Local buses… It can be challenging, confusing and sometimes scary. Bus schedule and fares information seem to be some kind of top national secret information, which makes it tricky for us, little foreigners, to figure it out. Most drivers strongly believe they are the next Schumacher (a famous F1 driver). And, they like to prove it to you on the road, of course! Locals sometimes bring half a farm with them. Normal, right? I mean it’s well-known that “chickens luv to travel”. And, the “Let’s Pick-Pocket the Gringos in the Bus” is a top 5 favorite game of all time, played by some locals. I still haven’t figured out all the rules of that game though…
But, buses are the easiest and CHEAPEST way to travel through South America. Everyone nows that. Thus, here I was standing at Arequipa’s little bus station, waiting for my local bus to arrive. It was late! Being on time is definitely not a Peruvian attitude (I see some similarities with Italians here…).
When the bus finally showed up, we all went in the bus while both drivers went inside the bus station’s office. We waited again for 40 minutes… Then, the strangest thing happened. All of a sudden, locals put their hands out of the windows and started tapping loudly on the bus while shouting in Spanish: “Driver, it’s not the time to take a nap, it’s time to leave”, “Stop talking to the ladies, they’ll still be here when you come back”, “Does your mother know you are lazy”, “Move the bus or we will move it”, “Stop eating, you already have enough reserves to keep you moving”, “It’s time to leave or reimburse us”,etc… I just couldn’t believe what was going on, and I just kept thinking “This is going to be an interesting ride”… And, Yes. It was indeed.
The moment I stepped inside the bus, I realized I was the only foreigner. It also didn’t go unnoticed by three elder women, who immediately took me under their “mama” wings! They made sure that my bus ride would be a smooth one. They gave me bottles of water (to keep myself hydrated in this sunny country) and chocolate cereal bars (to have some energy)! Again, I couldn’t believe it.
When our bus drivers finally granted us the honor of their presence, we hit the road. Thankfully, they were more into turtle racing then F1 (Phew! Ouf!). I was even more relieved they were safe drivers when we passed 2 bad road accidents: a fuel tank truck lying upside down at the edge of the road, and a vegetable and fruit truck with all its content lying in the middle of the road. We had to wait almost an hour before all veggies & fruits were removed from the road. I thought of taking pictures of these incidents, but my conscience was telling me it was the “perfect idea” if I wanted to show off my camera and then, get robbed. So, I just watched the road show when all of a sudden, I realized all locals had their cellphones in hand and taking pictures!?! What!?! They have Samsung, iPhones, and other high-tech brands with cameras incorporated!?! My stupid prejudices about local people… never again!!
Along the way, we also had sellers of anything and everything, who jumped in the bus to promote their products. Repeatedly, I listened to their speeches on miracle products that can treat everything (and nothing). The worst part is that every time it worked and the seller walked away with a few soles in hand. I still don’t understand how Peruvians can believe in these miracle products healing all kinds of pains!?! ugh!?!
But, the highlight of the ride was when a man jumped in, and started giving religion & history lessons about Peru, medical advises on living a healthier life (drinking less soft drinks, exercising more) and anemia (symptoms, causes, treatment), and sexual counselling (different types of protection and erectile dysfunction)! He gave facts, people raised their hands to ask questions and then, he quizzed them to see if they remembered what he had just told them. It was like being back in school. I guess who needs school benches when you have local buses, right?!?
This bus ride from Arequipa to Puno (city near lake Titicaca) was completely unexpected, eventful and educational. Local buses… who would have thought?!? Local buses…