Walking in Lima

February 22nd, 2008

[Jason Woods explains walking in Lima]

Public transportation in Lima is ……different.

First, we have walking.

Crossing the street in the brief moment
that traffic is stopped by a taxi picking up
a customer in the middle of a junction

Walking is my favorite form of transportation in Lima and I do it just about every day without fail. The biggest downfall of walking is that, well, if you walk in Lima, you will eventually have to cross the street. And cars drive in the street. I’ve heard that in Lima, six people are run over and killed every day. Not just run over. Run over and killed. And, after living here for four months, it seems like an Act of God that the number is so low.

Cars don’t wait for you to cross the street. Ever. The courteous drivers will honk before stepping on their accelerator. I’ve actually found myself yelling, “What, you couldn’t honk?” after narrowly escaping becoming a hood ornament. I have literally had to lift my arms in the air and contort my body to avoid being hit multiple times… and I probably get a good scare once or twice a week.

Now, these are normal Limeño streets. The expressway here… I wouldn’t even think of crossing it. In fact, there are signs in the middle of the expressway saying something to the effect of, “Take care of your life. Don’t cross here.”

The other thing about walking is that there are other people walking around with you. Being a gringo, this means a whole, whole lot of staring. And that’s something that takes more than four months to get used to, if you do get used to that sort of thing. Apparently, greater dangers than this exist, though. For virtually every street I have walked on in Lima, a Limeño has told me, “Be careful, it’s very dangerous.” I feel like they think they will be personally held responsible if they don’t tell me. Hence, I feel like Lima’s motto should be, “Lima: Cuidado. Es muy peligroso.”

Up until this point, I have only felt like I could have been in danger twice–both times in my neighborhood. The first was just walking down my own street, about two blocks away from my house, at night… there was a group of guys who were just giving me this look… not a look saying, “Hey, that guy looks different,” but a look saying, “Hey, shouldn’t we be mugging him?”

Interestingly enough, I have had a woman from that part of the street stop me from walking there during the daytime, saying, “You can’t walk here… ever. They’ll take your backpack.” I still don’t know who “they” were, as I couldn’t see anyone else in the street… but I decided to start taking a different route.

The other time was actually as I was walking home with a couple of American friends of mine, getting ready for the big Shakira concert. Two shady looking guys with hoodies said, in their most threatening, gruff Spanglish, “Tú money! Tú money!” I just looked at them and kept walking. They weren’t very good muggers.

Other dangers of walking: avoiding faeces or public displays of nudity from guys urinating on the street, timid old ladies aborting their street crossing while you are trying to make a mad dash across, ridiculously large commercial deposits of sand or gravel that block the sidewalk, people trying to sell you things you don’t want… especially children, who sometimes latch onto your arm…

But there certainly are pleasures, too… like getting to know everyone on your route home and saying hello to them, or watching street performers or children laughing with their parents… or any form of people-watching, really… or simply just feeling like you have accomplished something because you can navigate the streets in such a crazy city.

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