My 24 hour bus extravaganza gets off to a rough start when a) my proof of payment won't print off my memory stick and b) I realize that my taxi driver has absolutely no idea where the bus terminal is. Ah the joys...
The Moviltours depot in South Lima is small, very orange and very hot, and I am here way too early. The taxi driver takes my hefty duffle bag to the baggage counter and bids me safe travels. There is a harassed Gent behind the counter and I show him my (finally) printed proof of payment. A strange look passes over his face, and he bids me "uno momento", flashes a smile, waves my paper at me and then exits the building. Shortly thereafter He arrives back with my ticket, and I thank him profusely, recognizing the huge kindness he has just done me. Carrying my bags up and waiting in a huge line is something that I could have done a few years ago, but not something I can do now. I watch my bag be tagged to Chachapoyas and then weave my way through a sea of taxis to get to the main waiting area.
I head upstairs to the snack bar area, breeze past a crowd of people waiting for tickets and send a thank you up to my guardian angel. I buy water and plunk myself down on an empty chair across from a man reading a newspaper, after asking "permiso" first of course. The next hour is spent reading and writing until my bus is ready to board. I get pulled aside at the security checkpoint for a quick peek into my backpack, only cursory really, the officer probably wouldn't have noticed if did have contraband.
I settle into my seat, a fabulously cushy, reclining "cama" (bed) class luxury treat, first class for $60. About half the seats are full, but with the stops along the way I guess (correctly) that we will stop to pick up / drop off passengers along the route. With some alarm I note there are several families with small children and infants. Great. Before long the bus pulls out of the terminal, and as expected the former are bored and fussy within the first half hour, although gratefully the babies are sleeping.
I am indeed an old, grumpy, frumpy, entitled Gringa. Sigh.
Lima is a huge city, something I have known theoretically for years. Experientially is a whole different ball game. It takes more than 2 hours to get through the city to the North Lima bus depot for our first stop / pick up. And almost another hour to clear the outskirts on our way north. The northern end of the city is a flow of poor, then poorer neighbourhoods, decline to shantytown, and slowly peter out to worse than that. Looking at the poverty it is hard to imagine a life lived such. The How's and Why's are hard questions indeed.
The Peruvian coast is one long sand dune filled desert, blooming only in areas where mountain rainwater has been channelled from inland, or where underground aquifers flow.
The Dunes we pass north of Lima are the largest I have ever seen. I am dumbstruck. The bus winds north on the Pan American Highway and whole sections of road are carved from the side of these behemoths, leaving behind fantastical formations and geological layers. To my untrained eye it seems the coastline was shoved up from the sea floor long before the dunes were formed, and the evidence uncovered when the road was put through. I try in vain to capture their scope, pointing my camera upwards. I realise that from this close my photos will all appear as if I am taking a picture of a desert horizon.
Guess National Geographic or Google Images will have to suffice if you are interested.
These dunes are dusted with small shanties, individual and clustered. What on earth do these people do for food, transport, work?
We pass the first of many "checkpoints". Most of the busses headed north are being pulled over and the drivers documents being checked. Side fact: Peru is considered one of the worlds most dangerous places to drive. For every 100 cars on the road there are 2.7 fatalities. Any'ol how, we get tagged to have the cargo holds inspected, but to my relief it causes us no more than a 10 minute detour.
There is a beautiful equatorial sunset off the coast, and I relax into it's beauty. Lovely.
These long distance bus rides come with meals and attendants. A tray is dropped into my lap and I am not at all surprised to find potatoe salad, rice, beef, more potatoes and a tablespoon of peas. A perfect example of how people eat here, carbs, carbs, protein, more carbs, and a nod to vegetables. I decline the pop offered with the meal, and the jello for desert. Trays are promptly picked up, lights go off and the first of many movies pops on the tv screen at the front of the bus.
All the movies are dubbed in spanish, but the subtitles aren't english. I recognize most of them but can't place their names. Except for the latest Taken film, which I expected because I have never had a bus ride in Peru without one of the Taken series being shown. Cue the "can you figure out what they are saying?" game.
Discomfort sets in. My ankles and feet still are swollen from the plane ride, and now several hours sitting are making my legs ache deeply. Damned experience has taught me this is not something that is just going to go away on it's own as I continue to sit, so I down some painkillers and a gravol, seeing as the pain killers always make me nauseated. Relief comes eventually, and so does my wish to nap now that night has taken away any view.
It is at this point that the baby across from me decides it was time to cry. No wait, scream.
Patience Linda, for you too have been in this situation. Many years ago when my Amy was a babe we went to the Dominican Republic for a vacation. All was well until our decent and then my quiet angel started screaming and I could not get her to stop. She wouldn't nurse, and refused her pacifier. I could feel all eyes on me as I walked with her and tried to quiet her, and then a lovely flight attendant rescued me. She said that the crying would clear her ears and she would quiet, and to my great relief that is what happened a few excruciatingly long minutes later.
So I glance over to the young mom and give what I hope is a reassuring look, and tamp my irritation down. Thankfully I can usually sleep anywhere, anytime, so snooze I did. I hear the continued fussing now and again as background noise, but mostly sleep until our next stop in Chiclayo. Cue the rapid fire Spanish over the intercom. All around me people slowly rise to exit the bus and I realize we are all to get off, so I rout around until I find my Hikers from underneath all my paraphernalia and put them on. I get up to leave the bus but obviously have taken too long because just as I reach the doors they close with a definitive swoosh and the bus begins to move. I bang on the glass and call out to the driver. Nope Nada.
The bus backs up and stops at what I conclude is a sanitary station, doors open, I pop my head out, and find about a dozen people staring. So with my drug and sleep influenced Spanish I try to explain that the doors closed while I was trying to exit. The crowd stares at me, uncomprehending. A give it a couple of tries and then throw my hands up and say "oh never mind", and everyone starts laughing. At me or for me I don't know. Love to entertain.
Not too long later the bus is back at the terminal to allow us to re board. While I take my boots off the attendant comes through handing out barfy bags. Oh the memories. On a bus trip to Yurimaguas a few years ago I left my breakfast in a garbage bin next to the road in a similar bag. Hmm. Not that I really feel I am in any particular danger, but I pop a gravol anyways and drifted back to snoozeland.
Before long dawn is breaking and I can feel that the bus had changed course and was now headed up into the mountains. I take a peep through the drapes and yep, sure enough, mountains. I settle back down in my comfy bed Far too soon I hear the announcement asking us to raise our seat backs so attendants can come through with breakfast, a plain chicken sandwich and a fruit bun stuffed with date paste. I opt to eat only the fruit bun and it was sticky and delicious.
I think Mrs. Doubtfire was playing on the tv at this point.