June 17, 2014 – June 18, 2014
After relaxing for a few days with the marvelous modern amenities of Lima, it was time to head off once again, this time on a 22 hour bus ride to Cusco. Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incan empire, the heart of the thriving Incan civilization, and surrounded by hundreds of ruins such as Machu Picchu. This was to be our longest stretch yet on the road, and we were actually very excited for our first day long bus ride. We chose to ride with one of the nicer bus companies in Peru, Moviltours. For such a long ride we were willing to pay a bit more for a comfortable safe ride. The nicer companies have small but usually noticeable differences such as, clean seats, bathrooms that usually work, drivers that don’t smell like booze, air conditioned cabins that don’t fill up with diesel exhaust and ticket tags for your bags (Instead of just having them all tossed out in the street for anyone to pickup and run off with.)
**A quick note on bags under the bus. Being backpackers we have large bags that don’t fit on our laps in the passenger cabin of the bus, so they then obviously go under the bus. Don’t leave anything breakable in your bags under the buses! The bags will be thrown, kicked, squished, dropped, scolded, yelled at, and otherwise abused in any number of ways the baggage throwers can think of. Keep valuables, and breakables such as phones, laptops, eyeglasses, sunglasses, that Ming Vase you travel with, all up in a small carry-on bag where it will be safe. My big pack has nothing breakable in it now at all and can be kicked around all day.
As a result of paying for a more reputable company the bus ride itself was pretty fun, we were on a double-decker bus and once again were in the top front with the best view possible. Oddly they seem to not always be very popular seats and we actually get them quite a lot, which I find surprising. I suppose the view from the top front can be a bit unnerving at night, especially when driving along above cliffs with a giant hungry black void just a foot or two from the buses tires. Although during the day the views are breathtaking, or maybe terrifying still, depending on whether being able to see the bottom of those hungry cliffs helps or not.
Once again we saw some interesting things from our high perch above the nighttime road, like the drunk driver swerving all over the road ahead of us, running cars off the road and making us think disaster was only a moment away for about 20 minutes before the car swung off suddenly, or maybe accidentally, onto a side road and disappeared. Despite the drunk drivers on the road we felt quite safe and comfortable on the second floor of our massive bus.
In case you’re wondering if the buses in South America have bathrooms you can rest assured that they do, but don’t rest long because they are often locked, or are temporarily out of order, or have not been functioning for years or possibly ever. On numerous occasions Krista has made the pilgrimage to the back of the bus to use the restroom only to find it locked, with people telling her you have to ask the driver for a key. Then knocking on the drivers compartment (separated by glass) only to find them unresponsive or flat out unwilling to give up their key, instead directing passengers to go outside when they stop in the next hour or two down the road. Our 22 hour bus did thankfully have a working bathroom so we at least did not have that to worry about. They did however have a far more cruel and diabolical form of torture in mind for us on our ride, it was an Adam Sandler movie marathon dubbed into Spanish that played only his worst movies all night long from the TV screen that hangs down from the front of the bus. We’ve come to realize that his movies are very popular here, at least on buses, as this is the fourth bus we’ve been on which was playing his movies.
All this time on buses has led me to conclude that they are actually quite safe and usually comfortable way to travel. At least they are safe when compared to some of the more questionable modes of travel, which are the smaller vehicles such as the taxis or colectivos (vans which wait to fill up with people before departing) They often race around town, with blatant disregard for red lights, pedestrian right of way, speed limits and generally any laws you can think of. It often seems that the traffic in South America follows only three rules.
1. Use the horn a lot!
2. Use the gas.
3. When in doubt refer to rule number one.
On one occasion we were in a colectivo (minivan) packed with about ten people and the driver was driving it like my friend back home drove his EVO (street legal racecar). Going twice the speed limit, tires screeching, engine redlining, drifting around blind corners with forests of crosses sprouting up above 300 foot cliffs. From our viewpoint in various passenger seats, it would seem that disaster was constantly imminent, watching the traffic in any given city as cars cut each other off, stop in intersections, merge violently and suddenly into and out of traffic without signaling, or when two cars play chicken trying to merge into a single lane, both adamantly adhering to rule number 1.
Despite all of this chaos, this kind of traffic is normal to the locals here, and even with all the confusion on the roads we have only witnessed one accident, a minor fender bender between a taxi and another small car. The matter was not settled in the crude fashion of exchanging insurance info, but rather through the more civilized use of fisticuffs in the street.
Perhaps the most dangerous method of transportation is simply walking the streets, or heaven forbid trying to cross them. This observation was confirmed when we saw an very telling sign in Lima explaining that 4 in 5 traffic deaths are pedestrians. While pedestrians may technically have the right of way, in practice they do not. Even a green pedestrian walk signal is no guarantee of safe passage as turning cars will plod right through groups of pedestrians with a blasting horn and revving engine. Anticipating these turning cars is made all the more challenging and exciting by their general disdain for the use of turn signals. It is not unlike a game of frogger, playing for keeps, and I suppose good practice for when we reach Asia, which is said to be worse.
Even with all the chaos on the roads we have met some foreign travelers who have bought cars and are driving across South America, as fun as this sounds I would not recommend it unless you are used to this kind of perilous rules-be-damned driving and have good insurance, or at least a passable knowledge of fisticuffs.
All of this to say we actually do feel very safe on the buses, and usually even look forward to them. They are a great way to cross the distances with a great view! The long rides even give ample time for a travel blogger to catch up on his writing or procrastinating, whichever comes first.