Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Long Drive

I decided to play along with the Meet Me At Mike's Words and Pictures after reading a very evocative entry on Megan's blog. This week's theme is A Long Drive. My mind immediately turned to some of the horrendously long bus rides I've taken as a traveller; this was one of them that happened last year. (It should be noted, the country wasn't as bad as this welcoming drive might have indicated.)

It was already four in the afternoon, and we had no idea where we were going to sleep that night. We'd been in a different town every night for the past week, and had just got off yet another all-day stint on a bus. The border crossing had been horrible as we were heckled, jostled and scammed at every turn. Taxi drivers, people trying to guide us through the process, market stall holders, small children, they all crowded in at us, each trying to negotiate something. As we started to waver, and considered accepting the taxi driver's ridiculously high price, a security guard at the bank caught my eye and gave a barely noticeable shake of his head. It was the jolt I needed, and we fought our way through the crowd until we got to the police station to ask directions.

The taxi driver we finally settled on whisked us off to the official border entry point further along the road, and then took us to the next town, from where we could catch the bus to Lima. He bargained with us the entire time, and even as we paid him more than we'd agreed on, he fixed us with puppydog eyes. As soon as he'd left we bought food, pointing to each item without knowing the price. Tom tried to bargain, naming a price that seemed cheap to us. The storeholder looked at us oddly, and named a sum that was half of what we had offered. We immediately realised how much we'd given our taxi driver in real terms.

We had made it just in time to catch the last overnight bus, and half an hour later we were cooped back up and on the move again. Dusk fell, and the barren landscape became just potholes and small towns that rushed by in the headlights. As a Spanish film started on the television screens the stewardess came around with a small meal. The night wore on, and I'd pulled an eye mask on to try and sleep.

Half an hour later I still couldn't sleep. 'Tom, I don't think I feel very well' I whispered, prodding my half-asleep boyfriend and getting a grunt in return. I writhed in my chair, struggling to overcome rising nausea that worsened with every bump in the road. When I felt the bus slow I leapt from my seat and dashed down the stairs to the door, pushing past the stewardess and policeman checking the bus's papers and only just missing his shoes as I vomited into the dust. They looked down at me as I vomited again, before turning away to finish their paper check. 'Time to go!' the stewardess said chirply as I leaned my head on my knees, crouching barefoot on the roadside.

Soon after dawn broke it became obvious that this was going to be a proper bout of food poisoning. I headed down to the toilet, only to discover a sign reading 'Solo urinario'. I asked the stewardess if I could go to the toilet in the next town. Despite much overuse on my part of the word 'emergencia', we passed through one small town, then another, then another as I grew more and more uncomfortable. Finally I couldn't wait anymore, and used the bus toilet. Half an hour later the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere. Cries of 'Where's the gringa?' rose up from downstairs. I headed down to see what was going on. 'Okay, here you go' the stewardess said, gesturing to the open door. Outside there was nothing. We were in a desert with not a single shrub to squat behind in sight. 'Where's the toilet?' I asked the driver. 'This is Peru!' he replied, 'The whole country's a toilet!'

By the time we reached Lima that evening I became glad of the design of bus bathrooms: I was able to vomit into the sink without leaving the toilet. The bus had only stopped three times in 24 hours - the two paper checks and five minutes at a service station. We finally reached a hostel in Lima and I crawled into bed feeling weak and exhausted. Half an hour later I pulled back the sheets, only to find myself covered in bedbug bites. Welcome to Peru.


  1. OMG Poor you! I think you may have put me off a bus trip anywhere in South America for life. Great writing.

  2. oh you poor poor possum. that must have been such a low. i though travelling was supposed to be fun not torture! totally agree with above - great writing