Bomberitos

Transport, Superheroes, Teenagers

The Andes. A set of mountains that outline the South American continent. Seven thousand five hundred kilometers of highlands bordering the Pacific, with an average height of 4,000 meters. 

Argentinians, Chileans, Bolivians, Colombians, Ecuadorians and Peruvians are familiar with these mountains. The landscape’s sinuous form is part of the South Americans who live and move among them.

In these countries, the transport of food and goods is done primarily by cars and trucks that must cross the pronounced forms of this mountain range. Similarly, for many in these countries, the proverbial trip to the sea involves long hours of driving up and down narrow and dangerous roads at the same slow pace as the trucks carrying food and goods that they follow.

So steep and broken are the Andean roads that certain stretches in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have been renamed for their slopes and vertiginous curves: “Alcanza perros” (the tired dog), “Nariz del Diablo” (Devil's Nose), “Cabuya” (the rope), “El Violín” (the violin), and sarcastically, "La línea"  (the Line).

In Peru, several roads that cross the Andes to connect the plains with the sea cause such dizziness that cars sometimes turn back, children and grandmothers feel sick, engines grind to a halt and, in the worst case scenario, accidents happen.

Often, there are no ambulances or shops nearby to provide assistance, however, there is always someone willing to help, and eager to detect a problem and devise a creative way to solve it. Here, when mechanical failure occurs or when assistance of any kind is requested on these roads of Peru, there are the bomberitos or “little firemen”: children and adolescents who assist bringing car parts, helping to push a vehicle or conduct a rescue operation in exchange for a few coins.

With carts built out of sturdy wooden tables and ball bearing wheels, perfect for fitting two or three kids inside, these children hitch themselves to other cars or just hold on with their hands to the backs of trucks, in order to climb the steep hills to those who await their services. No helmets, but a thick stick that they can drag to slow down their makeshift ride. The bomberitos have become well-known heroes on these roads, often giving a hand to people trapped in an accident, in return for a few Peruvian soles, money that will go the survival of their families. For that small fee, the bomberitos of Peru are the best guardians of the road.