Monday, March 24, 2008

My experience with the Panamericana Sur in Lima, Peru.

Well this summer we stayed in a beach apartment in Punta Hermosa (43 km south of Lima). This meant that I was constantly driving into Lima for various events, dinners, and errands. These are some of my observations and comments about that experience.

Closest supermarket -
E-Wong Caminos del Inca. Asia would seem like the obvious choice when staying on the beach, but it's actually closer (35 km, S/. 3 toll) and faster to head back towards Lima than to go down to Asia (45 km, S/. 11 toll).

Toll booths -
Don't believe the lights. Half the time there are large green lights right behind signs that show the lane to be closed (you can see the light from a much greater distance). The people who work them generally seem efficient and nice enough. Overall the lines always moved quickly (nothing even close to the horrible lines in Mass or NY) and there were never any major delays.

Sundays -
On this day everything gets crazy (at least during the summer). The morning commute is changed to include the entire Panamericana Sur going south out of Lima. Anyone who wants to go to the north to Lima, has to take the Antigua Panamericana Sur. The Antigua is in total disrepair and doesn't look like it has had any real work done in years. Many areas along the road are extremely dangerous and the road has almost no signs telling you how to get to Lima or how to stay on the Antigua Panamericana Sur. Generally there are a good deal of Police in the area so you can ask them where to go.

The Antigua Panamericana Sur has one lane in each direction. So passing is possible, but extremely difficult on Sundays due to the high traffic. If you leave Lima in the afternoon and go to the south, you need to take the Antigua Panamericana Sur because the real Panamericana Sur is changed to have all lanes going North! For the Antigua Panamericana Sur, going south and going north have completely different routes. Going from Lima to the south on the Antigua Panamericana Sur is by far much more dangerous (not to mention it is afternoon/night). The roads going to the south are full of huge holes and many of them are unpaved. It goes right through some of the poorest and most dangerous shanty towns in Lima (Villa Maria, Villa El Salvador). Going to the south, it's much longer and much harder to find Police. There are almost no signs that indicate how to get to the south.

If you are a weekend traveler coming from Lima, this is great. You can quickly get down to the beach in the morning and make it back into town the same night. This is especially popular with the working class who work Mon-Sat in Peru. Many of the visitors to the beach on this day are maids, taxi drivers, bus drivers, factory workers, etc. I believe all lanes are open to the South from 7am until noon. Then I believe that all lanes are open to the North from 2pm until 7pm. These times change often and are not consistent, but they give a general idea.

In the end, this restricted a lot of my activities on Sundays. This meant that driving into Lima on a Sunday was a massive pain in the ass. The commute time getting there goes from 30-45 minutes up to 1.5 hours. The commute time getting back goes from 40-50 minutes to 2 hours. Sunday is a good day for resting and, for me, driving almost 4 hours is not resting. Staying at the beach also is not a great idea for Sundays. It's crowded, noisy, and the waves are too crowded to surf safely.

Road crossings -
%&@*%@^(%*^! It's extremely dangerous just to drive on the roads. The speed limits range from 80 Kph to 100 Kph. This means that the drivers go between 100-150+ Kph. The highway changes from 4-5 lanes on each side down to 2 on each side. It only changes to 1 lane per side when you get down past Asia. There are stairways and bridges for crossing the road every Km (half mile) or so. People are constantly complaining in both the newspaper and the radio about how there are not enough of these bridges. But the people seem to rarely use them. I've seen people carrying 100 lb sacks of rice across 4+ lanes of highway only 20 yards from a pedestrian bridge. Every day there are news stories about people dying when they try to cross the highway and don't use the bridge.

My main concern has been that at night time there is little lightning past Chorillos and Villa El Salvador. There are also a lot of trees and fences. This means that it's hard to see people in the dark and often they can be hidden behind obstructions. Often they don't look carefully with crossing. You can obviously avoid a lot of them, but if you hit just one, what happens? They are breaking an 'unenforced law' by crossing the street, jumping the fences, and not using the pedestrian bridges. Also they are not crossing at any kind of crosswalk. From the lawyers I have spoken with so far (none specialized in these cases), they seem to consider it the driver's fault no matter what. There is some belief here that it is the people's native right to cross the road when they want to and that 'western laws' don't apply to people who have 'different beliefs'.

I'm still investigating this as I just can't understand that logic or how it could possibly work in a city of almost 8 million people. A few lawyers that I've spoken with have told me that as a gringo, it would be best if I left the country and never came back if I was to kill someone accidentally on the highway. They believe that I would be put into an overcrowded Peruvian jail even if I was innocent. The jails here currently hold 44,000 people and were built to house 23,000 people. Obviously conditions are on the edge of humans rights abuse. So going to jail in Peru is a major concern. So what should someone do? Most commutes to the south are around 30-90 minutes. You could go way under the speed limit just to be safe (but get harassed by people honking at you as they fly by at twice the limit) and double your travel time. But going 'slow enough' to be safe from people crossing the road from behind trees and such causes a dangerous situation with other drivers who are going twice the speed limit. They aren't ready for a car going so slow and could possibly collide with you.

Really as far as I can tell at the moment there is no good solution. The government certainly hasn't done enough to help the situation. People crossing the road 'illegally' are almost never punished or even warned (they do it right in front of police). Some areas lack enough bridges. Speeding is not enforced by the police (I've seen cars go past parked police vehicles at over 200 Kph). Most of the police vehicles on the highway aren't highway ready and could not maintain a pursuit. Many of them are just parked there but barely run at all. I've seen many on the shoulder of the road motoring along at max speed of 40 Kph. If they can't even keep their trucks running, do you think they have speed radars? No!

It's the wild wild west of highways. Cuidao!

I'll add some more to this as I get time. I also plan to post an entry for 'Experiences Living in Punta Hermosa'.


Mark said...

Where's the updates??? We hate being left hanging ;o)
The suspense is KILLING us!!!!!!

Splaktar said...

Yeah, I need to finish this up. Being in Arequipa doesn't give me much inspiration though and work has been really busy and stressful.

Splaktar said...

OK, I've wrapped up the Road Crossings section. I doubt I'll add more to this. But I would like to add another post for 'experiences living in Punta Hermosa' at some point.