Friday, September 11, 2009

In case of boredom, break glass.

It was time to leave Lima. Our reaction? M’eh. It was time for our dreaded 22-hour bus ride. Our reaction? Total dread. Knowing it would be a long time before we were in a bed, Adrian and I slept in as late as we could, managing to miss breakfast service (actually all food service) at the hostel and leaving us just seconds to spare before check out time. Breakfast was easily solved a few doors down the block. The price was double but the coffee was twice as delicious and really that’s the important thing, isn’t it?

Then it was back to the hostel without the common room to hang out and do nothing for the next four hours until our bus. Well Adrian did nothing while I did some mad emailing and sorting out of problems. I arranged our hostel in La Paz and forewarned them that I was getting a package of replacement credit cards couriered to the address. The owner replied and he was a super helpful and super nice guy who even recommended DHL versus Fedex based on his experience. Not only was DHL cheaper than Fedex they were faster – promising 2-day delivery rather than 2-week delivery. So thanks for that tip, Osgur. Now it was time to get those suckers sent over and for that I have to give a shout out to my most awesome sister Andrea and her partner Mike too. Not only are they looking after all our mail – including opening it and sorting it for us (which is the a huge task but so important) – these two together took care of gathering up the replacement credit cards, a replacement bank card (remember I lost mine back in Guatemala), packaging it all up, then driving way out to the middle of suburbia to drop it off at the DHL depot. That was above and beyond the call of duty. I can’t repay the favour at the moment but I owe them big time. The two even went out and did some PSP game shopping for Adrian (with our cash). Oh that’s right, I forgot to mention that my most awesome mother, bought Adrian another PSP which was also in the package. Wow, is my family awesome or what. Have I said awesome enough? Nope. They are totes awes (for those of you not fluent in cherylese that’s totally awesome and not in a valley girl sort of way). Okay gushing and thanking over and done with I’ll now get back to the 22-hour bus ride (although you may soon wish I was still thanking and awesome-ing).

Before heading out to the bus station we headed back to the cheap restaurant run by the nicest women for a late lunch early supper. The food was more tasty salad and yummy soup followed by a mediocre pasta – but at only $2 for the full meal, mediocre is pretty darn tasty. Then it was back to the hostel to grab our bags and a cab. The hostel told us they’d flag down a taxi for us. Although we’d only paid 6 soles to get to the Museo Nacional the previous day, the hostel told us it was going to cost 12 soles to get to the bus station which wasn’t much further. I already knew our cab fare yesterday had been a fluke so we let them hail the cab. Once we were in the cab, the driver told us the price was 15 soles. Adrian and I immediately got out of the cab. I guess the nice taxi drivers yesterday were just a fluke as well. The porter from the hostel rushed over and talked the driver into the 12 sole fare although neither seemed happy about that. I remembered the local girl cursing at the bus driver over 25 centavos yesterday and blocked out the taxi driver’s glare as we headed to the bus station.

The bus station was surprisingly full with waiting to depart passengers. We tried to check in our luggage but were turned away – despite there being no one in line and our bus scheduled to leave in 15 minutes. As we squeezed into the last two seats in the waiting room nearly decapitating a few small children with our large unchecked bags, an announcement explained that our bus was going to be 45 minutes late. During that 45 minutes, buses going to Ecuador came and went as well as a bus from Santiago, and it appeared that the entire waiting room had emptied and filled up with new passengers twice over. Getting a bit worried, I asked the clerk when our bus was going to arrive. She made a phone call and told me it would be there in 15 minutes. However, her phone call seemed suspiciously short and one-sided for any information other than a dial tone or busy signal to be conveyed. However, I believed her (probably because I wanted to) and hustled Adrian to check in our bags. Of course there was now another bus loading up and a line up. Granted the line up was 3 people but each of those people had approximately 37 pieces of luggage they wanted to check in and not wanting to pay for the overage tried restacking the luggage on the scale as if their game of luggage would help diminish the weight on the scale. So that 3 person line up took 30 but it helped pass the time because our bus still hadn’t arrive. In the end it didn’t arrive until over 2 hours after the original departure time.

We jumped on the bus only to discover that the seat configuration had changed since we had booked. We had chosen the first two seats on the right hand side but there was only a single row of seats putting us a few rows back on the left. With only three seats across there was more bum and legroom and with only about 5 other passengers on the bus there was plenty of room. But with such a long ride ahead of us it would have been nice to have a view as well. I couldn’t help but wonder if this dearth of passengers was part of the delay – as in, was the company hoping for a few more last minute sales to fill up a few seats. I know just being overly pessimistic again but I blame it on the taxi driver on the way over. Just as tourists bring out the dishonest gene in taxi drivers, taxi drivers bring out the crusty traveler in me. I shook it off. There was a long ride ahead of us and a bad mood would just make it seem longer.

So how does one pass the time on a 22-hour bus ride? Well first there was dinner. It wasn’t served until 9pm (good thing we’d had that big late lunch) but it was hot food –chicken and chips – picked up from a roadside restaurant. A huge improvement on the mystery meat sandwiches we’d received elsewhere. On this bus there was even a tray attachment that meant we didn’t have to eat out of out laps which was nice. The other way to pass the time was watch movies. We saw both Sweet November and Definitely Maybe in Spanish with English subtitles which made Keanu Reeves and Ryan Reynolds seem like good deep actors. Unfortunately we have no idea how either movie ends because the pirated copies of both cut out about 15 minutes before the end of each. But the best way to pass the time was sleeping. Sleeping made 22 hours on a bus not much worse than 12 hours on a bus. The lights went down and we bundled up under the full sized blankets and pillows and drifted off for 7 or 8 hours.

We woke up just after 7am still on the coast. But after our breakfast we turned inland and arrived in Arequipa just after 11am. The bus let us off for an hour which was great for letting us stretch our legs and use a proper loo, one that didn’t require the superhero skills of spiderman to use. Then it was back on the bus for the last 5 hours of the trip. Unfortunately for us, the highway was being resurfaced and the bus crawled along through the barren landscape turning those 5 hours turned into 7.5. And we finally got into Puno after dark exactly 24 hours after we had boarded the bus and 26 hours after we were supposed to leave. Well we were here and that’s what mattered.

We shook off the touts at the station and headed to the taxi stand. And in one of the quickest bait and switch scams on record, the price changed from S3 to S3.50 by the time we closed the door. Inspired by my new here the Girl on the Lima Bus (capitalized for full reverence) I refused to pay and he grudgingly admitted defeat. My hard bargaining skills continued accidentally at the hostel. When I inquired about the cost of a room, I wasn’t sure what I heard the clerk say and repeated it back to her just to make sure. She thought I was bargaining and dropped another $5 off the price. It was still $30 but after 24 hours on a bus, it was worth it for a private room with private hot water bathroom and hot breakfast. But we couldn’t enjoy the room just yet. Our stay in Puno was only for a night because we were heading to Bolivia and after our last border crossing disaster we decided to use a tourist transfer service recommended by Lonely Planet. The price was not unreasonable and they would even stop at a legit moneychanger on the way over. We booked our tickets and then went to a bank machine to get out some money since there were no ATMs in Copacabana, Bolivia. We stuffed ourselves on some pizza and then crawled into bed. We had survived our longest bus ride to date although we weren’t anxious to repeat it anytime soon.

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