A country to fulfill your senses. Colorful indigenous culture. Machu Picchu and Cuzco. Mystical ruins, the only sign of mighty civilizations well gone. Endless mountain ranges vivisecting the country. Old towns and small pueblos, modern cities and colonial charm. Lamas and condors. Gringo trail and beyond, Peru has something for everyone.
Our trip in Peru started in Huaraz, in the north part of the country. Huaraz lies at 3000m and is the gateway to Cordillera Blanca range. Here in the region we spent a bit of time, hiking, admiring our surroundings and dragging heavy backpacks up and down the mountains for days. That last part, not much fun!
Although there is a small airport in Huaraz, we could not find suitable connections to Cuzco. Instead we decided to take a bus, and this was the moment our small odyssey through Peru started…
Hours later, we finally arrived at one of Lima’s bus stations. John stayed with the luggage and I went to buy tickets to Cuzco. After a long process of asking again and again I had to accept the fact that there was no bus to Cuzco leaving that evening. With the help of a very pleasant taxi driver we booked a hotel for the night and left the bus station. Despite the late hour the traffic was still maniac and it took a while for us to arrive to our accommodation. The hotel was placed in a convenient spot, near all the big roads, a promising start for the morning journey to bus station (a different one). So I thought…..
In the reception I was advised it would take 20 to 30 minutes to drive to the bus station, but remembering the traffic, I insisted to book our taxi for an hour before the bus was leaving. The following morning our taxi driver arrived and when he heard where we were going his face dropped, then it quickly changed into determination and he joined the traffic. ‘Not good!’ I though and I started nervously looking at the clock. There was only one bus a day at 10.30 leaving for Cuzco and we did not want to miss it! The time was ticking fast, while we were crawling in traffic. Thousands of cars, trucks, buses bumper to bumper moving a few inches at time. There was police directing traffic, although how can you direct something that is not moving??? Every time I looked at the clock on the dash board we were getting dangerously closer to the time of departure of the bus, the only bus to Cuzco! After half an hour of this nerve wrecking exercise, I decided to relax, as I did not know where we were, or how far we had to go. Good timing as few minutes later we were in a small car collision!!!. The last thing we needed! After a short conversation the drivers parted and we continued our slow progress through the traffic. Finally with few minutes left to the bus departure our surroundings started to look promising, we turned into side street and passed few coaches with names of distant places displayed on them. We must be close to the bus station I decided. With two minutes left, we were still driving this time throughout some street market with vendors displaying their ware on the street. We kept moving among the crowds, closer and closer to what no doubt was a bus station. Exactly at 10.30 we arrived. I jumped out of the taxi with my backpack and ran to the building, John was sorting out the rest of the luggage and the fare for the driver. Arriving at the station was not the end to our little adventure though. At the gate I was asked for a paper version of our bus tickets, and a distant counter was pointed out to me. To make matters worst the counter was surrounded by large crowds. Luckily the staff was helpful and shouted to the staff at the second counter, I speeded out through the building, went through the crowds, got the tickets and happily went back to the first counter. Not done yet, now my passport was examined, my backpack taken to another counter and the question I dreaded most asked: ‘Where is the second person and can we see their passport?’ Having all this conversation in Spanish was not making it an easy task.* As I was taking breathe to explain the situation, I saw John and the taxi driver running towards us. We made it.
There was plenty of legroom on the bus, we were served snacks and drinks and given blankets and pillows. Finally we could relax and settle for comfortable 21 hours of journey. Before the bus left busy Lima I was deeply asleep.
We rolled south of the capitol, past various landscapes, climbing bigger and bigger hills. Many times I woke up to a loud roar from the engine as we were going uphill, but for piece of mind I decided to ignore it. We were on the bus traveling towards Cuzco, it was all what mattered.
Hours later I decided to watch some movies. The selection was not impressive and I had to settle for a american movie about WWII. For over an hour I looked at soldiers drifting on pontoons and slowly deteriorating from thirst and heat. The movie’s makeup artist did really good job making their lips looking dry and cracked, you would believe they did not drink for days!
And then we were climbing another hill and the engine roared again and then… was silence….. We were not moving any more, the bus was broken! Within few minutes the inside of the bus become quite warm and most of the passengers went outside. It was early morning and it was still pleasantly cool. The bus driver waved a passing car and left for Cuzco to get spare parts. We were left on the side of the road.
A while later another bus stopped near us and few of the passengers were moved there. All of them women with small children. We noticed, that some men tried hitchhiking, that gave us the idea that we could do the same thing. The only problem was our luggage was inside of the bus, and there was plain refusal of staff to give us our backpacks.
A few hours passed and a few more women were put on passing busses. There was no water, or food left on the bus and the day was getting warmer and warmer. I looked at our travel companions and noticed cracked lips, our lips were turning the same. ‘We look the same like the drifting soldiers on the movie’ I said, a side look was the only reaction… A few people went to a neighboring farm and bought some fruits. Our driver returned with the needed part and attempted to fix the bus. A while later we were told that the wait is over, we can have our luggage and we have to make our way to Cuzco!!!. Finally!
And this is when the fun started! The bus was on an uphill streach of a windy road, just after a bend. Cars driving towards Cuzco had to stop to past the bus. In order to be visible we had to place ourselves before the bus, and than run few hundred meters uphill past the bus to catch the car. Great fun!
Shortly we were inside a small people carrier, with our luggage on the roof and off we went. Less than two hours later we reached outskirts of Cuzco. There we had to find a taxi to take us to our accommodation. Finally we arrived at our room. After 27 hours of traveling.
We were tired, hungry and thirsty. We left our belongings and walked down the street. Some hundred or so meters from the hotel was a French type of a café serving crepes…. I was so hungry I chose it instead of trying some local food (breaking one of my traveling rules!)….. but I did not regret it, as the crepes, hot chocolate and service was excellent.
Few days later we were traveling back to Lima, this time we took a flight, we think we did, we can not remember, for there was nothing remarkable about it….
*I am a firm believer of learning languages for my traveling. Yes, in some (very touristy places!) you can communicate in English, but once off the beaten path, you can forget it. In many parts of the world speaking at least a bit of local languages helps to not only ask for directions, but literally opens hearts of local people.
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