Friday, April 30, 2010

I may have mentioned this before, but the traffic here is crazy. By far the scariest experience I have had so far has been trying to cross the street; really, any street, at any time. The drivers in Arequipa rank right up there with the ones I saw in Nigeria, and from what I gather, this is true anywhere in Peru. Left-hand turn from the right lane? No problem! Right-hand turn from the left lane? Sure! Pass another car by crossing the double yellow line, while going around a blind corner? Seriously. It is wild. Nothing about it makes sense to me. What looks to me like a tiny side street often seems to actually be a major thoroughfare, and although I usually think that I have a decent sense of direction, I will often be in a vehicle that appears to turn off of a big street into a random neighborhood, make about a dozen turns, and come out on another major road that seems like it should have been a simple right turn from the previous big street. And pedestrian right-of-way would never even occur to drivers here. As Lucy said to me, "Here the only traffic lights are for the cars. Pedestrians have only intuition."
Human stoplight: here is one of the policeman that occasionally direct traffic at a very major intersection near my house. I can't describe in words the chaos that happens when they are not there. Once I asked my Spanish teacher why they don't install a light there, and she gave me a blank stare, and then said that she had no idea.

Many people here get around by taxi. Arequipa is completely overrun with them. Probably at least a good 80% of the cars on the road are taxis, and many of them are not legit, so you have to be careful about the ones you take. Taxis here are way worse than New York City cabs. At least in New York, the cabs will probably ultimately try to avoid killing you. However, they are relatively cheap to take and wherever you are in the city, you only have to wait a matter of seconds before one comes by.

Count em (the taxis are the ones with the signs on top, not just the yellow ones.)

Another way to get around is public transportation, or combis (essentially large minivans or small busses.) They run on fixed routes but will pick you up and drop you off anywhere along the way. The signs on the windshield let you know which neighborhoods they go to, and every one of them also has, in addition to the driver, an employee who hangs out the open door, shouting out the combi´s destinations. This guy is also the one who collects the fare from passengers once they are aboard.

To take one, you wave at the one you want, which will then swerve over to the side of the road to get to where you are (sometimes crossing several lanes of traffic to do so). The guy hanging out the door will stop shouting the combi´s destinations in order to tell you to hurry up and get into the combi. He sounds like an auctioneer, sometimes muttering almost under his breath, sometimes nearly shouting, "climb up, climb up, climb up, hurry, hurry, hurry." If you are the only passenger embarking (or the last one on), the second your foot is off solid ground, the guy yells at the driver to hit it (who does.) I have learned to take off my sunglasses when I flag down my combi, so that I can see more clearly the darker interior of the bus and quickly find something solid to grab onto immediately, to prevent my being thrown down the aisle as soon as I hop on. Getting off is not quite as tricky, but involves some of the same maneuvers. You yell "Baja!" where you want the combi to drop you off, and the same guy will open the door for you (if it hasn´t already been hanging open) and tell you to hurry up and get off, "get off, get off, get off, hurry, hurry, hurry," as you push your way towards the door and leap to the ground. This is how I get to and from the clinics every day--the round-trip costs me about 50 cents. Here, an Arequipeno demostrates the dismount.

One super annoying aspect of the traffic here is the incessant honking. People here honk at everything. Turning left from the right-hand lane? Check. Traffic speeding up or slowing down? Check. Someone on the side of the road? Check. Car in front of you? Pull up to a red light? Been about 30 seconds since the last time you used your horn? Check, check, check. Car horns come in a wide variety of sounds, too--anything from your traditional honk or beep to whistle sounds, car alarm sounds, and siren sounds. I always think it is amazing (kind of hilarious, kind of really irritating) when I am walking along the street, and there are three taxis coming from EACH direction, and they ALL honk at me. As if I were secretly really wanting to take a taxi, but just hadn´t seen any I liked yet out of the 17 to pass me already. It is possible that some amount of that honking is because I am a gringa, but to be perfectly honest, I really don´t get much more honking than the average pedestrian/car/traffic light/crack in the asphalt.

Somewhat related: one of my first mornings here, I heard something driving around the neighborhood, playing "Under the Sea", from The Little Mermaid. The sound was just like an ice cream truck, only it was 7 in the morning. So I asked Marcela what it was, and she told me--it's the trash pickup.

This morning it rained a little bit (very rare for April), and when the clouds allowed a peak at the mountains surrounding the city, they were snow-covered!

1 comment:

Erika said...

So glad you're acclimating there and learning to "hurry, hurry, hurry." It sounds a LOT like Nigerian traffic. Stay safe!