South America | Peru | Southern Peru | Cuzco (Cusco) – The bus from the border
Sat 5th May,
Machu Picchu? asked the Peruvian lady as we were crossing the border. ‘Si’, we answered, grinning and expecting her to offer us some sight seeing tips.
‘They like this Machu Picchu,’ she continued to her friend in Spanish. ‘They get robbed, but they still go. Peru is the last place in the world that I would like to visit and it’s my homeland!!’
This was the latest in a long line of none-too-cheerful stories we’d heard about the country. ‘Go to Peru expecting to be robbed’ say the guidebooks. ‘No there’s no problems there’, said a Canadian guy we met en route. ‘I’ve just spent a few weeks there. One time someone did spit of the side of my face to distract me while a friend tried to take my wallet, but they didn’t get it. Oh and someone else did try to take my wallet, but there was nothing in it anyway!!
So, I was armed with an empty purse, a panic alarm and a very unhealthy paranoia about Peru and all those who hail from there. And how foolish I now feel for it. So far, all that Peruvians have been is incredibly friendly, helpful and intruiged with us.
While waiting for our overnight bus to Cuzco, I had my first real conversation with a local (this had never happened in Argentina or Chile). Sitting clutching my bag while Hector was checking out the buses, a woman asked if she could sit down in his chair. I was wary and clutched the bag even tighter. She asked me where we were going, where we were from, how old I was, asked about my family, my country – she just seemed genuinely interested in me! Each time I answered she turned to her friends and repeated the information to them to a chorus of oohs and aahs! She even complimented me on my Spanish, which kept me smiling for the rest of the night! I was somewhat embarrassed when she asked me why we were only visiting Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Not quite wanting to say ‘I’m scared that your countrymen will rob me,’ I settled for ‘we don’t have enought time and money’ which is at least mostly true!
Our first Peruvian bus journey was memorable, if only for the preacher on our bus pointing us out as foreigners in his sermon and telling the other passengers that they should welcome us into the country. We were even blessed as we alighted the bus that had brought us from the border to Tacna.
Now, taking our second bus ride from Tacna to Cuzco, it seemed that things would stay lively. Far from the overloaded campervan containing a family of eight and their farm that friends and family expect me to be travelling in, we got on a quite normal coach. The fun began as the driver pulled out of the bus station on the dot of 8 o’clock. Some of the people on the bus were there only to see off relatives and didn’t want to take a bus, so the banging started and the driver paused briefly to let them off. So, off again but the banging and shouting began again. This time pássengers were chasing the bus desperately trying to get on board. Another all too brief stop allowed 2 more people on, but still the banging and screaming continued!
Passengers were shouting at the driver, he was shouting back, a sheer drop on one side, taxis containing the remaining passengers trying to stop the bus on the other side. It looked like being an interesting ride. At last everyone was aboard. We were praying for no further delays as we had a connection to get in Moquegua and it looks like the Peruvian bus drivers wait for no man! We were none too pleased then when we had to stop at a customs point, and it was everyone off to identify their luggage.
A quick stop I thought, but an hour later we were
still waiting for everyone to declare their wares. As Tacna is a border town, customs officials are everywhere and do a very thorough job! We were reassured that the stop was planned though and that we would arrive in plenty of time for our onward bus to Cuzco.
Disappointment was in store at Moquegua – our next bus was not a cama (with beds) bus as we believed we had paid for, but a semi cama. Knowing that we could have paid $30n less with another company, we were less than impressed. A cama bus had seemed inviting after a sleepless night from San Pedro the previous night and Orme?o had been recommended as a safe and reliable option. Still, the journey was safe and comfortable, though longer than expected. After some worrying hairpin bends and superb views of Lake Titicaca and rural Peru, we arrived in Cuzco 18 hours after leaving Tacna.