Posted by: mw23 | June 11, 2009

Stories from the Combi – Combi 101

Stories from the Combi – Combi 101

Peruvian Combi

Peruvian Combi

Combi 101 – an undoubtedly Peruvian transportation system. Combi literally means van, and to give you an idea of what a combi is, it’s very similar in size to those old VW hippie vans. Riding one is quite an experience for the first timer, and provides a snap shot of Peruvian public culture (aka the way people interact in public). Some rules of the combi:

  1. There is no schedule, clearly defined route nor are there standard bus stops in the combi system. The combi will stop where ever you ask it to or in other cases just whenever it feels like.
  2. The Combi is a 2 person team – Driver (Chofer) and Doorman (Cobrador) their duties are as follows:

El Chofer

  • Drives like a mad man – narrowly miss other cars, yell at other drivers and fight his way towards his destination. He must fend off other combi’s and find as many passengers as possible. He will stop anywhere to pick them up, intersections, on ramps, exit ramps, bus stops, freeway bridges – you name it!
  • Honks the horn every 3 seconds, at everyone and anyone
  • Plays ridiculous music, top pics are Cumbia, 80’s Rock or 80’s Techno
  • Yells random route destinations to anyone passing by the drivers side

El Cobrador

  • The Cobrador is more than just a doorman, he is the unofficial conductor of the Combi.
  • Perfects a mumble jumble of every possible destination on the combi route to be yelled at anyone standing within yelling distance.
  • Bangs on the Combi for the driver to stop to pick up passengers
  • Yells stop destinations requested by passengers
  • Hassles people for their bus fare (no one offers him money, he needs to hassle people for it)
  • Packs as many passengers into the van as humanly possible
  • Motivates people to get in or out of the combi as fast as possible through yelling and sometimes cordial pushing but does often help children, elderly and those with large bags to speed the process.

Los Pasajeros (The Passengers)

  • Catching a combi, or specifically the correct one can be quite a doozy. There are a few hand singles that I’ve observed which help the passenger and combi match up. As the Combi is speeding by on the road, the eager traveler must quickly discern if the combi is the right one and signal whether he/she wants to continue going straight down the road or turn left or right.
  • Confirm combi destination before you jump in
  • Pick your seat, scan for leg room as every combi has varying pockets of little to lots of leg room.
  • Once you get your seat, make sure you look like you own it
  • Sit and stare straight ahead, ignore the chaos of the world around you
  • Pay the Cobrador if he insists and check your change immediately
  • Yell where you want to stop by saying “_____ baja!!” such as “Banco BAJA!” or ‘stop at the bank’
  • Exit rapidly! Make sure you have all your belongings. And if getting off in the middle of the street, make sure you avoid oncoming traffic!

The above understanding has taken the last month to get a grasp of and I’m still learning new things every day. I wish I had blogged during the first week, to give you the feel of how crazy it was to take the combi for the first time – not knowing where I would end up! But that was then and this is now…

And now for your viewing pleasure, a taste of the Combi experience, an exposé on honking in the Combi:



  1. Wow. This brings back a lot of fond (and simultaneously mortally terrifying) experiences living in Latin America. Keep up the posts!

  2. Seriously – “Once you get your seat, make sure you look like you own it.” Best advice ever and your dear old sister can’t stop laughing. I miss you!

  3. I might be able to pick up the Combi business a little faster thanks to you (if i go to peru)…but it sounds very confusing, and I think it would need to be ingrained in me from birth to really understand how to utilize the system.

    Seems like it works though!

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