-Big & Rich, "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy"
Wow. What an exhausting four days I've had since I wrote last. This is going to be one of those really, really long posts so try and get comfortable before you get started. Maybe grab a drink or something, run to the bathroom just in case. Okay. You ready?
Let's get started.
Last you heard I was setting off by taxi to catch my 6 pm bus out of Buenos Aires. This being my first major bus trip, I figured it would be similar to a flight in that I should be ready to go an hour prior to departure. Turns out I was wrong. Of course, I was panicking when six'o'clock came and went with no sign of my bus, but apparently the six'o'clock printed on my ticket was the time that the bus would show up, not the time it would leave. Or maybe it was just late. Who knows.
I settled into my seat and was pleased to find myself seated beside a slim Argentine businesswoman, probably the best possible seatmate to have for a three-day bus journey. And then, about thirty seconds later, I realized that I was in the wrong seat. My actual seatmate was a man who roughly resembled a more tan version of the captain of the spaceship in Wall-E. He kind of looked like a big baby. I never got his name, but I know that his surname was Lopez. I imagine his first name being something like Miguel or Gabriel, like the Latino comedian who refers to his body type as 'fluffy.'
The first night was a lesson in confusion for me. I could not for the life of me find the bathroom on that bus, and the roadside diner we stopped at had neither toilet paper nor potable water. No teeth brushing for me.
We watched whatever DVD's people had brought with them, which often meant that they were bootlegged and of horrible quality. There was Walled In (Los Muros in Spanish), All Good Things (Crimen en Familia), The Expendables (didn't catch the Spanish name of that one), The Centurion (couldn't be bothered to watch any of it), Ice Age 2, G-Force (Fuerza G), and several more that were equally forgettable. Oh, and there were several discs of music videos of Latino top 100 hits and things like that. That was actually ridiculous.
From Buenos Aires, we drove almost due west towards Mendoza, arriving Sunday morning. After that, we crossed the Andes (which are incredible) and went through customs. There was a little setback here, as we were stuck in traffic on an otherwise-lonely mountain road for around two hours because, as I heard it, someone in another car had died. There were ambulances and everything.
Customs took another few hours. We just stood around on and admired the mountains for a bit while our bags were checked and the bus was cleared. Pretty boring, but I bought some chips to distract myself. This was around the time I discovered that long-distance bus journeys make
my feet swell up a lot. Like a LOT. My shoes didn't fit any more, and it was really embarrassing.
That evening, we hit up another little restaurant on the side of the road, called the Oasis. There were more dodgy bathrooms with no toilet paper and no flushing capabilities. [Word to the wise: Bring wet wipes when you travel. For so many reasons.]
I was about out of pesos, so I went to wait by myself near the bus until the waiters took pity on me and invited me inside. I'd just settled down with my mp3 player and sketchbook when a waiter brought me a papaya-flavored soda and told me that my seatmate had extended an invitation to dine with him. He was alone, I was alone, so I went to sit with him and grill him about Peru while watching him go to town on his chicken dinner. I tell you, that man can put away a chicken. And the soda was delicious. Lopez constantly urged me to have faith in regards to my worries about life in Peru, and assured me that everything would work out.
After dinner, we kept driving west, and I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. And it is beautiful. There was another uncomfortable night of semi-sleep and we were told the next morning that we were going to have to make good time if we wanted to make it to the Peruvian border before it closed that night at 11. I wasn't sure what this would mean to me, because I'd been expecting to arrive in Tacna, the first town over the border, at 5:30 pm the next day. Turns out that even though I'd been very clear that my destination was Tacna, the man who'd printed my ticket had put the info for Lima on it. This meant that I might be arriving in Cusco a day early, which would mean no reservation. . . and of course, I started to panic. (I think I'm beginning to overuse that word.) Should I keep going to Arequipa, and take a bus from there the next morning? Would it be safe to stay in Tacna by myself? I've read a lot about kidnappings and murders in the Peru-Bolivia area. I can't believe I'm admitting this, but I was actually scared, to the point that I considered staying on the bus until Lima, and taking a surprise flight home in the next couple of days. But there were a lot of variables, and all I could do was wait.
In the end, we arrived at the Peruvian border on time, and got to Tacna a little while later. I had assumed that I would be left at a bus stop, but we went straight to a restaurant. Lopez was good enough to clear things up with the bus driver, who in turn was good enough to unload my luggage and simply point me in the direction of the nearest hotel (which is to say, he wasn't very good to me at all). It was dark out, and there were clusters of people standing around in doorways. It seemed that the only thing to do was go to the hotel.
I had the option of a single room with a shared bathroom for S/. 15, or one with a private bathroom for S/. 25. Have I mentioned that the exchange rate is three to one? As in, that first room cost $5 and the second cost $8? You'd better believe I splurged on the private bathroom.
You know what? When I got into that room, with its yellow walls and linoleum floors, I almost cried with relief. There were two beds with faded sheets, the bathroom was a little janky, but the room actually had its own television. And it was all mine. I could put my stuff wherever I wanted, and I could wear whatever I wanted to sleep. I could go to bed as late as I wanted and play music and fall asleep with House on in the background.
The next morning, I took a shower and headed for the bus station. That's where I bought my bus ticket to Cusco and learned that I'd woken up two hours earlier than necessary, because of the time change. I also had my first Peruvian meal, a circle of fried cheese on a bed of white rice, with a lettuce and tomato salad on the side, along with a piece of cooked potato. It was served with a spicy salsa which I found really delicious and refreshing.
What with the spicy food, and friendly locals (one guy who worked behind the counter for a bus company spent three hours talking to me about what to expect in Cusco, who also told me that I should have faith), Peru was shaping up to be pretty awesome. I got on my bus and discovered, once again, that even with my awesome Uruguayan tan, I was the whitest person there. Even with what I think are fairly pronounced cheekbones, I still stick out like a sore thumb with my green eyes and hair that I tried to lighten with lemon juice in Uruguay (to fit in with all the blonds there). I'm also insanely jealous of the thick
braids that these Peruvian women wear all the way down their backs.
In case you're not familiar with the culture, the Incans were pretty much the only major civilization around here to outlast the Spanish invaders and preserve their way of life. Even today, the women wear a traditional outfit of full, layered skirt, sweater or cardigan top, and a straw or derby hat on the top of their heads. And they don't use suitcases; instead, they carry their belongings bundled up in blankets on their backs. It's really amazing.
The bus to Cusco wound through dunes and hills, climbing gradually higher. We stopped a few times, and locals selling bread, fruit, and homemade drinks boarded the bus. I opted not to get anything, because the drinks were packaged in used soda bottles, and seemed a little sketchy. They also didn't have any vegetarian empanadas, which would have been really nice.
The biggest stop was at around nine in Puno, which is a town on the shores of Lake Titicaca. I saw a few backpackers boarding, and decided to chat them up. It turned out they were headed to the same hostel as me, and we decided to share a taxi, which was great because who really wants to take a taxi alone at five in the morning? Not me.
This was also when they turned the bus heat on. I napped for a few hours, and woke up in time to see Cusco as we drove into it. If I'm being honest, it wasn't too promising. But I was still really excited to have my bus journeys coming to an end.
We checked in and I slept a few hours before getting a nice big breakfast. Then I talked to the bar manager about working in exchange for a room, and that seems promising.
And that brings me to where I am now, on a couch in the bar/lounge around of the Loki Hostel. It's been rainy all day, and I'm supposed to take some time to adjust to the altitude, so I don't feel guilty about staying in. Tonight, I'm meeting with the bar manager to discuss the work schedule. I need to decide how long I want to stay here--if it's going to be a few weeks, a month, or more. If I can find a volunteer program here, I'd be open to staying a month or more, but I should probably give myself time to see Machu Picchu and all those other great things. If anyone reading this has been to Peru, I'm so open to suggestions.