Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Thursday, February 04, 2010

A bus ride in Lima

It is recommended not to stay after 5 PM even in Downtown Lima. We could have taken a taxi back to Miraflores, made our life easy but I wanted to try taking the local bus even if we get totally lost. Francis told us we need to take the ‘A” bus and he showed us on a small map the approximate location of the bus stop. The first trick was to find the street; we walked for a while in the general direction of where we had to go but got lost on an intersection which formed a star pattern. Since there are not always street signs, or the streets change names even on a straight away, we had to take a chance. We arrived at a place where a lot of buses stop and I asked a conductor in my limited Spanish if he knew of an “A” bus. He asked me if I wanted to go to Miraflores, I said yes. He said I am going to Miraflores, hop in. I thought, well, let’s take a chance and Carol and I stepped in and did not even find a handhold before the bus took off like a jack rabbit. Imagine a smallish bus taking off as fast as possible, heading for the most left lane on a 3 lane road after being parked on the right; in heavy traffic.
I could not find a seat nearby but saw that the bench in the back of the bus was not occupied. With some effort, Carol and I arrived at the back bench only to find that the seat in front of us had a broken backrest and the person sitting there was making the seat lean partially into the bench. We managed, somehow to find a comfortable position by moving our legs in awkward positions and holding on for dear life.
Meanwhile, I hear the conductor yelling ‘Miraflores’ to any person on the street. I understand Camino Royal and Miraflores and I am relieved because it shows we are on the right bus. Even if we just get to the suburb of Miraflores we can always take a taxi. So now I need to watch for familiar buildings, signs, something I remember when I walked around Miraflores trying to find the beach, the bank and the travel agency before I worked with Francis.
This bus ride is controlled chaos. Each bus has a driver and a conductor. The conductor stands in the doorway, half hanging out. He jumps on and off the bus when needed. The conductor calls out to the driver if there is a large hole, enough for the bus to fit into and the driver will make a right into this hole just because the conductor said so. The fit is tight. There is a communication between conductor and driver only they understand. They work as a team. One relies on the other. Even though the conductor is not at the wheel, he drives the bus, too. His eyes are everywhere. He yells to find passengers in the street, he watches the traffic patterns, tells the driver when there is an opening someplace, he collects the fare, in this case 1.50 Soles for the trip for each passenger. I only had 2 Soles for the two of us and he talked to me but it is hard for me to understand. He said give me just a little more but he did not say the exact fair. I gave him another 50 cents and he said, ok yet I knew it was not enough; he was too busy to worry about the exact fair. When he saw a possible client he told the driver to stop and somehow the young man driving the bus managed to get to the right. Again, the person was just on the bus when the race started again, with full force the bus veered left again and moved along the street; the conductor always yelling at full force, “Miraflores, Camino Royal!” When we had to stop at designated bus stops, an ice cream man got on the bus trying to sell ice cream. He got a free ride until the next stop and then got off. At one time a candy man got on, too, selling candy. I imagine Newspaper boys, any kind of sales person can get on for one stop to sell something. The speed for all of this is hectic, chaos reigns, yet it is controlled. At one point we came to an intersection that was blocked. Off the conductor went to see what is happening and just a few seconds later the driver takes off without the conductor. I thought, well that is it, the young man driving the bus lost his partner without realizing it. No, I am wrong, just as they reached the intersection which is now moving at a pretty good speed, I see the conductor running to catch up with his bus and jumps in while the bus hardly slows down. It is acrobatics, it is planned. This happened one more time a little later at a bus stop, the conductor jumps off, runs behind a building, the bus takes off and then the conductor runs full speed to catch up with the bus and jumps on. I am watching all this in amazement. I watch the street packed full with cars, horns blaring, I see no way to move forward only to find the bus getting in a small opening to get ahead. Somehow the bus hardly stops in between bus stops. The driver finds his way.
I see 2 seats closer to the door and Carol and I change seats. While being seated I tell the conductor we need to get off near a roundabout, ovalo, which I remembered from our walks. He said, ok, he will let me know. I still don’t trust the whole thing for I am in between trusting the guy and still believing we are on the wrong bus. The bus does not have the letter “A” on the front, it is a non-descript bus, it looks to me like 100 other buses. I cannot figure out how the identification works, yet I am on a bus heading for Miraflores. I am sure I am heading for Miraflores. I can now watch the driver from my new seat and see that he acts like a race driver. He is full of attention to the road. Nothing matters to him but the traffic flow, the road, the race. He is shifting, giving signals, listening to the conductor, beeping his horn, watching, driving. He is all driver, heart and soul. He is about 25 years old and I have the feeling is being trained by the conductor. I can see them being a good team in time. The young man is learning and I can tell by the demeanor of the conductor that he is happy with the driver. What a team! After a 30 Minute ride, all of a sudden I hear OVALO and I do not hesitate, I yell at Carol and we are off the bus. Only after we are off, the bus already back in the sway of things, do I look around. Yes, I recognize some things; we are only one block from the hostel, at the right oval on the right street. What a ride.

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