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Curbside Paper Vending

Day 413 – September 7, 2012

The vernal equinox is coming to the Southern Hemisphere and with it comes the end of winter.

Winter in Lima means cold and cold means all manner of ill things including ill health.

As it is still winter here in our abode twelve degrees south of the Equator, residents are still concerned about their well-being as the mercury hovers around the icy region of the mid-60s.

To help the citizens of Lima combat colds, sniffles, and other assorted maladies, they can actually buy tissue (and brand-name tissue at that) from the convenience of their car.

Vendor selling tissue on street

The profit margins are tissue thin

So, while waiting for the numbers to count down on the stoplight, I can – for about two nuevo soles – buy a pack of Kleenex from the pink-and-blue clad vendors wending their way through the stopped cars.

License to Nashville

Day 279 – April 26, 2012

This post is for the person from Tennessee‘s Davidson County who used to have the automotive license plate bearing the symbols TPR 771.

Tennessee license plate sample

Plate from the Volunteer State

If you were curious whatever happened to your TPR 771 plate, it now resides on a brown Toyota Corolla Saloon (model year unknown)  earning its keep as a taxi driving fares around the environs of Lima, Peru.

Just thought you should know.

Peruvian Driving Achievement Unlocked

Day 234 – March 12, 2012

In the (almost) eight months I have been a resident of Lima, Peru, I have advanced through four levels of gameplay here on the asphalt jungle that is the roads, highways, and byways that comprise the city founded by Francisco Pizarro on January 18, 1535.

Level One was accomplished right after we arrived in July 2011 and that involved our first taxi ride. It was then and there we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. As our taxi ignored most lane markings and made quick right-hand turns from the left-most lane, this was our first taste of what driving in Peru would be like.

For surviving Level One, I received the Taxi Badge…

Taxi Badge

Level One Accomplished

…which looks exactly like the red-and-white reflective stickers that adorn all cars-for-hire in Lima (and possibly all of Peru, but I’m not that well-travelled yet to know for sure).

When I took the wheel of my own car back in September 2011 and ventured forth onto Lima’s roads by myself, I unlocked Level Two. The white-knuckle rides in many a Lima taxi showed me the real rules of the Peruvian road and I was confident I would be able to navigate the avenidas and calles.

To date (and I say this as I knock on all varieties of wood), I am accident-free.

For braving the streets of Lima solo, I awarded myself the Steering Wheel Badge.

Steering Wheel Badge

Hands at diez and dos, por favor

Despite driving in Lima for half a year, I could not be considered a true Peruvian driver until I passed a certain milestone. In February of this year, that line was crossed.

During the Southern Hemisphere summer, I drove my children all around to their various activities to keep them busy. As I took my oldest son from soccer to pick up his siblings at their day camp, I found myself on a two-lane street at a complete dead stop. One minute passed, then two, then five with absolutely no movement on either side of the road.

So, for absolutely no reason at all, I leaned on my horn and Level Three was achieved.

Horn Badge

In Spanish, this is a claxon

Here in Peru, the horn is not only the common language shared by all drivers but it is an omnipresent noise on the roads.

Today, however, was my grandest achievement to date.

Today, I drove through Ovala Monitor, a roundabout that has the nickname “The Circle of Death”. Now I have motored around this circle many times before so that was not the achievement. On this particular day, as I was making my around one part of the circle, I found myself at a point where I would have to merge with the oncoming traffic from a major street (Javier Prado for those of you playing along with a map). Usually, I stop at this point and wait for a break in the traffic, but not today.

Today, I revved the engine and darted into the oncoming traffic, much to the chagrin of a taxi driver who had to swerve to the right to avoid hitting me.

(Honestly, I swear, officer, I had enough room. He must have sped up.)

For my driving prowess (or lack thereof), I was awarded by the taxi driver by a vigorous display of his middle finger.

In all my time here in Lima and with all the insanity I have seen on the roads and with all the close calls between cars, buses, and trucks, I had never seen a display of the middle digit.

Until now.

Personally, I think the taxi driver was upset that I didn’t wave my left hand out my window before attempting my merge.

For this grand gesture and for reaching Level Four, I was awarded the Bird Badge. I would like to show you a picture of this badge, but it’s not appropriate for the office or the house, so instead, please enjoy a snapshot I took in Miraflores of a sculpture that overlooks the beach.

Statue on beach in Miraflores

Substitute picture

Upwards and onwards to Level Five…

With a Wave of My Hand…Magic!

Day 014 – August 5, 2011

I’m neither the first nor the last hunt-and-pecker to inform the e-masses that driving in Peru is not for the faint-of-heart.

While it must be said that Peruvian drivers do stop at red lights and stop signs (although here they have PARE as their warning text), this is most likely only one of the three driving rules followed. The other two are don’t smoke at a gas station and ALWAYS obey the police officer making hand gestures.

All other rules of the road (i.e., lane markings, turning from an appropriate lane, distance between cars) are merely suggestions that drivers in Lima are free to adhere to or ignore as their whim allows.

By no means should the reader be left with the impression that Lima’s roadways are choked with the remnants of accidents and fender-benders. Surprisingly, despite the (to my mind) chaotic and pell-mell nature of driving, I have seen few accidents. It’s as if some unseen force manages to keep all the autos, trucks, and taxis from crashing into each other much like how similar poles of a magnet will repel each other.

I may not know what that force is, but I know its origin: the left hand.

A ubiquitous sight on Peru’s asphalt is a person, whether it is the driver of a taxi or the assistant of a combi, wave their left hand out a window in a back-and-forth motion similar to as if they were shooing away a fly. Peruvians will use this gesture right before they execute a maneuver that would make them fail a Driver’s Ed test , but would be worth bonus points in Grand Theft Auto.

Picture of 2 cars in Lima, Peru

Cars are only dangerous when the hand is sticking out....LOOK OUT, black car!

Whether it was turning right from the left-hand lane of a four-lane street or attempting to merge their bus into a three-inch gap, Peruvians wave their hand in a wordless display that can be roughly translated as, “I am about to do something incredibly silly, reckless, and/or dangerous. By waving my hand, you have been warned and I am absolved from all liability for what will occur in the next five seconds.”

This hand-waving is enough to make all drivers sit up and notice and give this lunatic a wide berth. In the same way that there is professional courtesy among businessmen, all drivers know to pay attention to the hand because they know they, at some point in the near future, will also have to call upon the magic of the left hand.

And, really, a tradition and culture is only as strong as the belief the people have in it.

The Circle of Death

Day 000 – July 22, 2011

After leaving the airport, we drive to our house through the heart of Lima. While my watch reads 22:30, my body clock, courtesy of the travel and stress, has reached its limit. While one of my wife’s co-workers is chatting about this street or that building or this tidbit of life in Lima, my mind is fuzzy.

However, upon hearing the word “death”, the circuit breakers in my brain spark to life and ask the woman riding shotgun to repeat what she said.

We were in a roundabout and she said that while the official name of this parcel of road is “Ovalo Monitor“, the unofficial name is “The Circle of Death”.

With a circle of asphalt spanning four lanes and entry and exit points at the cardinal directions, the cars fly through this roundabout fast and furious…and there are no traffic signals so it becomes a free-for-all when the roads are full.

As we drive through Ovalo Monitor late on a Friday night, the traffic is light and this seems more like a “Circle of Mild-Grade Fever” than its more morbid moniker.

Once our mini-van arrives in a month or two, I know I will be forced into this roundabout soon to drive around Lima on various errands and we’ll see if the nickname lives up to the hype. Until then, I am content to let someone else do the driving because there is a house I have never viewed, a bed I have never seen, and a fuzzy future I can dimly view all waiting for me.

>>>>>

UPDATE: AUGUST 17, 2011

A seasoned world traveller I met at a lunch last week told me that every major city has its version of the “Circle of Death” and that Lima’s version in the Monterrico neighborhood is nothing out of the ordinary.

I have it on my “List of Things to Research” to find out who is the Monitor this roundabout is named for.

For the time being, I have only been driven through Ovalo Monitor in taxi cabs by drivers who either have nerves of ice water or an extrasensory perception of what all the other drivers on this road because for all the chaos and confusion of cars speeding by and weaving through each other, I still have yet to see an accident.

May the saints smile on me when I take the plunge in our own car on this oval as I am not so much worried about hitting someone, but I know it will take all my willpower to drive that road and NOT say, “Look kids, Big Ben…Parliament!