[Ed: Thanks to Lockdown we won’t be able this year to travel as we want. To compensate, we’ll publish this travelogue to Peru, in stand-alone sections, as time and space allow. This journey took place in 1997. Lean back and enjoy!]
If contemplating a visit to South America. Peru is a good place to start. Lots to see, geography, culture, cheap, easy to get about and a well developed tourist industry. A little Spanish helps but English is widely spoken. Go on with a small group of friends, all you need is a travel guide. Everything costs less than a quarter of UK prices but there are plenty of people out there willing to rip you off, both in the UK and in Peru. The expensive bit is getting there, the cost of living is so low you may as well stay as long as you can. This is an account of a visit by my wife and myself and three of her parrot loving friends, Anne, Vicky and Dehlia. There are lots of parrots in the jungles of Peru … You have to fly into Lima the capital city, this is a description of what happened in Lima. This visit was in 1997 so things have changed a little.
THE STREET SCENE IN LIMA
The first thing any visitor to Lima notices is the perpetual roar of traffic (due to 90% of vehicles being unsilenced) and the pollution due to the atmospheric inversion that exists over the city. The most important component of any car in Lima is the horn and it’s incessant use means that there is not much chance of sleep in any city centre hotel.
Petrol and diesel are cheap and most vehicles are so badly adjusted that a vast cloud of pollution fills all the streets. Except for a few months of Summer the sky is perpetually grey due to the smog and low cloud. Ninety percent of the city is in a fairly dilapidated state. The traffic in Lima can best be compared to a stock car race where even sixty year olds drive like boy racers in the UK. The roads in Lima are heavily potholed, some so deep that a 4×4 would have difficulty in crossing them, local knowledge is essential if one is to make rapid progress. The two options to negotiate them are to swing into the traffic in a nearby lane (regardless of conditions) or to go fast enough to leap over them. The fastest only gives way to the biggest. This means that bus and truck drivers go exactly when and where they want, completely ignoring all other traffic.
This has to be taken into account when in their vicinity. Traffic lights are only obeyed reluctantly, this due the extreme notoriety of the police in their dealings with offenders of any description. The maximum number of vehicles possible crams into the front line, the left turning ones not necessarily in the left hand lane, gunning their engines and creeping forward in order to secure the minutest advantage over a rival. The remainder vie for position on the grid. Children and teenage hucksters run through the traffic selling every kind of confectionery and cigarettes.
At the instant the lights change to orange the whole mass leaps forward with a blare of horns and a cloud of exhaust fumes, the hucksters leap for safety or stand very still and hope for the best. Petrol is cheap in Peru. Due to extremes of altitude and complete indifference of most drivers, most engines are badly adjusted. Ninety percent of vehicles are twenty years old or more with nineteen forties/fifties models not uncommon. These burn vast amounts of oil. Many cars about have no glass, lights, bumpers or mudguards.
Tyres are not considered to be worn out until the last layer of canvas is revealed. Most Limonos consider exhaust systems to be superfluous. Nothing is fixed until it actually breaks or ceases to function at all. At this point some amazingly ingenious repairs are resorted to, usually involving bent wire of various gauges. In spite of all this I saw few accidents. Ninety nine percent of new cars are Japanese, there are a few British and American cars about but all of sixties and seventies vintage. However there are few new cars in Lima, the ancient VW beetle rules O.K.
Photos in text: curtesy of Harold Armitage, title Photo by Avodrocc