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Foreigners Living in Peru: Mapping Lima’s bus routes

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Originally published October 13, 2010

Jeroen Prinsen, 35 and Dutch, came to volunteer in Peru after leaving corporate finance in London. After working with Finca-Peru and NESsT, microfinance and social enterprise organizations, he had already “fallen under the spell of Peru and Lima,” and decided to stay.

Prinsen has since been teaching, blogging and consulting. His latest project, however, will catch the attention of expats and Peruvians alike: He created a Lima bus map. To be more precise, it’s a map of 12 recommended routes to get around Lima, called Rutas Recomendables. (Lima has almost 600 bus routes, Prinsen says.)

The map is crisp, clear, and has some of Lima’s major tourist destinations included. A low-resolution version can be downloaded for free on the website, and a high-res version costs five dollars via PayPal. The website includes tips about managing Lima’s buses and combis (the van-like ones — Prinsen does not recommend any of them). Here Prinsen answered questions from LivinginPeru.com.

What inspired you to make the bus map?

I have always been fascinated with maps. I take great comfort from the ability to navigate, especially when abroad. People in Lima usually try to discourage foreigners from taking combis, but after a while I wanted to try it out, so I was searching for a combi map and I realized it didn’t exist. I joked I should do it myself. As I was looking for a fun project at the time, I decided to put those words into action, with the Rutas Recomendables Combi Map and the website as most important results for the moment.

Have you taken all 12 routes from start to finish?

One Sunday I traveled from Surco to Ancon with the Sesosa (NO01, light blue on the map). It took 2.5 hours and along the way I took 77 photos of the view. It is amazing how Lima changes from kilometer to kilometer. Though not necessarily all of the from start to finish, I did travel on every line, of course. For example I went to Puente Piedra on the EO39 Consorcio Via, to Chosica with the EO53 “Chosicana” and to La Punta on the OM57 CTI. Whenever I travel, I always try to use the Rutas Recomendables and this usually works out.

What were the criteria you used for selecting these recommended routes?

The most important criterion for me is having many new combis. All the lines are required to have a minimum of five percent new vehicles in their fleet. However, there is a small group of operators that have decided to invest ahead of the curve. This is a serious investment and for me it demonstrates their commitment. Unlike putting a driver and cobrador in a uniform, you only invest in your fleet if you intend to be in the market for the long run. That said, I do expect to see supporting evidence like having uniforms, working with inspectors and using systems to maintain frequencies.

What’s the most bizarre thing you ever saw on a Lima bus or combi?

I always have the feeling that a combi is a micro cosmos of Lima. So unfortunately not everything is positive. I have seen a cobrador getting into a fight with a taxi driver for cutting him off. Once they made a woman get off quickly (pie derecho!) and she lost one of her high heels. After one or two blocks, the shoe was unceremoniously thrown out of the window. But I have also been on a combi that took a detour to a hospital, when an older man got unwell and I have seen a cobrador dressed as a clown.

What’s your initial assessment of the Metropolitano?

The Metropolitano is brilliant. The Metropolitano has the potential to change this city. Until now people are used to taking one combi, no matter how long it will take, regardless of its inefficiency. But now, due to the Metropolitano, it makes sense to plan a transit journey: first travel to a Metropolitano station, take the Metropolitano and finish with the last leg to the destination. This is radical and people will need to get used to this. But I think it is going to be this change of behavior that is going to make the biggest difference.

I imagine you have seen outer districts of Lima where foreigners often don’t visit. What was one that stuck out for you?

I have a soft spot for Villa El Salvador, probably because it was the first of them that I visited. Most districts in Lima have grown organically or were invaded without planning. VES Salvador is different. At the time of the invasion, or relocation, of immigrants to Villa El Salvador in the 1970s, an attempt has been made at planning the district. If you would look at the map of VES, you will see squares and rectangles in each sector, intersected by long, straight avenues. In this sense VES is unique in Lima. Besides VES is famous for its self-government and self-development.

What do you do in Lima when not studying bus routes?

As a freelancer I am doing various other things. I am a Dutch teacher in El Tulipan cultural center. I am trying to establish myself as a tourguide doing Guided Combi Tours. Here and there I am doing some corporate financial consultancy. I am a blogger, both for rutasrecomendables.com and my own website, creative-expression.org/blog. For these websites I did quite some Facebook-Twitter integration, so sometimes I help out other bloggers setting this up. I am an avid reader of The Economist and I like going to theater, especially improvisation, and I like good food.

Jeroen Prinsen, 35 and Dutch, came to volunteer in Peru after leaving corporate finance in London.

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