Monday, August 16, 2010

Living in Huaycan

I knew Peru was going to be a lot different from the US, but I couldn't anticipate how. I tried to read about its customs in advance, but I couldn't fully understand until I arrived here.

Combis and Motos

Transportation is kind of fun here. Besides taxis (which are pretty unsafe, because they aren't registered with any official organization) and personal cars (which don't exist in Huaycan), the main forms of transportation are motos and combis.

A combi is the Peruvian version of a bus, but it can vary in size from a normal sized bus to a tiny passenger van with rows of seats. All of them in Huaycan are small, so if there are no seats and I have to stand in it, I sometimes have to fold myself in half to fit. We mainly take combis around town because they are ridiculously cheap and can be found everywhere. Rides around Huaycan are about 50 centimos, which is about 20 US cents. Then to get anywhere else, I only have to pay about 1 sol and 50 centimos, which is equivalent to 50 US cents. They're so common that if you can't find the right one in one minute, you're not looking hard enough. It's sort of an adventure to ride them, with trying to find and flag down the right one with dozens zooming past.

Motos are the cheap version of taxis. They're like a dirtbike with an attachment on back for people to sit. (Photo is below) Two can fit in it comfortably, and three is a tight squeeze. I think we've put four in before, with people sitting on other people's laps.

Motos are nice for getting to places where combis don't go or getting home at night when it's not smart to walk. But they're a little more expensive, so we don't take them very often. For example, a short ride in Huaycan would be somewhere between 2 and 4 soles. It's not very expensive, but taking them everywhere would add up quickly.


One night the other volunteers and I went to Horacio (the next town over). When we were walking to the center of town, we came across a few girls playing volleyball. As soon as they saw us, they stopped playing and started yelling "Gringas! Gringas!" Then they started waving and jumping up and down saying "Hola! Hola! Hello! Hello!" They did this for about 5 minutes until we got too far away to hear. They had probably never seen a foreigner, so seeing three of us at a time was really exciting.

Huaycan and the areas around it are really poor, so foreigners are rare here. Even we take notice when we see another foreigner. Huaycan is getting used to us because we're from the organization, but places like Horacio never really see anyone. But even in Huaycan, we get stares, especially if we start speaking English. It's a little odd, but it's to be expected. We get called "gringas" all the time. But it's not offensive here at all; it's just their way of saying "foreigner".

One of the volunteers was completely right when she said "It's like we're celebrities." We can do or get absolutely anything we want. When we go out, they'll play American music just for us, they'll always encourage this one girl who loves to dance on the stage, combis always notice us and yell where they're going and motion for us to get on, and kids never stop staring and giggling. Unfortunately, the attention often leads to machismo from guys. Machismo is a very big part of Peruvian culture, so men like to yell things, whistle, blow kisses and all. If a guy talks to us, he'll immediately say that we're the most beautiful women he's seen all day, week, or ever. Or they'll greet us not with "Hola," but instead with "guapa" or "bonita" (beautiful and pretty). And they don't stop saying it. It was really disconcerting at first, but it's becoming easier to ignore, especially since talking is as much as the guys will ever do.

If I get tired of the attention, I can always go into Lima itself. Unlike the rest of Peru, Lima has a lot of European influence, so I can easily pass as Peruvian with my dark hair and eyes. That was a complete shock the first time someone told me that, but I've been into Lima and seen that it's true. Even though my skin is so light, I don't stick out there at all.


Though there's regular dancing here, on Sundays people only do a specific type of dancing. It has a bunch of variations, like Jumpstyle, Techtonik, Shuffle, and Hard Style. I don't even know how to describe it. It's sort of like a mix between sliding across the floor and Irish dancing (Hard Style) while Jumpstyle mixes in these karate kicks. Here's a video that shows Shuffle and Jumpstyle. Right now, the other volunteers and I are trying to learn Jumpstyle and Hard Style, so hopefully I'll be able to do that by the time I get home.


I've always been used to shaking hands and saying "Hola" or "Adios," but that is pretty rare here. Instead, people say "Ciao" and kiss each other once on the left cheek. The first time I met someone, I had no idea about this, so I tried to shake their hand. They gave me a funny look, then grabbed my hand and used it to pull me in for a kiss. It was weird at first, but now I really like it. It seems much friendlier and inviting than a handshake.


  1. You'll come back and I won't recognize you! You're new lifestyle sounds really interesting, especially the combis. Just make sure to keep safe!

  2. Haha, I doubt that will happen. But it is really different and fun here. I'll keep safe, I promise.