For less than $20 I will soon be boarding another of those very swanky bus cama buses, this time Cruz del Sur, to travel four hours south of Lima to a cluster of towns in the vicinity of the Nazca Lines. I will get off in Paracas because the Isles of Ballestras are off the coast and they call it the Poor Man’s Galapagps. Having skipped that because of cost, I guess I qualify for these. Then there will be Ica where I can go sandbuggying in the dunes, and finally Nazca, where I can hire a tummy-wrenching flight that dips from side to side to see the mysterious sketches on the skin of the planet.
So, this will be a short post, written in the fancy bus station. If I were traveling with my laptop, I could be online for the entire journey as each bus is equipped with wi-fi. How about that? More and more, that is the norm out here on the trail. Our beautiful Home Peru Hostel, here in Lima, was also wi-fi wired.
I didn’t mention that I spent a day looking around Central Lima an visiting museums and cathedrals. It was a heavy time, due to the Museum of the Inquisition but the churches were beautiful. At these times, Spanish would be very helpful in understanding the finer points in the signs.
Okay, the call for boarding will come very soon, so I should finish this. More later.
Though I was planning to leave Lima and travel south to the Paracas-Ica-Nazca area today, I suddenly decided to go paragliding off the cliffs which separate Lima from the Pacific Ocean. I had picked up a pamphlet about risk-free, tandem hang-gliding with a licensed instructor with seventeen years of experience in giving these rides to rank amateur tourists. Forty dollars for fifteen minutes. Better do it while I have a chance. Besides, maybe I could catch that one great action photograph that I could use for my book cover.
So, my hostel made a call and I was booked for pickup at noon. The whole experience was lovely and fun in a mild, calm way. The moment of truth, when your feet leave the earth and you actually begin to soar, is so brief that there is no time to think about the fact that you are stepping off of the top of a sheer cliff. Again, I was reminded that any expectation that something bad is about to happen, usually never materializes….not even the heart-in-the-mouth natural reaction to dizzying heights….not even when two macho guys at the hostel breakfast table greet your announced intentions with 1. careful questions about the current state of my medical insurance, and 2. a horror story about a friend who was paralyzed in such a flight. I think he was the pilot and admitted that he had done something stupid.
Thanks guys! You cannot scare me!
Our takeoff point was a grassy cliffside park a few miles from the main Miraflores oceanfront beach. It was cloudy, which was perfect for good wind conditions, as heat calms the air. Naturally, this was to be a tandem glide with Michael, the company owner and qualified pilot behind me. We had cloth harness slings and he was cozily pressed against my back so I felt very secure and in no danger of falling.
Launch is preceded by some vigorous pushing and pulling done by Christine, wife and assistant, using my front harness straps as her grip. First, she pulled us towards her after the sail is fully deployed above us. Then, she pushed us backwards a few feet and, in a moment, our four feet were running towards the edge of the earth. Michael cautioned me not to sit down just yet and shift my weight onto the sail until we had left the ground. I noticed later that the riders frequently disappeared below the grassy lip once the weight is being carried by line and kite sail.
As a matter of fact, I was still fiddling with my camera when we actually left the ground behind, so when I looked up, there we were, calmly floating over the morning glories, short green trees, and winding traffic beside the beach at the base of our high cliff. There was the wide Pacific Ocean but we were not going to leave our little edge of the world. We were simply going to soar back and forth, back and forth, for the $40 fifteen minutes of famous soft adventure.
I made a few attempts to turn the camera back on myself – in yellow crash helmet and big sunglasses, in the wild hope that this would make a fine book cover shot. Heaven knows what I actually captured with that or the video that I was shooting.
Then, I just quietly tried to feel like a bird in flight, deciding that they have a great life doing this all day. Surely though, birds must think no more of this than we do walking, and it is only when you can not do it at will that you value the ability. I also realized that, even though I absolutely loved this experience, that I would soon become bored with the sport, unless of course, I became a parasail pilot myself and had to pay critical attention to winds and wings. For passengers, the ease of operation soon becomes a bit repetitive.
On our last zig-zag, Michael asked how much I weighed. I came up blank, not having thought about it for a long time. He guessed a hundred and twenty and that was close enough, as I have lost a few pounds. Maybe he calibrates landing speed or sail set to match to total weight involved. As we approached the top of the cliff and headed towards the grassy edge, Michael instructed me to stand up when he told me to. Hmmmm. I wondered how it would be possible not to run with the forward motion and just to stand up. I was still contemplating this question when my feet touched down and so did my knee. I crumpled instead of standing, but it was still okay. Nothing got hurt and we stopped anyway.
Weight matters, apparently, to paragliding because one lovely, slightly chubby, American girl was told that she must wait a bit until the wind became stronger as she was too heavy for the decreasing breeze. Poor thing. Her slimmer Peruvian cousin had just overcome her fears and had a successful flight and a twiggy Japanese girl was being chosen in her stead. Her mother told me about a flight she had heard of forced to land on the highway because the wind suddenly gave out, so she did not mind that her daughter had to wait.
The plan to diet was already in the future, apparently, because when Daddy appeared with a handful of ice cream cones, I heard her comment that if she was too fat to fly, then she should certainly not be eating ice cream. Happily, she got to have her cone and eat it too, because the wind perked back up and she had a very successful flight after all.
I am loving the fact that I´m back to staying in an 8-bed dorm room, shared bathroom, in a real hostel again instead of holing up in a private hotel room with my own bathroom. The thing is, that hotels simply don´t foster togetherness and acquaintence the way a hostel does. This Home Peru Hostel, in the Miraflores District of Lima, Peru, is really quite lovely because it´s a very large colonial mansion once occupied by a very lucky Peruvian wealthy family. Two stories high with gargantuan rooms and lots of windows wide open to the fresh air. They all have lacy iron security bars for safety….at least from intruders….but it gives the feeling of openness and light. So far, I´ve only heard one mosquito in the four nights I´ve stayed here. The back breakfast room opens wide to a private, grass and plant-filled back yard with more tables set up for yard dining. The house´s kitchen is discreetly set behind a lattice fence along with the servant´s quarters so that meals could appear, seemingly effortlessly on the table of the family. Now, our included breakfast of juice, coffee or tea, and two fresh buns with butter and jam, is served up to us every morning. We are free to use the kitchen to cook our other meals if we want. But, I´d rather eat out for $2-$8 in all the fine, international restaurants here.
Now to explain the unusual name of this blog: Due to the rapid ability to become good friends in this atmosphere, a temporary little family unit formed yesterday. Dana and her seven-year-old daughter, Annabella, are here while Dana studies and teaches Yoga. They are Canadian. Karl, from the far-flung northern regions of Canada is here to travel as I am doing. In conversation over breakfast, they discovered many points of connection – from their nationality to mutual friends, to the fact that Karl looks like Dana´s uncle and is a Scorpio, like all the other members of her family. Annabella is a very precocious and quite beautiful little girl, having a wonderful time getting her education on the road instead of in a stuffy school in the frozen north.
While reading my Lonely Planet, I noticed that there was a Hari Krishna Vegetarian restaurant, Govinda, right here in Miraflores, and since Dana and Annabella are vegetarians I mentioned it. Whee! Let´s all go there together for lunch! I had enjoyed so much the Hari Krishna restaurant I had patronized in Brataslava, Slovakia, that I knew that their food was pure and so tasty and so inexpensive. Have always wanted to duplicate the experience and now was my chance. So, off we went!
That´s where I suggested that we combine our last names and I would be the granny and we could all enjoy being a family, at least for a day. We ordered way too much food but loved tasting it all and took some home for supper. After stuffing ourselves, shopping in the little attached gift shop….during which Karl bought a dreamy long blue and pink scarf for Annabella, who has very good taste….we wandered to the center of Miraflores, intending to catch a cab home; put the leftovers in the fridge; and then go into the real center of Lima to gawk at the bones down in the bowels of the catacombs or something equally as unusual.
Also, yesterday was the big day of Carnival, the noise of which I was fearing. Guess what? Not a hint of it here. Total quiet and no water barrages. That which we fear, usually never materializes. How true.
Instead, we found ourselves heading toward the Pacific Ocean which I had walked to the day before. We are high on a cliff beside it, but Miraflores has done some beautifully creative commercial things with that cliffside in providing many fancy levels of shops and restaurants and even a movie theater, right there overlooking the sea. We wandered and bought ice cream cones until Annabelle´s new shoes gave her blisters. So we took a taxi back home.
So, now I must get myself into downtown and go visit those lonely bones in the catacombs below St. Sebastian Church. Somebody´s gotta do it! Might catch the Inquisition, as well.
OH YE OF LITTLE FINANCE!
Hurry on down here to Peru! Particularly, Lima, from what I’ve seen of it so far, which is only a smidgen of the suburb, Miraflores, (Look at the Flowers?). Everything seems to be so very affordable and this is a very modern and swanky city. Oh, I saw its edges last night coming in on the bus, and they are not the least bit swanky, but if you´re looking for a way to live well on very little doh-re-mi, then it seems to be entirely possible here.
My glorious bus-cama (bed-bus) ride from Trujillo, Peru, to Lima cost me $20 (Senior Discount)…it´s $26 regular price…for an eight-and-a-half hour ride in sheer comfort, which included three gentle movies, such as Evan Almighty, and plenty of food and soft drink served by an attractive stewardess. The three-course meal was similar to, but better than, airline food. Also, we were given two snacks towards evening. Apparently, many bus companies offer this class of bus,so I hope to ride them often.
I had reserved the Home Peru Hostel on the internet, so I taxied right there after dark and discovered myself in a fine colonial mansion turned hostel for $8 per night. That´s in a mixed 8-bed dormitory with shared bathroom, to be sure, but there´s only one other person in there at the moment. I decided to take myself out of seclusion and all the private rooms I’ve been luxuriating in since my cold, two weeks ago. Gonna get a little more social to weather the coming Carnival, which apparently, isn’t too crazy in Lima. Sunday will be the big day.
Now, I have discovered (thanks to the gang at the breakfast table this morning) a multi-plex cinema with movies that still have the English attached, so I am going to my first one right now for a Sr. discount cost of a little over $2. How´s that? First run movies too, and I am so starved for such. It´s hard work trying to understand the ones on the bus which are dubbed and subtitled, but with no English evident, though they are American films, albeit mostly violent ones which I don´t want to understand anyway.
During my fun days in Lima, I´ll be trying to discover what sort of bargains one can find here. Oh, the supermarket has more yummy-looking food and very cheap, but high and healthy quality. Plus, I may go interview the upscale hotels and ask them bald-facedly just how much of a bargain they are willing to give an American tourist in this abysmal age for attracting anyone at yesterday´s prices.
Okay! I´m off to my two-dollah show!
SCRIPS AND SCRAPS FROM A BEACH BUM GAL
I’m having serious trouble in leaving Huanchaco, Peru. No, nobody’s holding me hostage here, it’s just so beautiful and so consistently 77 degrees after all that Andean chill. So, I am now chilling out and finding excuses to extend my $25 per night stay in the very comfortable Hostel Huanchaco, night after night. Yesterday, I tried to visit the exhibition of the famous Peruvian Paso horses, but I started too late to arrive by showtime, so I went to the beach and lazed on a beach chair under an umbrella. Today, I’m hoping to actually make it to the horse show. Then, perhaps I will be able to peel away from here, catch a bus-cama and show up in Lima just in time to be splashed with water during Carnival.
Over breakfast this morning, I had a long talk with Bruno, a retired French Canadian, who had traveled South America eleven times, finally settling down here as a part-time expat. After all, Canada can’t match these temperatures and this is a wonderful place to settle into. Everyone is so friendly and easy-going.
Well, now to scrips and scraps: First of all, I’m also keeping a handwritten journal, and I often write things there and then copy them here. I don’t think I’ve included these little points here, but forgive me, if so.
There were two stark clues of tragedy picked up from my tour of Chan Chan the other day. One was the story the guide told as we were standing on the funerary platform where the dead Ruler was dispatched to his Great Reward, accompanied by his principal wife (who got to lie with him in the center of it all) and surrounded by forty of his lesser wives. Beyond us were the graves of many servants and animals, all of which he was taking with him into the future life.
As we all know, these funerals were attended by most of the living-but-soon-to-be-dead individuals who were not going to have the luxury of a natural expiration date. Our guide spoke of the thirty-nine women who had apparently been resigned to this fate and who had been found in their graves with their faces looking upward, having died ceremonially in the proper way. Poison? Slit throat?
But, there was one skeleton found sprawled face down in an agonized, unsettled, position. The archaeological conclusion was that she had changed her mind when push came to shove and had fervently regretted becoming a member of the King’s harem, only to have him expire before she did. She must have tried to avoid the consequences at the last minute but found herself no match against the multitude of priests who were not inclined to let her have her cake and eat it too. Thousands of years later, her last moments could be reconstructed just in the fact that her final moments were not in conformity with those of her fellow royal wives. Until recently, wives in India, married to a certain class of man, were still suffering the same forced end to life, simply because a spouse died first. There are some definite advantages to being an old maid.
The other story gleaned at Chan Chan was about the sweet little Yoda-like Mexican Hairless Dogs, three of whom are there to meet the tourists. These were bigger than I had imagined and were about the size of a medium breed, but they sure were hairless, and had a sort of a deep purple/maroon color, or a reddish-pink, to their exposed and slightly wrinkly skin. They have big, expressive ears and very intelligent, knowing, eyes.
The normal body temperature of these dogs is quite high. Much higher than other dogs and thus, they have been used to soothe the pains of arthritis by cuddling up to a human sufferer. A natural heating pad, ready to be applied at an instant, and though these are way to big to be lap dogs, they seem to be very sweet and affectionate in temperament.
Well, they had been highly-valued as Temple Dogs in these pre-Incan, Chimu times. However, Pizzaro and his gang, the conquering Spaniards, jumped to the conclusion that they all must be suffering from some terrible disease (high fever, and fallen-out hair) and so the Spanish executed most of them. For centuries after that, the survivors of this breed had no acceptance among the population and they became the strays and scavengers in the country.
It’s been in relatively recent times, when the modern archaeologists found carvings and drawings of these very distinctive looking animals on the temple pottery and walls, that their lot improved markedly. Now, there are always several Mexican Hairless Dogs on duty at all archaeological museums and they have become accepted as household pets by the local population.
At least that’s the story that our guide told. Maybe the Kennel Society has a different story, but I’ll bet it’s not as heartrending as this one.
THE FINE, FRAGILE, BEGINNING BONDS OF COMMUNITY
Aside …. Guess who comes up first in a Google search of the relationship between a human spinal column and the Cordillera of the Andes??? Yep, yours truly! How´s that for instant expertise? If you are new to this blog, scroll down to read my claim to fame.
I´m in Huanchaca, Peru, the little beach community twelve kilometers from Trujillo. I´m glad I went to town first to get a sense of both atmospheres before coming to this lovely laid-back, but tourist-filled beach surfer´s hangout. It may have started as a fishing village and it is justly famous for its reed boats which have been used here for 2500 years. These pointy, round surfboard affairs are made up of bound reeds which grow nearby and the fishermen straddle or kneel upon them and navigate far beyond the breakers for fishing. Today, they also do a good business selling rides to tourists.
I booked a tour of the most famous nearby archaeological site, Chan Chan, of the Chimu, pre-Incan, culture, known as the Largest City of Clay in the World.¨ This is the main reason that I broke my trip to Lima. Here is a bit of philosophy which resulted from that experience….admittedly, more influenced by my reading of Time and Newsweek about Obama´s challenges ahead in forging a new community out of a shattered and bruised America. Here are some suggestions to the President:
Chan Chan is interesting, but at base, just an empty clay city ruins of a long-lost civilization. But, the people in my bus? That´s another story.
THE FINE, FRAGILE BEGINNING BONDS OF COMMUNITY
When you are out on the road, long-term, as I am, and particularly when you travel solo, as I do, it´s possible to observe microcosmic human tendencies which normally play only silently in the background of your consciousness. Today, I took a four-hour, guided tour offered through my Trujillo, Peru hostel, to see Chan Chan.
Two guides and eight tourists were crammed into a mini-van for the short ride out of town. Three of us spoke English and we had our own guide. The others, mostly Chileans, spoke only Spanish, so there was, essentially, no conversation between us. Our only point in common was that we were all part of the same little tour group and our faces became slightly recognizable to each other.
But, simply because of that tiny thread of commonality, we possessed a palpable feeling of belonging to each other when we joined the larger number of tourists, milling among the same museum exhibits, who were delivered to the venue by a number of different buses. Of course, we never needed to call upon this bonding, but if we had, there would have been recognition and assistance from the brotherhood we had formed merely by signing-on to poke about a strange place with a bunch of strangers.
Face recognition? Them and Us? Some sort of minimal Trust Wave existed within our party that didn’t, and couldn’t, extend to all of those strangers from the other buses. I am sure that this was enhanced because of the small size of our van and the fact that we had to cooperate to merely get in and out of the bus. We were seated close together and, for me anyway, there was the reality that a couple towards the front was having to prop up my large backpack brought because I was shifting over to the beach community for the night.
So, crowding and necessary mutual assistance matters hugely, even when language might form an insuperable barrier.
An American Peace Corp volunteer, a Japanese tourism official and myself formed the English-speaking contingent and naturally, we became somewhat acquainted through our conversation as we walked through the huge temple remains. I felt comfortable enough with the man from Tokyo to wake him from his nodding doze when we first came in view of the Pacific Ocean, and he appreciated the gesture.
My point is, that even though this is a very light and flimsy connection, it is still a connection and a possible beginning if carried to a time-extreme, which it will never actually realize under normal circumstances. Most of you have experienced similar temporary amalgamations, so you know a version of what I´m analyzing here. This thesis is, no doubt, caused by the fact that I am now devouring both a happily-discovered Time Magazine and a Newsweek filled with articles about Obama´s early days as President. Underlying every article is the question-wish-hope-puzzlement about how America, or any diverse collection of people, can switch from a ¨Me First¨polyglot to an organization of friends and neighbors who will work together, or at least, help each other a little bit.
I sensed the nascent community formed by our little busload of strangers. No tests were levied upon it and the moment of its existence is now over. But, a willingness to own each other simply because of face recognition was definitely there.
That, my friends, is a powerful human glue. Face recognition. It works on newborns. It works on neighbors. It works on fan clubs. How can we get that microcosmic stickiness to work on a larger scale? Perhaps the sudden attitude of ¨We´re all in this together,¨ which has newly begun to take root because of this sudden desperate money crisis, will put us in the same boat long enough to register faces and not just anonymous bodies.
Want to share mini-vans, anyone?
NOW I KNOW HOW DARWIN FELT! THE SECRET OF THE EVOLUTION OF BABY VILLAGES!
I feel like Darwin, who cracked the secret of the species just north of here! Lolling in my luxurious leather buttercream-yellow, seriously-reclining, bus couchbed for a six-hour squint at the passing Peruvian countryside, I was treated to a repeating demonstration of the evolutionary phases of a human settlement: from junkyard-squatter shacks to full-fledged towns with pretentious names, such as Ciudad del Dios or “City of God.”
This biology lesson was dosed out to me maybe ten times during the long afternoon ride between Piura, Peru, and Trujillo, Peru, as my glorious bus-cama rolled along the boringly straight miles south, heading halfway to Lima on the Peruvian coast. No view of the water, though; just a few agricultural sections growing rice, corn and cane. Mostly, we were passing through semi-desert where small windblown dunes sprouted only a peachfuzz of green weed.
Ocasionally, there`d be a town, or at least, a squareness of habitation in which squat, mud brick structures lined the highway, sporting only doors and very few windows. These would be attached to each other though they varied in color and style, as well as purpose. Many had signs and little patios offering services and goods for sale; some were graced with plastic tables and chairs suggesting that Mama ran a cafe under that suspended tarp. Large chunks of these one-story mud structures might as well be said to have shared one roof because all of their tin amalgamated tops, by that time, formed a single platform which dogs and kids could walk across as long as they didn’t trip over the old tires and boulders designed to keep those roofs from blowing off.
Between the square blocks of habitat ran very wide dirt passageways. You could look clear down these openings and see how this conglomeration of stuck-together mud buildings was forming the outline of a town, with equally wide cris-crossing passageways, allowing enough space for, someday or other, constructing sidewalks and room for the passing of two cars on a genuine street. Just now, it was rutted mud, but allowance had been made for future prosperity.
Okay, that`s a description of the middle phase of a very juvenile township. That alone wouldn’t have brought out the scientific curiosity in me, but here`s what did:
Almost always, after passing a truly mature township…say, one that could afford plaster and paint and an upscale gas station…our bus would come to the city dump, which was nothing formal; just a spot in the desert covered with hundreds of pointy little mounds left behind by dump trucks. There was plenty of space, so each truck had unloaded upon virgin ground causing tiny pyramids of rubble with a few kids and dogs poking purposefully about. Obviously, a lot of this was building site debris and it seemed to me to be a mother lode of broken bricks.
Well, the same thought must have occurred to a number of independent would-be homemakers as well, because, now and then, there was a square structure among all those knee-high pyramids. It looked as if broken bricks did not a true home make, because the real material of choice always seemed to be blocks of dun-colored sand; no doubt, fashioned from that very desert floor, supplemented generously with walls and fences made of bound-together tree branches. Sometimes, that`s all there was forming everything – walls, roof, and corral, though woven bamboo was widely used for filler.
These junkyard homes were widely scattered about, reflecting the early pioneers`creative individuality and desperate search for privacy and independence. They faced all directions and were surrounded by vast, desert-wide yards, occasionally populated with chickens, donkeys and children. Very likely, it was their own prosperity in the high-birth-rate department which caused the family compound to swell into a conglomerate which would then naturally recycle more of the dump truck pyramids for use in their own newlywed extensions. Pretty soon, the rubble was depleted and somebody began making bricks full time.
Later, a loudmouth would proclaim himself Alcalde (mayor) and design those landing-strip-wide spaces where no one was allowed to build. Then, when that budding city could afford to use real red bricks, or even (gasp!) cement blocks, their own dump trucks would rumble out to a new bit of desert beyond the city limits and rebuild Little Egypt, Land of the Pyramids again.
Oh, it was very exciting to be Darwin-On-The-Bus! Now, what do I do with this information, beyond the scientific paper I have just written???
Update…Later, on a tour of the largest clay city in the world, Chan Chan, I asked our guide what prevented the mud bricks from melting in the rain. The utter lack of rain, is what. Maybe every nine or ten years, there would be a sprinkle. Weird, because I had just experienced twelve hours of heavy downpour the night I arrived in Piura, Peru…..this country that never gets rain. Granted, it did overwhelm the streets and had all sorts of workers out sweeping water every which way, since no one had installed drains.
Update to the update: I have just discovered that rain might be a rarish, but regularly occurring, event in Piura, but not down in the Chan Chan area, several hundred kilometers south. At least, that was the conclusion after a conversation with a native of Huanchaco in that southern region. One thing I´m discovering is how every archaeologist must feel as they try to arrive at a theory with imperfect data. Of course, that simply gives every latitude to be a little bit wrong, if it makes a good story at the time.
A LAND-BORNE SPACE SHIP
I`m in Trujillo, Peru today, sitting in Asturia`s cafe waiting for a sandwich. Last night was spent in the Hostel Colonial ($17) which is more like a small hotel than a true hostel, but is very attractive and nice. Trujillo is a bright, smallish but prosperous, town with lots of brightly painted blue, orange, yellow and pink buildings around. It`s clean and safe and worth staying for a night or two. Here the temperature is warm – between 75 degrees at night and 84 in the daytime, as we are almost on the coast.
Maybe the prosperity here is due to the several big casinos I noticed on this street alone, but its atmosphere isn’t a gambling scene. Everybody sells tours to Chan Chan and other archaeological sites nearby and I will go tomorrow. Today, I`m just getting my bearings around here.
The bus ride yesterday between Piura and Trujillo was absolutely futuristic, comfortable, cheap and amazing and I was sorry when the six-and-a-half hour experience had to end. It was that good! Luckily, I have another long journey on the same type of bus – a bus cama (or bus bed) to look forward to from here to Lima. Again, Lonely Planet guidebook is to thank for the information leading me to the ITTSA bus company which offers this fabulous way to cross the country. Otherwise, I`d have been suffering away, as usual. I could have gone straight to Lima, in one sixteen-hour overnight swoop, but what`s my hurry?
My only other experience with bed buses came in India with a bright cotton candy pink, funky old thing with seats removed in favor of small tin rooms padded with three-inch foam mattresses. It was a regular hoot as we flew over such dreadful roads between Pune and Panjim in Goa. I had loved that throwback to the Hippie Days I’d missed out on. But, yesterday´s ITTSA bus was more like being aboard The Enterprise of Star Trek fame. Would that these Peruvian buses would replicate out all over today`s travel universe. I want lots more of them.
Here`s the story: I arrived an hour ahead for my 1:30 p.m. departure and was lucky enough to snag the last actual bed-seat in the bus. The majority of the seats are semi-beds, which are arranged as other buses, in rows of two and don`t recline quite as fully. They are priced at 25 soles, (soul-ays) or a whopping $7.86 for this six-hour journey. My more expensive, more private (because it`s in a single row beside a window), and truly luxurious seat cost 35 soles, or all of $11! After buying my ticket, I sat with my large backpack waiting to board, just as I’ve done in every other bus station.
Slowly, it dawned on me that the operation going on at a different counter was not for freight, but for our luggage. This bus company operates exactly like an airline, collecting the baggage to be checked while still inside of the terminal. Plus, they don`t load it under the bus, but in a huge room at the very rear end of the big beautiful road machine. Finally, when the signal came for us to board, we had to line up and go through security only a few degrees more relaxed than the airlines. This Space Ship might not actually fly, but it sure behaves as if it`s going to.
Several of these elegant, double-decker buses were in the “hanger” with ours and we were guided out to the one that was ready to roll. There`s no door up front near the pilots`cockpit; instead, it opens dead-center into a foyer containing an airplane-type bathroom, a short stairway to the upper deck, a little hall allowing a peek into the impressive cockpit, and a curtained door leading to the lower level inner sanctum where my seat happened to be, right at the very back – the best and most private spot of all. Before I knew that, however, I explored the upper level looking for my seat number. It`s so much like an airplane interior, or a very swanky train, with two-seat rows on either side and large curtained windows.
And, oh those seats! Butter cream genuine leather and wide enough to accommodate the well-endowed, with a leg rest that can support the whole lower leg and a back rest that goes way, way back. How much depends upon whether you have bought a semi or a cama (bed). Camas don`t go all the way flat but they go a long way down and you don`t have to sit beside anyone as they form a single-seat aisle by the window. So it`s okay to contort yourself around to find comfortable positions. The seat was wide enough so that I could actually fold both legs up and lie sideways. I noted also, that the music playing was of the soft Spanish crooner variety, though the featured movie was still one of those gruesome American violent ones, though a simple drug bust one, rather than the usual chain saw massacre type.
Because we were a non-stop carrier traveling over very, very, flat land consisting mostly of sand and straight roads (these high buses probably wouldn’t do for the Andean switchbacks) there were no stops involving us passengers; only highway toll points or traffic needs. The presence of the bathroom aboard took care of one need, but any passenger who hadn’t brought his own refreshments was out of luck as there were no purchase opportunities en route.
As we rolled along, I compared the constant smoothness of the ride and the comforting sound of the engine hum to that lovely, softly-enveloping sound aboard a train. You become a part of the whole and it`s the closest any of us will come to a return to the womb. Guess that`s why I was loathe for it to ever stop. Too bad that cell phones still operate inside of this muffled cylinder though. The fellow across the aisle was married to his, so I made the best of it and studied his changing voice tones and tempos since I wasn’t going to be able to eavesdrop properly. Not knowing the meaning of his words meant that I could concentrate on the inflection behind them….sometimes jovial, sometimes conciliatory, occasionally business-like and a few times, amorous.
At least the other guy with a phone, who spent his time in the terminal shouting into his cell, with one hand pressed to his ear, the other slicing the air with gestures, must have been riding upstairs. His wasn’t angry shouting and his words sounded like routine business, but he was an older man who has probably never accepted the fact that something so small, and not directly in front of his lips, could pick up a normal voice tone.
Anyway, it was an interesting ride from start to finish and when I wasn’t observing telephone tendencies, I was practicing Darwinian Science on baby villages. But, that shall be the subject of tomorrow`s blog as I have worn myself out on this Bus Rave.
Well, that was the title I thought up for this new post about an hour-and-a-half ago when I first entered this noisy internet place. The cars and trucks and motorcycles go by with a roar and a heavy tooting, but at least, their exhaust doesn´t affect me so badly as the place in Cuenca, because they have good fans and I´m sitting in a little protected carel which helps a lot. But, doing all the necessary email-checking and double blog site administration can be a wearying task and now that it´s time to be creative, I´m all worn out with the effort and the environmental noise. Must begin to blog first and do the other stuff last…but news from home is still the most important agenda.
I stayed over an extra day in Piura, Peru, so I´ve had a full night´s sleep and lots of good healthy food and all is well with the world. Man, with a nice little map of this town, I got all over the place today, buying stuff I needed, like some cooler cotton shirts for this 84 degree heat, cosmetics, toothpaste, English-language magazines!!! (big triumph); lunch at a health food restaurant; and information on tomorrow´s next bus trip.
Egad! To fly from here to Lima is $150, so forget that! Besides, there´s such a thing as a bus cama, which is a bed bus- tremendously, impressively modern, with kid glove leather seats that either recline halfway (semi cama), for $30, or that recline almost all the way (sofa cama) for $36. Now, that´s the one that gets me all the way to Lima from here, a 14-hour journey, which leaves at 6:30 p.m. so one sleeps through the night, and voila! you get there around noon the next day!
I must go back to the hotel and study up on this situation, but I´m thinking that I´ll break the journey into two chunks and travel to Trujillo in either a semi-recliner ($8) or a sleeper ($12) (but it´s daytime and I want to see out, so semi is good.) Seems like they practically clean your teeth for you. AC, bathroom aboad. All buses have bathrooms, but I don´t even peek in the door at them. This fancy deal, I might trust. (I didn´t mean to italicize this but God wants me to, as I can´t make it go away, and I do know how. Woops! Fumes are getting to me after all.)
You should see these buses! They are top of the line, creme de la creme, and that´s why I think I´ll wangle a way to do them twice and break up the trip. After enjoying Trujillo for awhile, I can bus on to Lima for 8 hours on one of these babies for approx. $20 (semi), $26 for sofa, and $36 for the super cama where they clean your teeth for you???? Serve you supper???? Chew it for you???? For anyone wanting to know the bus company, it´s ITTSA.
Now, how´s that for bagging a great adventure all in one day? I came home from that fancy bus station just swingin´. The groove is back! I´m on top of my game. Peru is the place! This didn´t happen in those upper countries I´ve just been in. Don´t know why. But, I like this feeling….so, Peru is GREAT!
I might say anything and not even know it. Writing this blog happens to be a fill-in just now to get through the next 55 minutes before the hotel dining room begins to serve dinner at 7 p.m. Having been doing some hard-slogging bus riding for the past two days, I have actually eaten very little, but today I have had only two apples and two small pieces of candy. Yesterday was only a little bit better, though I did get a light supper.
But, I´m in Peru! On Tuesday morning, I took off at 9 a.m. from Cuenca, Ecuador and traveled for about seven hours to Loja, Ecuador where I spent the night in a pretty good hotel ($10)….no hot water. Today, I had to rise at 5:30 a.m. to make the 7 a.m. bus and dressed in many layers in the Andean morning chill. As we came out of the high regions (gorgeous, loopy highway….all below the treeline) I stripped down to the lighter clothing underneath.
We crossed the Peruvian border around 3 p.m. by walking across the International Bridge as our bus waited up ahead, spent some time with the authorities and passport paperwork and finally continued on into Peru. This is a noticeably poorer country and much of the housing between this city of Piura and the border was made of mud bricks, wattle, woven bamboo, and tree-branch fencing. I guess also, the weather is warmer and fairly constant, so they don´t need the insulation the Ecuadorians do at the higher elevations. But, it´s pretty subsistence in most cases.
After having been at home in India for three months, I felt a little as if I was right back there, with all the three-wheel motorcycle taxis running around Piura. But, there are no beggars here, so it´s really not a good comparison. Just felt similar to be on the roadway.
My well-worn copy of The Lonely Planet is saving the day on these unannounced arrivals in strange cities. I pick out a hotel from their recommendations and then tear out the map of that city, so I can instruct the taxi driver, holding my breath that they will have a room available. The Hotel Peru here turned out to be a good surprise. It has a very fancy exterior and also a fancy lobby. Tired, dirty and hungry, I would have paid anything just to have the journey over with, so when the desk clerk showed me the calculator with 49 on it, I nodded that I would take it. However, I am now in a new currency situation – the sol – though I was still thinking in U.S. dollars because that´s what Ecuador uses.
It happened that the room cost 49 sol, and at approx. three sol to the dollar, that came to $15.85. Fantastic! Plus, it actually has hot water….not the cold that the $10 Loja hotel had to offer. I am considering perhaps staying here an extra day just to break up the travel between here and Lima. I can fly and be there in an hour, or I can continue two more days on the bus and see the country I´m passing through. Will make a decision on a full stomach.
Which should be happening in about thirty minutes, as I have made it to 6:30 p.m. without fainting. If I stay awhile in town, I will blog tomorrow. Otherwise, you shall hear from me anon. I do intend to do justice to that spinal column analogy at some point in the future, when I am neither blood-sugar-challenged nor auto-exhaust-poisoned.