. That doesn’t really mater though, because the fabric will tear eventually. And it has. Get into a combi and you’ll feel like you’re very much inside a sardine can. You can almost always feel the springs in the seats, and if you’re taller than average here, then your knees have to contend with the immovable seat in front of you, always to he detriment of your ligaments. The floor, and walls are thin sheets of metal, and it would not be a combi if the door did not either close incorrectly, or was jury-rigged somehow to keep it shut, perhaps a combination of nylon plastic cord and electrical tape. There are some combis that are new, but they are the exception.
The bad of Lima traffic
Lima’s traffic makes either for a hellish ride, or for a snail-paced marathon that leaves you desperate for the finish line. There are two reasons the traffic makes a combi particularly shitty:
- Just like sardine cans, that’s how they’re stuffed: If you don’t get several asses right in your face on a journey to Lima, then I would not believe you were ever there–or at least, you forgot to be a good traveler and experience the local transportation first-hand. If standing, your neck will be bent 90 degrees. If sitting, well, trying to get out is always fun. While the driver drives, there’s a “cobrador” who yells destinations at people on the sidewalk and at stops, trying to cram enough people into his combi to the point that oxygen becomes precious.
- They’re in a hurry: If combis have the road, they’ll treat it like a racetrack. It is very rare to ever feel safe in one of these things, given that they zig-zag like a getaway car through spaces that aren’t big enough, and the top-heavy vehicles feel like they’ll be knocked down. When there are accidents with combis, people die. Traffic and road incidents in Peru happen to be especially horrible, and consistently horrible. I have had to explode at a driver and cobrador when they were breaching 85 miles an hour on an avenue. Peruvians tend to be reserved, but when I screamed at the dick-hole, everyone else piped in as well.
The good of Lima traffic
For those who come from cities lacking sufficient public transportation, the pros of a frenetic yet constantly flow of public transport options becomes rather awesome. Combis are not the only option–there are buses and taxis as well. But it’s mostly combis and taxis. A ride in a combi generally costs 1 sol, or about 25 cents USD. It’s easy to hate the traffic in Lima, but it’s hard to rail against the readily available vehicle that’ll get you where you’re going. Rarely will you ever wait longer than 5 minutes, and there are options into the night. So the paradox is that public transportation is good, but it’s also bad. The good is one thing I love about Lima Peru.