Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Mini Busses in Lima

A large portion of Lima's battered public transport system is made up of privately run, hideously overcrowded minibuses. 'Minibus' is probably being a bit generous in describing these vehicles, as they really appear to be nothing more than delivery vans fitted out with a couple of seats and an impatient maniac at the wheel.

The four cylinder vans are painted with a few colourful stripes and some street names, the hurled through the streets of Lima with all the enthusiasm and recklessness of a five year old in a dodgem car. The lack of any straight panels on these machines is proof of the battlefield nature of the roads in this city, and the warrior mindset of the drivers.

Catching one of these beastly rides is an acid test of nerves and timing. The man with the failing grasp on the value of human life finds a gap in the ceaseless flow of metal and slots his steed in the opening, managing to pull up next to the most tightly packed cluster of pedestrians. At this stage, his manic partner in this operation will have the sliding door open and will be swinging from the handle shouting the names of all the places this van is likely to stop. He screams with all the desperation of a heretic being burned at the stake, and to see him pull a gun on these waiting people would not seem too surprising, given the apparent urgency.

Should one of the onlookers express any interest in the services of this unbalanced duo, he or she is herded aboard with as much haste as can be mustered without the use of a bullwhip. Once the final passenger is almost inside, the driver, now hysterical at having been stationery for so long, plants his foot and merges with the belching throng. Hopefully by now the last of the cargo is inside and the door is mostly shut.

These flying meatwagons are only for those who know exactly where they're going, and who possibly would rather die than show up. I never got so sick of life that I felt I needed to risk the drivers judgement, or risk the undeniable adventure that would be being dropped off in a place I didn't know in a city as dangerous as Lima. So I don't know the minutiae of what happens inside these four-wheeled death machines, but I can say that from the outside, looking in at the miserably cramped conditions makes the small cost of a taxi worth it.

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