By Sheethal Shobowale, KF10, Bolivia

Transportation has been an integral part of my travels in South America. I have been in cars, vans, buses, scooters, motorcycles, trains, boats, planes, even a bus transported by a boat and of course I have walked.

In many cities, walking (or running for exercise) is usually not the best option because you breathe in a ton of pollution from passing vehicles.  In cities, I’ve noticed and heard that Peruvians and Bolivians don’t walk much.

Public transport is popular because not many people can afford to have their own cars. Small vans called combis in Peru and minibuses in Bolivia shuttle people back and forth.  Combis have a cobrador (fare collector) while minibuses will sometimes have a cobrador, sometimes won’t.  You pay your fare to the driver when you get off or when the cobrador asks for it.  Bolivia also has micros, which are larger, cheaper buses.  You pay the bus driver upon boarding.  Collectivos (Peru) and trufis (Bolivia) are collective taxis that run a fixed route.  They are a bit more expensive but faster as they only carry six people (two in the front and four in the back) and don’t stop as often.  You pay the driver when you get off.

I have been consistently surprised by the age of the minibuses and cars in Peru and Bolivia.  I’ve seen discarded American buses from the 60’s in La Paz still in constant use.  I’ve seen a ton of old punchbuggies (my favorite!)  Even though one could argue that driving old cars pollutes more than newer, more efficient models, I also think using something until it just doesn’t work anymore is an efficient use of materials and resources.  Plus, it’s much cheaper for Bolivians with limited resources to buy new items.

Punchbuggies in Cusco, Peru Punchbuggies in Cusco, Peru Punchbuggies in Cusco, Peru Punchbuggies in Cusco, Peru

I met Moises, a Cochabambino (someone from Cochabamba, Bolivia) who buys used trucks in Europe and imports them to Bolivia.  A truck that would have little or no value in Europe still holds a great deal of value in South America.   And Moises’s personal vehicle uses natural gas instead of petroleum.

I met a Kiva client in La Paz who took out a loan to convert his taxi from petroleum to natural gas.  Natural gas in general is more efficient (the driver will spend less money on fuel) and environmental.  Also efficient are the small manual shift cars people drive in Peru and Bolivia (except in Santa Cruz, where SUVs are in mode).   This saves gas, which is not only cheaper but also more environmental.  Many people, including many of the loan officers I’ve met in my work, also drive motos (scooters), which use less gas than cars.  I admit that with the amount I have traveled for my work with Kiva and to see the beautiful countries of Peru and Bolivia, my carbon footprint is pretty significant.  But traveling mainly on public transport helped a lot.

Below is a video of various forms transport I have seen in my travels through Peru and Bolivia.


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Sheethal Shobowale just finished her second Kiva Fellow placement with microfinance institution Emprender in Bolivia.  She is back on the New York city subway and misses her Cusco combis!

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