Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Everyday Peruvian Nailbiter

Driving in Peru is an entirely different beast from driving in the United States. The road is a gladiator arena, where the smaller you are, the more you have to watch out. It reached a point where it almost seemed like it was considered polite in Peru to make every automobile interaction as close to a car accident as possible (the closer, the more courteous).

My culture shock with Peru driving began the first night—if gently. Being after one a.m., the roads were not overpopulated with drivers, so it was a relatively uneventful experience. Only in hindsight can I see the first clue that driving would be different here: a honk. Exiting the highway by the coastline and re-entering into the city itself, a faster driver gave his horn a quick tap as he came from behind on a curve. Coming from America, safety honks are extremely rare and so the honk puzzled me and the three of us (Alexis, Alanna, and I) briefly pondered on what he could have been honking about (We believed him to have been honking at some construction workers who had blocked a road).

The next day, however, it rapidly became clear that there would scarcely be a dull moment touring around Lima by bus. There was no wasted space in Lima. I quickly lost count of the amount of times that I was certain that the back of the bus would crash into a car that stubbornly refused to give a little breathing room as we merged into traffic. In order to get anything done in Lima traffic, one needs to be an extremely aggressive driver and trust that oncoming cars have good brakes. I actually feel that it is nothing short of a miracle that we not only didn’t get into an accident ourselves, but that we didn’t witness an accident either. This fact also got me a little concerned, though, that America might have more or less similar car accident figures as compared to Peru despite the more cautious space of American roads. This worry lead to some (guilty) relief—numbers dealing with traffic death in Peru are a bit under eight times greater than those in America. So, I was glad to see that American incompetence didn’t lead to comparable numbers to those of breakneck Peru, but, obviously, still nothing to celebrate about the accident rate being so high here.

The road is not a safe space for pedestrians either. During the entirety of the trip, I only once experienced a driver slowing at a cautious distance and waving me across. Aside from that, to cross the street you need to wait for a pause in traffic just long enough that the oncoming car would feel unjustified in running you down and thusly stomps the brake starting 10 feet away from you even though they saw you from much further away.

In short, if I return to Peru, I will not be paying any visits to car rental agencies.

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