The bus ride from Machala to Lima is 24 hours; and that’s without layovers or border crossing times. We decided to fly. There is no way I want to spend a full day of my life on a bus, especially with our limited time to get to Cusco. Flights just over the border were only $99 instead of the $60 buses. Well worth the cost I think!! It also allowed for another day in Ecuador if we wanted, to recover from Patty’s day hangovers and spend some more time in the city. So before we went out to the Zona Rosa to party, we went to book our flight…. In 24 hours the flights had doubled! It was now over $200 to fly, AND the bus prices went down. This meant A: We were going to bus, and B: We had to leave in 12 hours… Great!
We had it all timed perfectly (which is dangerous in South America because nothing is on time) the trip to Tumbes, the Peruvian town just over the border, takes about 2hrs20min. It’s a dead border crossing, but we allotted for an hour and forty minutes to cross it. And it’s a good thing we did!! After two, painfully slow, border crossings the 2 working staff members processed our bus of 40 people. The whole thing took an hour and a half, and probably could have been a third of the time if they’d told everyone to fill out a form BEFORE the front of the line, and if one guy hadn’t been playing MAJONG on his computer screen! This left us 10 minutes to get into the terminal, buy tickets for the next bus and get moving… No time for food I guess!
The problem we realized upon arrival in Tumbes, was that there is no central bus terminal in the town (Something that seems to be common here in Peru). Instead, each individual bus company has it’s own terminal, located somewhere around the city. We were traveling with Cruz Del Sol and had no idea where it was. Luckily a tuk tuk driver (tuk tuks are EVERYWHERE here) came up to us and said he would take us there for 5 soles. We figured this was a little pricey, but couldn’t work out the conversion rate right away and knew it couldn’t be more than a couple dollars. Because we didn’t have any money exchanged, he even offered to take us to a bank first. We had 10 minutes, so there was no arguing: we jumped in. Now as a rule, I’m going to say, never trust a man who has a sparkling, gold, front tooth and who’s first question to you is about your marital status and includes a wink (creepy). After our stop at the bank machine he asked double the price to take us to the bus station (which was one block away, but we didn’t know it). He knew we had no time to argue, were over exhausted and were still unsure of the new money… I glared him down before we handed over the cash and he flashed a shiny grin. Great first impression you’re making on your country buddy!
Turns out it didn’t matter. The bus was sold out, and the next one wasn’t for another 5 hours. We tried to get VIP seats on the night bus, but to no avail. Regular seats it was… But when we boarded it wasn’t bad! We knew the buses in Peru were second to none and they were going to serve us breakfast, lunch and dinner during the trip. Although their wifi didn’t work, they DID show movies with English subtitles, and the food was quite tasty. I even remember turning to Adam and saying “Hey, I kinda like this bus!” oh how quickly I would regret those words…
When I opened my eyes after a night of not so awful bus sleep, I was looking straight out the window to the Peruvian countryside. It was absolutely unlike anything I would have expected. We were in a giant desert with massive black and white, wind-swept sand dunes all around us. There was almost no vegetation in parts at all. Just open expanses of sand, beautifully set in a monochromatic tableau from the morning sun. In the distance were larger mountains in similar tones fading off into the grey sky. I couldn’t believe it! I imagined Peru to be jungle infested, Machu Picchu style, Amazon rainforest-esque! But apparently the northern coast is quite different. After a bit we even drove right along the water. The sand turned browner, and more rigid, and there were long expanses of completely deserted beaches. It was beautiful and surreal.
A couple hours after breakfast, I started to feel sick. That achy, headache feeling that comes about just before a cold or the flu. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and drank some more water in hopes it would go away. About an hour after that, our bus hit a long lineup of other cars, buses, semis and the such. An announcement on the speakers came on, I didn’t catch what was said, and we pulled over on the side of the road. Pulling over and stopping for unknown reasons is so normal in South America I thought nothing of it. We watched a full movie, and had lunch before I realized we had been sitting there for over 2 hours. Then the bus turned off, air conditioning and all, and we sat in the scorching heat of the desert. It was a little after 2 at this point, and my ill feeling had yet to go away. The heat of the bus wasn’t helping, nor were the kids sitting behind us. Apparently Adam and I got placed in the “ball pit” section of the bus, where the two kids behind us staked out their territory. One was probably 4 years old, and the other not even a year yet. Note to all mothers out there: please don’t bring your new born child, who is prone to screaming, on a 24 hour BUS journey! It’s not fun for them, it’s not fun for you and it sure as hell isn’t fun for the rest of us!
The 4-year-old girl made it her mission to kick the back of my seat AS often as possible. I was now in full-fledged sick mode, where anything that touched me sent painful shivers through my body. Hot, cold, movement at all, didn’t matter, it hurt! Every kick of my seat made me want to cry, every 15 seconds or so I would jump forward in pain as her tiny foot jammed into the headrest of my chair… Her baby sister was probably worse! She had this cry that was the most horrific noise I’ve EVER heard in my life (Adam can back me on this). It started out as this guttural coughing noise that sounded like she was choking on her own phlegm. Then just as you’re about to be concerned for her health, she erupts into a piercing screech only babies can achieve. A wailing sound of distress that is absolutely deafening! A baby siren of distress!! This went on NON STOP!! All day, all night, all the time…I finally got off the bus.
Outside wasn’t much better. It was dusty and hot; everyone huddled in the shade on the side of the bus, there was nowhere to sit down except in the dirt… I was in rough shape. I now had a fever and could hardly stand upright. No amount of water was helping. We finally asked what was going on. Turns out there was a strike going on. The Peruvian miners were protesting, and had set up a picket line about 15km up the road. The police were fighting with them, but they weren’t budging. Any vehicle that tried to pass was met with resistance, and rocks were thrown through the windows. It had been going on for 14 hours at this point, and they didn’t know when it would end… Fabulous.
Soon cars and buses that had been waiting there for hours longer than us started turning around. There was a small town 2 hours back that people were going to for the night. Hotels were probably full, but at least they had restaurants and decent bathroom facilities! Our bus was not turning around… So I braved my seat again, hoping the devil children were taking an afternoon nap. Not the case. I had the chills, and was covered up in a thick blanket in the 38 degree bus. I had to lie across two seats in the foetal position just to keep from being sick. In this heat, with no moving air at all, is when the mother decided to change the baby’s diaper… A foot and a half from my face. I thought I was going to die on the bus. We had now been stopped for several hours and I desperately wanted to be horizontal and straight at the same time! The seats were beginning to be as uncomfortable as day four in a hammock, and I was less than enthused.
By dinnertime, the whole bus was cranky. We hadn’t eaten in hours, but the bus had no more food or water. They weren’t expecting the delay (although turns out they had known about it since it started 12 hours earlier) and so hadn’t brought any more food for people. We were in the middle of the desert, with no amenities, and the driver couldn’t turn around unless told to do so by the head office. A few other Cruz Del Sol buses went back, but ours just sat there… For hours!. The false alarms were the worst. We all were told to sit down, the engine started, we moved forward a foot, then found out it was a rumour that the picketing ended. This happened too often to be funny.
Finally, after 12 hours of being stuck there, we tried to go to sleep. Not much else we could do without any lights or food or power. During our sleep, the bus was finally given the go ahead to continue on. We had been stopped for a total of 15 hours. My back was killing me, I couldn’t sleep a wink in the night, my fever had broken sometime during the early morning, but my headache and body pains were still very much an issue. As were the relentless, screaming children, lest you had forgotten!
It was 9:00am when we arrived in Lima, only 46 hours after we left two days earlier. We hadn’t eaten food in 20 hours, and we were all in rough shape. This was our third day in the country and had yet to get a hotel room. The joke was, Lima wasn’t our final destination!!! We were going to Huacachina, a small town 5 hours South of Lima just outside of the city Ica. So we immediately booked a ticket South, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and got BACK on the bus… I took several trips to the bathroom thinking I was going to puke. Luckily I didn’t. I couldn’t describe the scenery, and I couldn’t tell you much about the second bus trip. Except that I’m surprised I made it. We spent 53 hours getting to our final destination. That is over TWO DAYS on the bus… As for the miners, they are still picketing (which is why we are currently stuck in Huacachina with no buses leaving anywhere). The fights that had broken out at the picket line we were delayed at, left 3 people dead and over 60 injured. Now it turns out there’s several more lines to the south of here. What chaos! At least from now on, any bus ride that seems horrible, I can safely say “I’ve had worse”.