Friday, April 19, 2024

Driving crazy in Peru

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If there is any moral to be learnt from any trip to Peru, it is to make sure you are up to date with your shots and that you have the documentation to prove it.

For while officials, both local and Peruvian, worry about whether or not you need a visa to visit the South American country (you don’t unless you are staying for more than 180 days or are on business), no one asks you whether you’ve had your yellow fever shots – until, in my case, you are at the American Airlines check-in counter in the Jorge Chavez International Airport, after standing in a very long, winding line of passengers for more than two hours and the PA system announces that this is the final boarding call to Miami.

But back to the beginning – the occasion was a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) training conference for environmental journalists and the logistical information provided by the host was instructive.

But be prepared for two things – the cold, if you are there between May and November, and the traffic.

My first reaction, on walking through the doors of the airport, was to mutter who turned the air conditioning down that low – until I looked up and saw stars and realised that was the night-time temperature.

The temperature, the logistical information assured me, rarely dropped below 14 degrees Celsius. But the thick fog and humidity levels made it feel like 12 degrees.

And we were warned – the traffic in Lima was legendary.

The information package informed us the airport was 45 minutes away from the historical centre and 45 minutes away from the commercial and residential district of Miraflores, where our hotel was located.

But that did not take into account the traffic.

In all fairness, the roads are well maintained. There are flyovers and there are many local policewomen directing traffic – sorry – urging the traffic along with their whistles.

Nonetheless drivers (not just taxis and bus) seemed to pay scant regard to them and traffic lights as not one or two, but ten or more drivers deliberately break red lights while those who had the rights of way bored their way through regardless, and all of this done as pedestrians darted across zebra crossings.

One journalist attending the conference marvelled that at 1 a.m. there was traffic on the Peruvian highways as he was making his way to the hotel.

In my case, a fire in the Peruvian capital snarled traffic beyond imagination as we (the other journalists and I) made our way to the airport.

And get used to the strident blaring of car horns.

Peruvian drivers love their horns and use them liberally.

And there was the driving “skill”.

We gasped as drivers cut across four lanes of traffic – indicators were optional.

The dents and scrapes and pieces of reflective tape on vehicles spoke volumes.

And yet there were no accidents that we saw.

As our taxi driver quipped, once we don’t touch all is well.

And now back to the beginning for as the saying goes, there is a silver lining to every dark cloud.

The missed flight (I was bumped to the Sunday 1 a.m. flight after, obviously, missing the Saturday flight) meant an extra day to sight-see in the Latin American country.

And Peru turned out to be a study in contrasts.

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