The Fun of Using Peseros In La Paz

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Judy Ristity
I’ve been driving in La Paz for 15 years so I assumed I knew our town.  I was wrong.
Oh, I drive to friends’ homes.  And I zip to Chedraui, Ley, Soriana and Walmart but yesterday I discovered a very different La Paz. Because The Baja Citizen wants to help people who’ve recently arrived here I offered to write an article about using peseros (those mini-buses that many of us get stuck behind just when we’re in a hurry). No problema.
To get into the spirit, I imagined I’d arrived with the Baja HaHa – that my boat was docked at Marina de La Paz and I needed groceries but I was car-less, clue-less…and had a limited budget.  So, instead of hailing a taxi, I’d use peseros (aka colectivos). But merely pretending wasn’t enough – I needed to “walk-the-walk” or in this case “ride-the pesero”.
Peseros cluster downtown on Revolucìon de 1910, Aquiles Serdàn, Santos Degollado, and Melchor Ocampo.  I first went to Pan D’Les, bought ginger cookies, and drove and parked a block from Revolucìon.  I had my map, pesos, water and cookies.  I was ready.
I watched a parade of peseros load and unload passengers.  I noticed some mini-vans had route numbers – but not all.  I observed a man with an official-looking clipboard speak to a van driver.  I asked for a route schedule. “No existe.” This wasn’t going to be as easy as I had imagined.  I tried a different approach. “To go to Walmart, what number pesero should I take?”  “Hay varios”, he replied.   I asked where I could catch one.  He pointed in all four directions. Finally I asked which color pesero would take me to Walmart.  He mentioned a rainbow of colors. This was darned hard.
I sat on a crumbling concrete bench with a mother and her three small children and I ate a cookie.  The children stared.  I smiled and they accepted the cookies I offered.  I learned that ginger cookies are wasted on children under the age of eight.  But the combination of ginger, sugar, butter and flour fortified me with renewed energy and determination.
Plan B – I drove to Marina de La Paz.  Perhaps they had information about the most commonly used pesero routes.  No luck.  I ate another cookie.
I parked on Marquez de Leòn and Francisco Madero (near Rancho Viejo) and considered my next step.  A pesero approached.  I read “Walmart – Home Depot – Soriana – Miramar Ruta C-46” Bingo!  I paid 8 pesos and the adventure began.  It was exactly noon. Why did I imagine the pesero would drive directly to Walmart simply because that’s where I wanted to go?  Instead we headed to FYMSA (a large hardware store), Ley on Agustin Olachea and – the prison.  But at 12:15 we arrived at Walmart.  I’d done it!
Now I was ready for the van to turn and head back to Centro. Why did I imagine that he’d drive directly back downtown simply because that’s where I wanted to go? But no!  We lumbered down deep, unpaved arroyos, passed the Catholic University, and at 12:35 drove by a huge Chedraui under construction.  We entered Villa de Guadalupe, a neighborhood where all streets are named for saints – where houses are not much bigger than the pesero and decorated with graffiti. At 12:40 we executed a U-turn and reversed our route.  At 1:25 we parked on Degollado between Revolucìon and Serdàn….The end of the route.  Or so I thought.
Since I’d left my car on Marquez de Leòn I remained seated.  Why did I imagine that the pesero would drive directly back to my car simply because that’s where I wanted to go? However, we headed AWAY from my car. We passed the Cathedral, the Port Captain’s office, and within a block of my house but since my car was on the other end of town, I remained seated. At 1:40 we climbed a cobble-stone street into the neighborhood called Ciudad del Cielo (City of Heaven) where some houses were constructed of cardboard and tin.  We had an aerial view of the cemetery (aka Panteòn).  Finally, we turned around in someone’s driveway.  At 1:50 we approached Centro and at 2:00 (exactly two hours from the time I entered the pesero) I said, “Gracias” to the driver and disembarked near my car.  Our route had been shaped like a lopsided number 8 with Centro being the mid-section.
What did I learned during my adventure?
Peseros operate between 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Cost – 8 pesos upon entering.  No transfers. No list of routes exists. Bus stops are not always marked.
Several peseros may go to your desired destination but the routes will be different and may not be the most direct.  I was lucky – I got to Walmart in fifteen minutes.
I was the only non-Mexican riding.  I entered neighborhoods that I didn’t know existed.  I saw poverty.  My fellow passengers were giggling schoolgirls, well-groomed children and adults who were kind and helpful. Please dress modestly, don’t take photos and don’t gawk.  Be respectful.
If you have time and want to see a different face of La Paz, take a pesero. Ride the entire route.  But if you’re in a hurry or have lots of bags, take a taxi.
PS – Peseros can be hot and dusty so drink water but be careful; two hours is a long time without a bathroom.
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