During my four years in Manhattan, I learned that if one steps into the street with enough confidence, cars will stop. At home in Wichita, this is not always true. On highway 235, cars can’t stop, on 21st street, they probably won’t stop. Nevertheless, whenever possible, the car stops for the person if for no other reason than not to be arrested were the person not to make it safely to the other side of the street. And that’s how it is.
Step outside the boundaries of the United States, however, and it’s a whole other story. Throughout the ten days I was in Africa, we dealt with traffic unlike any I have ever seen. Nairobi is a city which was not designed to handle the estimated 3 million people that it currently holds. Stoplights there are optional; you may choose whether or not you want to yield to whatever color is currently displayed. Likewise, the yellow and white stripes painted on the roads do not hold a distinct significance. One may choose to observe the rule of driving on the left side of the street, or one may choose to absolutely ignore it [at the risk of one’s own life and limb]. Once, in a traffic jam, we drove for miles on the wrong side of the road, praying that no cars would come careening around a corner and slam into us.
Here in Arequipa I must admit the driving is slightly more organized than Kenya. Stoplight are observed more or less [although the yellow light comes before the green, not before the red]. Horns are used frequently, and one can turn left from the left lane or the right, depending on one’s mood. Here, most roads are narrow, one way, crossed by many side streets. There are hardly any stop signs [why?], and absolutely no yield signs. A driver honks as they near an intersection to alert other drivers of their presence. Whichever driver honks first has the right of way, or so I’ve heard. The major difference that I’ve found between here and Kenya though is this: In Kenya we had safe drivers who I could trust to get us through anything. Here, I am at the mercy of whichever taxista I can flag down at that moment.
And crossing the street in front of these aggressive drivers? Well, it can be done, but with utmost care and careful timing. Sometimes walking from my house to the center of town is such an experience that the adrenaline carries me throughout the rest of the day. The other day I saw an elderly man get hit by a taxi. There was plenty of open street and the taxi could have just gone around him. Obviously, the taxista was not paying attention. It actually shook me up quite a bit. Another time I prayed hard and had to walk a while to calm myself down.
Most taxis are small and yellow, with the name of their company attached to the roof in some obnoxious color and font. I’m not sure where taxistas learn to drive, or who decides they can, but somehow, somewhere they earn their wings [my guess is they buy the car and the sign and they’re in business]. A ride in a taxi costs between 2 and 7 soles, depending on what part of town you’re going to, and how fair your taxi driver is. Also, one has to be careful when choosing a taxi, because while many are honest, hard working individuals, one really doesn’t wanna end up in a taxi that’s not am honest taxi because… well… I’m sure you can imagine.
Besides taxis, the options of getting where one wants to go are walking [which I’m getting very good at], and Combis [busses]. Combis are a story in and of themselves.
Once I rode with a very angry taxi driver. I almost asked him to let me out early. He most definitely knew how to use his horn. I think that’s the fastest I ever made it across town. I also had to talk to myself for several minutes afterwards to calm myself down. Riding in taxis is actually great for any person who is even halfway religious; it greatly strengthens one’s prayer life.
I could not imagine trying to drive here, and I am thankful that others who are much better at it than I ever will be are willing to take me where I want to go. I do dream of the day, though, when I am once again in control of my own life, when I am in a city where street signs are obeyed, and where driving can be considered civilized. However, until then, I will dream of my maroon car sitting in my driveway at home, waiting for me to return. Wait a second… didn’t my baby brother just turn 16?
for an interesting blog on Lima taxis that I found, go here: