I got off to a pretty hectic start in Peru. The border crossing went smoothly, but as soon as my bus arrived in Piura, where I was planning on spending the night and then taking a bus to Lima the next day, things got a little crazy. Instead of having a single terminal where all buses arrive at and leave from, Piura had the brilliant idea to have the different bus companies located all over the city, so that when you get off your bus you have to pay a taxi to take you around and find out where you’re going to take your next bus. I had a small map of the city in my guidebook, and it looked like at least some of the companies were clumped together in a single area, but wherever my bus from Ecuador dropped me off, it was nowhere near that area nor could I locate where I was on the map and it was after dark so I didn’t really feel like exploring the city on foot. So when I got off the bus I was a little disoriented (made worse by the fact that I was feeling sick and already kind of out of it from some bad chicken I ate the night before), and probably sensing my confusion, I was immediately hounded by taxi drivers yelling a million different things at me, trying to figure out where I needed to go so they could take me there and overcharge me.
That’s pretty much exactly what happened, for once I collected myself, I explained to the most persistent taxi driver that I needed to go to an ATM, find a bus ticket for Lima, and then go to a hostal. I asked him how much, and he said 5 soles, which was cheap, so I hopped in, but soon found out that the 5 soles only got me to the ATM and I had to bargain the price down to an extra 15 for everything else I wanted to do. Unfortunately, finding a bus ticket to Lima was not so simple, as it was supposedly a popular vacation time and apparently Peruvians aren’t scared off by a 14 hour bus trip to and from Lima as part of their vacation. My taxi driver took me from bus company to bus company, it seemed that nobody had any available tickets to Lima, either that night or the next day. Every other time I’d needed to take a bus somewhere, I just showed up at the bus terminal and there always seemed to be a seat available on a bus heading to my desired location within the next hour or two. This clearly wasn’t happening on that day, which became increasingly worrisome given that I had a plane ticket from Lima to Cuzco two days later, so if I didn’t catch a bus the next day I would miss my flight. I’d gotten the plane ticket for pretty cheap, thinking the one hour flight would be a lot less stressful than the alternative 20 hour bus ride, but now having a fixed time I needed to be in Lima was creating its own stress.
Everything felt incredibly chaotic as my taxi driver raced me around from bus company to bus company. He was of course driving incredibly aggressively and erratically, which I’m pretty used to, but this was made a little bit sketchier by the fact the taxi wasn’t a real car, but basically a motor bike with a covered cart attached to the back of it, so I didn’t even have a solid window or car door between me and the other traffic we kept almost running into it. I’m pretty sure the taxi driver was taking me for a ride as well, as it seemed we would take the most circuitous route possible between bus companies, sometimes passing what appeared to be several different bus ticket offices on the way to our next destination. And after I got turned away by the first few companies, he would keep saying he knew one or two more companies, but then after we visited those he would remember one or two other possibilities, whose offices were of course another five minute drive away. I started doubting whether the 20 soles we had agreed to was really going to cover this trip, but I was too disoriented to really protest, and was getting more and more anxious about whether I would actually make it to Lima in time to catch my flight.
We probably had visited around eight companies, none of which had a single seat that night or the next day to Lima, before my driver pulled up next to some bus that appeared to be just about to leave. He talked to the bus driver and then told me I could get on the bus for 120 soles (roughly 45 dollars). That was a good bit more than I wanted to pay, so I hesitated and then the bus took off before I realized that I needed to get on that bus regardless of the cost. I told my taxi driver as much, so we took off racing after the bus as he tried to flag it down. I thought to myself ‘this is crazy are we actually chasing after a bus that is trying to leave the city on this puny little motorbike taxi?’, but the bus soon pulled over to pick up some other passengers, so I took the opportunity and told the bus driver I wanted on. Just to make things more chaotic, however, as I pulled my bags out of the taxi I grabbed my small backpack from the wrong end and all of its contents ended up spilling on the street. I quickly gathered them up, but later realized I somehow missed by my Ipod (the taxi driver who helped me gather up my things may have snatched it I’m not sure). Then to make matters worse, to pay both the taxi driver and the bus driver, I only had bills of 50 and 100 soles, so I ended up paying 50 to the taxi guy and 150 to the bus guy, and the taxi driver ran off before I had a chance to ask for change. To cap it off, as I got on the bus I realized that there wasn’t actually a seat available for me, but that I had just overpaid to be able to sit on the stairs of a double decker bus for a 14 hour ride. It felt ridiculous, and I was mad about not getting change, but part of me also just felt hugely relieved to actually be heading toward my destination.
Things got better after that, as I befriended another guy who ended up on the stairs, and he somehow managed to get us up to the front cabin where there were a couple of real seats next to the driver. The ride ended up being ridiculously cold up front, and there were a few things that felt kind of sketchy, like when without explanation the driver told us to cram into a tiny little room with a bed behind the driver’s cabin and wait for about 10 to 15 minutes (I think the bus was going through a police check or something), or when we stopped at a random intersection in Piura and someone came up and gave the driver a bag of something in exchange for wad of cash. But after plenty of badgering I at least got my change from the bus driver, and in reality I was just happy to have a seat on that bus and to make it to Lima.
There was still a bit of craziness left once I arrived in Lima, like when for a brief moment I wasn’t sure if my backpack actually made it on the bus I was on, and the driver said something about me having to go to the central office to pick it up. Also, the guy I sort of befriended ended up saying he wanted to share a hostile with me, which I soon realized meant he wanted me to pay for a hostel for the both of us, yet another example of a local’s friendliness being coupled with a desire to take advantage of the gringo travelers’ money. But overall I found Lima to be a pretty agreeable city for the 24 hours I spent there, especially given its size (8 million people, I think the third largest city in South America). I didn’t have time to see much of the city, but I got a chance to stick my foot in the pacific ocean, and had the amusing experience of seeing a large group of old couples quite skillfully dancing salsa in the plaza near my hostel. And at any rate, arriving there meant the end of the most stressful part of my travels thus far, and the beginning of a quite enjoyable time in Peru. I meant to include all of my time in Peru in one entry, but I guess I got a little carried away with this story, so I’ll include the fun stuff I did in the next entry.