26 September 2011

Transportation in Lima Part 2: Killer Combi

The Peruvian combi--such an unassuming, quiet creature when it´s resting...
Let´s take a moment to consider the Peruvian combi.  Its stout, mini-van physique that proudly wears the names of all the streets and districts on its route.  Its torn-up pleather seats jammed-packed with Peruvians on their way to and from the office.  Its melody of horn honking, accompanied by the jingling of change as the cobrador comes ´round to collect travel fares.  The unfailing enthusiasm of the cobrador as he peers out the window or steps onto the sidewalk to chant the mantra of his route in a well-practiced monotone: ¨Arequipa, Arequipa, Arequipa!¨ he says, or ¨Todo Benavides, todo Benavides.  Vamos, vamos, vamos.¨   The reprise of his chanting as he ushers old passengers off the bus (¨Baja! Baja! Pie derecho!¨) and welcomes new passengers aboard.

The combi system is a push-and-shove of a transportation system that´s distinctly Peruvian, a well-oiled machine that´s barely detectable to the common traveler.  It starts at the ground level, with the two-man team of the bus driver and cobrador.  The bus driver darts in and out of traffic to shuttle passengers to their desired destinations in the fastest possible time, while the cobrador keeps track of the schedule, the number of passengers, and the number of tickets. It´s the ultimate drag race to the next stop—one combi always riding the exhaust pipe of another, looking for the next opportunity to pass, passengers and passersby breathing in the fumes.  All this hustle is to make money not for the city, but for privately-owned umbrella companies.  Some are legal, some are not.

They call them combis asesinas (killer combis), because in the rat race to the nearest paradero, they´ve been known to hit innocent pedestrians.  Here in Peru, it´s safer to be inside the combi than outside.  With fares averaging one sol (about $0.40), occasional vendors selling everything from office supplies to jewelry, and salsa on the radio, they just might be the more enjoyable option, too.  Great marketing strategy.


  1. it's amazing how you made from a every-day nightmare for all peruvians to a funny story... keep it up Kayla!!! you are making me the reading something very enjoyable =) josue

  2. Haha an ¨everyday nightmare¨! Thanks, Josué. This makes me feel better because I thought I might come off as overdramatic as a foreigner.

    Haven´t seen you lately. I hope you´ll be up for a night out soon! ;)