I spent this past weekend on a getaway trip to the big city – Lima. It takes around eight hours to get there by bus and can cost anywhere between 10 and 50 soles (~$4-20). Buses seem to be able to charge whatever they feel like whenever they feel like it, kind of like gas stations. I understand hiking up the prices during the holidays or special occasions, but we paid 30 soles last week for no apparent reason when we only paid 10 soles when I arrived in September. You arrive at the “landport” (terrapuerto as opposed to aeropuerto) in Huancayo and representatives from all the different bus companies try to sell you tickets to their bus for similar prices. They are mostly double-decker buses with the most expensive seats on the first level that completely recline into beds, and the cheaper seats on the second level.I’ve gotten so used to buildings no higher than five stories, walking everywhere, and regularly recognizing faces that the big city struck me as a little intimidating. There were museums, libraries, open-concept malls (because it rarely rains), massive parks and plazas, embassies, fine dining, familiar fast food, and even babolti (bubbletea)! It felt like a mini vacation, but this time we were set on integrating more than we had during other visits we’ve made – that is, we didn’t use a single taxi to get around town. Instead, we bought a map and spent more time walking and using public transit. The transit system can be really complicated. Thankfully, they just launched the new metropolitano – a rapid bus transit system that runs vertically through the city connecting northern and southern Lima. There’s a dedicated route for these accordion-style buses and you swipe rechargeable cards to board one. Pretty soon, they’re going to launch a new electric train that will run horizontally through the city connecting Lima and Callao (where the airport is). This is a huge relief to me because we’ve had problems getting to the airport the past couple of times – this year, they implemented a new procedure whereby taxi drivers are obligated to have special identification cards in order to enter the airport boundaries. Most taxi drivers didn’t bother with the bureaucracy so the closest they could leave us was just outside the airport, but it can be dangerous around that area especially in the late night hours (when flights to America usually fly out).
Outside the metropolitano path (i.e., getting to the rest of Lima), transit is based almost entirely on combis – minivan/buses that can seat around 20 people but fit at least 50 when everyone’s packed in like sardines. Destinations are painted on the sides of the vehicles and there is always a cobrador (collecter) – his/her job is to yell out destinations and routes, and collect money. Even though they’re often willing to give us more information, considering how we don’t know the streets of Lima very well, we never fully understand which combi to choose or where we’ll end up. Needless to say, we got to know a lot of Lima in a short amount of time hopping on and off combis and finally started seeing patterns and familiar places. A couple more trips and we’ll be Lima experts!