By Dan Blank
585.1 miles in 28 hours. We did not make it but not for a lack of effort. I was visiting Cusco, Peru with a friend. We took the train and intended to take the bus home to Lima. We met up with one of her friends who convinced her to try to fly stand by. At the airport, a local was helping us secure a flight. He found one seat for my friend and assured her that I would be able to catch a flight on one of the next eight flights leaving to Lima. She flew home and every ½ hour for the next four hours, this guy would come back to tell me that there were no seats on the next flight. He came to me one more time and said that there were no seats on the last flight that day but an interesting proposition just came up. And so the adventure begins….
Just so happens, two guys from England who came to South America with the express purpose of visiting the Galapagos Islands were stuck in Cusco and needed to get back to Lima so they could catch a flight out to Ecuador by 5:00 PM the next day. They had 28 hours to get there and were prepared to hire a taxi to make it happen. They were ready to pay $500 (they each offered to pay $200 leaving me with a $100 tab; they needed me….I took Spanish 3 in high school an offer I could not refuse). The man who was assisting me earlier got up on a chair and announced to the whole airport that we were willing to pay the equivalent of 4 months wages to anyone who could guarantee that we would arrive on time. Needless to say, the whole airport descended upon us and we chose the best dressed two guys we saw.
By 1:00 PM, we were on our way in a 1990 Toyota Tercel l hatchback. There was no room to sit so I offered to sleep in the back with the luggage. Within 20 minutes, we stopped and put new tires on the car and off we went. The drivers were keenly aware that they had to maintain a pretty good rate of speed to make sure we would arrive on time to our destination. This meant some pretty crazy driving over the Andes; the steepest mountain range in the world. Throughout my whole trip to Peru I had this reoccurring nightmare of driving off a cliff so I decided that if I was to die, I would do it in my sleep. I got comfortable and I knocked off. I awoke briefly….just long enough to notice that one of the Englishmen was missing a couple of fingers on one of his hands….spooked; I went right back to sleep. The next time I awoke was to thunderous pounding on the bottom of the car. The drivers decided to take a short cut by driving over a dry, rocky riverbed. Minutes later, the car stopped and we were told that we could not go any further….the constant pounding of rocks to the bottom of the car broke the axel.
It was pitch black out and we were miles away from anything. The drivers told us to wait patiently and assured us that a bus would come by…then they disappeared. Sure enough, some time later a bus drove up and we got on. The bus was packed with locals. All I remember was that there was a man in the back of the bus with full blown glaucoma in both eyes, a woman with a bunch of chickens and only two seats available. The two Englishmen jumped into the seats and I chose to stand. Everything was peachy until we arrived at the next stop. I was excited to see three passengers exit thinking I was going to get a chance to sit down. That excitement quickly disappeared as twenty more folks got on. There was no room to stand and we were forced to sit in the isle; like puzzle pieces, our bodies fit into one another. Each time the bus came to a stop the toilet would overflow and the spillage would trickle down the center isle of the bus (right where we were sitting). The only way I knew how to deal with the issue was to knock off again.
Life was good….it always is when you are sleeping. That did not last long though. I am not sure what woke me up…it was either the bus bouncing from side to side or the lady screaming, “los ninos, los ninos”. We all thought the bus was teetering on the edge of the cliff. Nope! Apparently, we had a flat tire and the drivers thought it would be smart to jack up the bus with all the passengers inside. Everything was fine until the jack broke, causing the bus to bound from one side to the other. Realizing they had no way to fix the tire, they asked everyone to exit the bus and wait on the side of the road for another bus. We were at the top of the Andes and it was quite cold and I asked the driver if he could assist me in getting a sweater from my bag. He opened the baggage area and a body rolls out. YES! A freaking body rolled out. The backup driver was sleeping in the luggage area.
We waited on the side of the road for some time until another bus came by to pick us up. It was early in the morning as I remember the sun was shining. This bus had it own share of passengers and then they had to add everyone from our bus as well (seats on these buses are paid for in advance) so needless to say, I had to stand again. I must have been a pretty awful sight because an elderly couple offered me one of their seats. And…after the night I had….I took it! My English friends were seething. Me…I went back to sleep.
Next stop…Nasca. It must have been around 1:00 pm by this time. We were inching closer to Lima but we still had a long way to go (457 km to be exact). The Englishmen wanted off the bus and they decided to hire a taxi. And, desperate for my limited Spanish skills, they begged me to continue on with them. We managed to find someone that would agree to take us to Lima for $200. This time, I chose to sit in front. We were twenty minutes into the drive when I noticed our driver starting to blink real hard and shake his head from side to side to keep himself awake. “Esta cansado”? I asked. “Si, Estoy cansado”. The driver was tired from working the whole night. I asked if he wanted me to drive the rest of the way and he was glad to oblige. So, I drove the remainder of the trip back to Lima. When we were getting close to the city, I switched seats with the driver. My stop (Miraflores) was on the way to the airport but the Englishmen wanted to get to their flight as soon as possible. I agreed but they still missed their flight.
I finally arrived home around 7:00 pm. My friend was relieved to see that I was ok and all I wanted to do was to sit and rest. As soon as my butt hit the sofa, she told me to get up as we needed to go to the police station. She was so worried about me that she called my parents, the police and the embassy and told them I was missing. We called the police and I assured them I was fine but they said they needed to see me in person. All in all, I did not get back until about 9:00 pm. And then….I knocked off.