Off to Peru

South America! A continent that is second to none - or not because of its uniqueness.

I got my first impression of the continent and its various countries on the transit of the FS POLARSTERN from Bremerhaven to Cape Town in 2022. We had scientists from Peru, Colombia and Argentina on board, who openly shared their life stories from their countries with us. First-hand impressions, so to speak, and not shaped by the view of news or travel reports.

In July 2023, an invitation to the 5th Regional Mapping Community Hybrid meeting was extended by the South and West Pacific Ocean Regional Center. The mapping meeting was to take place in Lima, the capital of Peru. I took on the task of presenting the current status of IBCSO (International Bathymetric Chart of the Southern Ocean) for our working group from the Southern Ocean Regional Center.

For environmental reasons, I tried to avoid transfer flights when booking the flights. You can book direct flights to South America from Amsterdam Schiphol or Paris Charles de Gaulle, for example. I opted for the Netherlands, as Amsterdam is the best and quickest to reach from Bremen. I left for Amsterdam around midday (4.5 hours by train) and checked into the IBIS Hotel (140 € per night per person, breakfast extra at 17 €) right next to the airport.

The flight from Amsterdam to Lima should depart at 10:00 (local time). The advantage of an early flight to South America is the time difference. The flight takes 12.5 hours. If you are traveling from Germany (GMT+2) to Peru (GMT-5), there is a 7 hour time change. This means that you arrive in Lima at 15:30, while it is already 22:30 in Germany.

I had already booked a transfer from the airport to the hotel when I booked the hotel. Thanks to a discount promotion, this transfer was already included in the price of the hotel booking. I can only recommend the transfer to anyone traveling to this country for the first time. Because when you come to South America, you quickly realize what a traffic chaos there is here. The roads are overcrowded with cars and other road users. In addition, there is no good bus or train connection between the city of Lima and the airport. However, the rail line is currently under construction (as of July 2023). The buses run at irregular times and not according to a timetable. And even among the buses, there are differences: while the public lines go to the regular stops, the private bus companies take anyone who waves at the roadside. This leaves only Uber or cabs as a reliable means of transportation. But when it comes to cabs in particular, extreme caution is advised. While with Uber you have experience reports, names and a certain degree of certainty about the driving service, it is often impossible to assess this with cabs (caps). There are probably repeated incidents where tourists have used a supposed cab and have not been taken to their destination... It is therefore always advisable to book a service from the hotel in advance.

During the drive from Jorge Chavez Airport towards downtown Lima, I got my first intense impression of the extent of misery in Peru. I talked to my driver, or at least tried to, who replied in broken English. I saw destroyed and abandoned buildings on both sides of the road. People were living on the roofs of collapsed multi-storey buildings! On the busy three-lane city highway in front of us, women with children ran through the rows of moving cars, as well as elderly people with carrier bags full of small items, trying to sell snacks or fruit to the waiting drivers. Every now and then there was someone who wanted to clean up the car's bumper. Whole families walked between the fast-moving, gapless and reckless traffic.

The traffic chaos is also exacerbated by daring overtaking maneuvers. People don't use the turning lane to turn off, but pull over from the innermost lane to the very outside. A constant concert of honking horns, bumper to bumper, alternating back and forth between the lanes without indicating. Hazard warning lights were triggered for no apparent reason to amuse the driver. Lane markings seemed to be a decorative element of the road. At least the traffic lights were obeyed according to the rules. The rest was more along the lines of "driving by feel" and "first come, first served". Many vehicles looked accordingly. I wouldn't necessarily describe this situation as a shock. I'm familiar with scenes like this from movies and television. But being in the middle of it is something fundamentally different!

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