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Está sopa
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So why on earth would you say about a combi that it is “soup”? (está sopa means it is soup when translated literally)

Questioning of my friends revealed that it means that a combi is totally full, so full that not a soul extra would fit (so in a combi made for 30 people, 60 are already inside).

Allegedly this refers to the practice of making rich soups and filling them up with meat and vegetables until the rim, until really no more could possibly enter. So the next time you hear about a combi that it is sopa, you know that you should wait for the next one!

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Boletos
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After paying the fare, the cobrador is supposed to give you a boleto, your receipt. Cobradores usually have one of two habits. Some of them charge everyone as soon as possible. In this case you usually get your boleto without having to insist. Other cobradores are rather charging people when they are getting off. In this case you usually don’t get your boleto.

You can typically influence this behavior slightly. For example if you sit near the cobrador in the front of the combi, you can motion to him (or her) that you’d like to pay, without waiting until they bother to collect the money. The big exception to the rule is when you try to pay a china (50 cents). They might accept it, but that virtually always means that it goes into the “black money pocket” and it will not be an official trip and therefore you can practically forget about getting a boleto.

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Dateros and Time clocks
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One of the most intriguing questions in the world of Lima’s combis is: who are those mysterious men that you can find at many crossroads that are shouting unintelligible code to the cobradores or the drivers (and seem to get paid for it even)?

These men (and women) are dateros (from the root “data”). They form a vital part of the combi infrastructure, because they allow the drivers to maintain the frequency (in theory at least, because it is not uncommon to see two or even three combis of the same line passing together). The other element of this system is the good, old time clock. This is a device where you insert a piece of paper and it stamps the time.

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Historical Trams in Lima
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I knew Lima used to have electric trams in the past, but it didn’t occur to me that old maps might have survived of this tram network. It turns out that they did. Allen Morrison has a truly stunning website about trams in Peru. Among other things the website contains a map of the tram network in Lima.

I was actually searching on the web for another historical map: the 1983 edition of Lima2000‘s Lima Street Map, which includes a Mapa de Rutas. I know this, because the other day I visited the offices of Lima2000 and they showed me their archive copy. Should anyone have more information about this map (the only example I know of, that maps all the routes in Lima), please leave me a comment.

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Avenida Javier Prado is possibly the most infamous road in Lima. It is more than 80 blocks long, crosses 5 districts and the traffic jams on Javier Prado are legendary. It is also probably the most important east-west connection in the city. Four of the Rutas Recomendables pass through (a part of) Javier Prado and the Metropolitano has an Estacion Javier Prado. Everybody in Lima knows Avenida Javier Prado.

Who then is Javier Prado?

According to the Spanish Wikipedia Javier Prado is a historian, philosopher and lawyer. He served as the principal of the San Marcos University from 1915 to 1920 and he held various political offices, among others as a senator and an ambassador to Argentina. He may have owed his political career to the fact that he was the son of an ex-President (Mariano Ignacio Prado). His brother Manuel Prado y Ugarteche would later go on to become president of Peru as well. At that time, Javier Prado already passed away. He died in 1921 under mysterious circumstances (according to Wikipedia) when he was only 49 years old.

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Señor Mark (Gringo in Peru) has a great story on his blog about the dance of the cobrador:

During these stops you can watch the dance of the cobrador. It is like a ballet as the van begins to stop with the cobrador swinging the door open, placing a foot on ground and doing a pirouette, as so not to fall from a vehicle in motion. As a final passenger on the stop gets their last foot into the van, the cobrador will  tell the driver to advance. Reversing his spin he will get back on the combi as it is speeding off. Then sliding the door shut and out the window again with his heads and arms: repeating the chorus of the route only to turn around and ask for your fare.

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The cobrador will at some point collect the fares. Usually he will say “pasajes, pasajes” and make some sounds with the coins in his hand. This is the signal to pay your fare.

The best thing to do is pay S./ 1.00 and see what happens. Sometimes they give you the boleto (ticket) straight away. Sometimes they ask where you are going. Other times they say “sol veinte”, meaning you have to pay S./ 0.20 more.

If you are going for a short distance (8 blocks or so), try to get away with paying a china (S./ 0.50) if you can. Warning: this is not easy the first time!

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In order to get on, wait at a paradero (bus stop) and when the Ruta Recomendable arrives, wave with your arm stretched out straight. They will normally stop, but if one passes, stay patient and wait for the next one, it is usually right behind.

While getting on, the cobrador will say “suben, suben”, informing the driver that people are getting on. The cobrador might also say “avancen”, meaning you have to advance to the back or to the middle. Slightly less friendly is “apéguense”, meaning that you have to squeeze in.

When approaching your stop it is customary to get up, walk towards the door (front door if there are two) and say “paradero baja”. The cobrador will repeat your shout to the driver. While getting off, the cobrador will say “bajan, bajan”, to inform the driver that people are getting off.

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The smallest buses, which seat 9-12 people are called combis. Strictly speaking the middle-sized buses are called micros or custers. Personally, I tend to refer to every Ruta Recomendable as a combi, regardless of the size of its buses.

Most of the Rutas Recomendables have two staff: a driver and a cobrador. The task of the cobrador is to collect the fares and to open/close the door. The cobrador also shouts the names of the avenues the combi will pass. This is often incomprehensible.