Colectivos


In Huaraz there are three options for local automotive transport: taxis, canopied motorized trikes, and colectivos.  By far, the most bang for your sol, measured in either distance or enjoyment, is the colectivo.


Colectivos are minivans-qua-buses that serve the hinterlands beyond Huaraz.  Fares are cheap---often only one or two soles---and can get you from the city center up the roughest roads to the most remote villages and trailheads.  Each is cast from the same mold: a rectangular van with one sliding door, threadbare seats, an overdue paint job, a rack on top to cart all manner of good or animal, and a pair of operators—one driver and one doorman/cashier—who work together with the silent efficiency of a SEAL team.


Colectivos are not so much produced as spawned fully abused from the dust and scrap of Huaraz’s unpaved backalleys, each an aged and beaten copy of an original that never existed.  Capacity is subject to the same metaphysical laws of a magician’s top hat and there is always room for another paying customer.  The handful of seats within are merely suggested plots upon which patrons stack themselves horizontally and vertically in a game of human Tetris.  Comfort is an afterthought.  Even that rare bird, a near empty colectivo, lacks any form of modern ergonomics.  Legroom is about half that of airline coach, which is less a problem for the 162cm (5’4”) tall average Peruvian than for the Northern Europeans that frequent the Cordilleras, whose trek-worn knees receive no quarter from the procrustean seats.


At times, the radio is employed to drown out the squeaks and rattles, in which case seventies and eighties top-40 rule.  A typical half-hour trip might provide riders with a mix of Madonna, Rod Stewart, Culture Club, REM, Joe Satriani, the Pet Shop Boys, and the Romantics, punctuated with the occasional local cumbia song.  For these rolling discotecs, rough roads and poor shocks admit no abstinence: everyone is thrown into unified movement whether on beat or not.  And when the roads and music align, it’s magical: bouncing over small hillside bumps on the way down from Punta Callán synchronized to the chorus of karma-karma-karma-karma-karma-chameeee-lee-onn is a Dionysian experience.


Most of the time, the ride is a never-ending tedium of cramped space, swelling heat, and constant bumps.  But on the right day, a overfilled colectivo is a communal experience without analog.   The name says it all, a true collective: every form of dress and fabric on every body type, every good from farm and factory, every age and every language, every manner of life: Quechua women off to sell crops at the central market, dusty pale climbers returning from the mountains, campesinos running errands in the city, schoolchildren stacked on the laps of other schoolchildren, guinea pigs in netted bags, bails of hay strapped to the roof, teens holding hands with their abuelitas, locals and foreigners, pious and profligate, life's infinite variety all crammed into a dented and cracked steel bullet, barreling down the mountain at unsafe speeds set to the hits of Robert Palmer like some itinerant carnival show driven by a Peruvian Neal Cassady, off chasing the setting sun and its countless tomorrows.  Is there any other way to travel?

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