I Spent 55 Hours on a Bus in Peru
If you’ve ever been to South America, you might have noticed that taking buses can be a very different experience. At best, you might get some sleep once in a while and will even be allowed to empty your bowels at the on-board hole in the floor. At other times, you may look out your window and notice that your bus is driving along a cliff wide enough for a bicycle, but will reason that you are probably hallucinating from all the sleeping pills you’ve been chewing to stay asleep for more then 15 minutes at a time. But then you will notice that not only is this real, but your bus driver is actually passing other cars and buses on this goat path of a road. At this point, you will convert to some kind of religion – most likely Christianity – and will pray to God that the next candle placed along the road will not be for you and your fellow passengers. You will most likely survive though, and get onto the beautiful roads passing over peaks and through valleys in the incredible scenery that is South America. And if you decide to stop chewing sleeping pills like skittles, you will be astonished at how much you can see and experience just from looking out your window. You might also experience how much getting an air bubble in your ear hurts from driving up and down the mountainsides all the time. But all this aside, spending more than a week in total getting across South America is one of those things I’m now really glad I did.
There is one part of my cross-continent trip that I’ll never forget. It was only our second long bus ride of the journey. We were heading from Nazca to Cusco to take the Inca trail hike up to Machu Picchu. It was an overnight bus, and would normally take about 14 hours. This was a case of buses at their best in South America; some of us even got upgraded to luxury class seeing there were no more normal seats left. We embarked with high spirits and hopes for a good night. And what a good night it was! We all slept well and woke up to a piece of complementary banana bread and tea for breakfast. It was almost a little to good to be true… and it was. With only about two hours to go, we hit a massive traffic jam up in the mountains of Peru. With nothing but nature and a few mud huts outside our windows, we began to wonder what would cause a jam up here at about 2500 metres above sea level. After sending our Mexican friend out to investigate the situation. we found out that the jam was caused by farmers protesting against the government for some water-related reason I never fully understood. They had littered the road with huge logs, rocks and scrap metal that made it impossible for any bus or even cars to pass. Again, we sent out our Mexican friend to investigate and to try and find out how long this was going to last for. He tried communicating with the farmers, but had problems understanding their Spanish accents, and we didn’t really figure out anything except that anyone trying to remove the obstacles would be attacked with machetes.
So there we were, 80 kilometres from Cusco and 2500 metres above sea level. We crept back onto our bus and begun the wait. The first 10 hours passed without the bus moving an inch. We hadn’t packed any extra food or water seeing as this was to only be an overnight trip. We were already well into our one packet of crackers and the little H2O we had brought for the night. Once again, another 10 hours passed and we had only gotten a few kilometres further. People on the bus were beginning to talk about walking the last 80 kilometers. We also discussed it among ourselves in our group. but it wasn’t really an option as we had mostly summer clothes and the temperature in the mountains often drops below zero degrees Celsius at night, even in the summer. Other people did decide to start walking though, and cleverly enough decided to steal some of the blankets provided by the bus to keep warm along the way. A new night came and we tucked ourselves in to sleep again, now having been on the same bus for about 30 hours. But just as we were doing so, the bus hostess decided to reclaim all the blankets we had got to stay warm because the people that had begun walking had stolen theirs, and she didn’t want to risk losing any more blankets. After removing our only hope of staying warm, she and the bus driver were picked up by a car, leaving us and all the other passengers alone for the night. At this point, the toilet had begun to overflow, with all its goodies pouring out on the floor of the bus, but the Peruvians didn’t seem to care about the shit everywhere and continued using it through the night. The few times we had to go crouch down behind a bush, we were lucky enough to have a Lonely Planet at hand for a plenty supply of toilet paper. We had problems falling asleep because of the cold, but were pleased to find the farmers had made a huge bonfire outside the bus so that everyone could gather round and get our heat back whilst discussing what we could do to get time to pass.
The next morning, the farmers had removed mostr of the rocks, and we drove about 40 kilometres further on. We came to this little town of mud and straw cabins. We were getting really hungry at this point, so went out to see if we could scavenge some food from any locals. We had massive luck and got invited by some Peruvians into their mud hole to have some boiled potatoes with salt. They were delicious and we didn’t even have to pay: they were happy so long as they could touch and hug our blonde Norwegian friends. After some hand-signal communication, they also pointed us towards a little kiosk in the town. We gave our biggest thanks and rushed there to buy crackers, soda, water and chocolate. And were delighted to find that they also sold fried rice with eggs and chips. This is still one of the best meals I’ve ever had!
Arriving in this city marked the point where our luck turned, and the rest of the road blocks were still being cleaned off the road. After spending almost 55 hours on the bus, we finally arrived in Cusco. Too late for our Inca trail to Machu Picchu, but just in time for a lovely bedbug-infested bunk at the hostel!
Lesson learned: check the road status before travelling by bus in Peru!