I woke suddenly at 5:15 and something is wrong. I’m not sure what it is exactly but this bus ride is too smooth, more like sleeping on an airplane or a chair in the living room in front of a television instead of cruising these crumbling, chunky Peruvian highways in a double-decker bus. I look up at the red digital display between the televisions in the front row.
We are stopped. I open my phone’s GPS and see that we are somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Wiping away the condensation from the window I can barely make out the Pacific Ocean through the pre-dawn fog. Why are we stopped and why is the fucking bathroom locked when I have to pee so badly? As the dawn sky begins to light the cabin through the fogged windows my bladder constricts and I seriously consider peeing into an empty water bottle under the cover of a blanket but realize that everyone will hear me. I should go check the downstairs bathroom. Yes I’m on a bus. Yes I said “the downstairs bathroom.”
Things are heating up in the final stretch of the first round of Peru. Damn, I have to pee so bad it starts to hurt and my farts smell even worse than the weird vegetarian pesto pasta dinner they fed me around 8 last night.
Before falling asleep last night around midnight I watched two pretty awesome sci-fi movies from 2017, each part of their own epic, decades-long series — Ghost in the Shell and Alien: Covenant.
This is exactly why I don’t watch tv in my normal life because now I want to watch every Aliens movie and the Blade Runner and Soldier movies both by Ridley Scott and apparently part of the same universe and all fit together chronologically. And I want to watch every Ghost in the Shell anime series and movie and read all the manga, a series that spans back to 1989 and an endeavor that would likely steal 80-100 hours of my life. With any luck I will forget about this…
It’s nearly daylight and we still aren’t moving. The fog is thick and there are trucks stopped ahead of us. A man noisily exits the bathroom and I realize that it was only locked because somebody was taking a really, really long dump. He must have had the pesto as well. I make my way in to the baño and let loose an epic stream of urine that could spawn it’s own decade-long series. The red button next to the small toilet says ‘descarga’ — a word that Google translate says means ‘download.’ I don’t press, I’ve watched too much sci-fi for my own good and expect the worst.
I exit the bathroom via a puzzling set of knobs and locks and handles and navigate my way carefully through the narrow aisle, a gantlet lined with jutting elbows and socked feet from snoring passengers. Still others are awake, either already or still, watching horror and action movies on the personal 9″ televisions in front of each seat.
It’s daylight now, 5:49 a.m. and there is a family taking pictures on the beach. They were sick of waiting for traffic to move as well I think. Waves splash and spray behind them against a rock formation jutting out from the tan-sand beach. More of Peru’s drab but spectacular coastline. I wish I was dreaming about the scrapperz still.
I’d like to go soon, I think. I’m getting restless along with other confused passengers who look around the cabin scanning for eyes and answers to same questions I have. Why are we stopped? Where are we?
A woman from the back row asks me a question in spanish.
“No entiendo,” I say with a goofy and apologetic smile.
“English?” she says. I nod. “Do you know why we are stopped?” she translates for me.
“I don’t know, I woke up and it was like this,” I answer with a shrug as she walks away. Moments later she comes back to explain that somebody told her there was an accident on the road up ahead of us and I’m suddenly stricken with the realization that I am not safe in this bus just like I am not perfectly safe anywhere on this trip or anywhere on this earth for that matter.
Safety is an illusion, and it is relative at best. Some situations are certainly safer than others but there is no bubble to live in that protects anyone fully. This direct contact with the thin line between life and death is the source of humanity from what I gather. Knowledge of our own mortality and relative danger inspires religion, poetry, war, passion and love. Compassion and kindness exist because of it. The greatest art works throughout millennia exist to answer the questions about the great unknowns before and after death, questions we will likely never know the answers to. Questions to mysteries that aren’t mysteries at all to the rest of the universe, a universe that unfolds and carries on without hesitation or speculation.
Why then must we ask?
Tasteless bus-bathroom selfie
It’s almost 6:30 now and we still haven’t moved. Why? This is a question that in fact does have an answer, but it seems nobody here knows it yet. When will we continue down the coastal highway to Tacna, the southernmost city in Lima?
A door closes on the first floor of the bus. If only I could fall asleep again. And after letting Nico’s strange and deep voice lull me to sleep, the bus rumbles and shakes as if awakening from a deep sleep and we are rolling before 7 a.m.
Awake again at 9 a.m. and breakfast is served. Only 6 hours left I think…
Bus breakfast: bread with jam, chips and cake?
Got to Tacna around 5:30 where I secured my bag from the belly of the Cruz del Sur bus and then walked over to the international terminal like I read online and like the hostel owner told me. I bought a pass to use the terminal for 2 soles (do not lose this pass apparently) and then walked out the back gate towards some signs that said ‘colectivos y taxis’ and I stood there looking dumb until a driver asked me if I was going to Arica I said yes and almost got in the wrong car to an airport. After a few more awkward questions and some finger pointing by the drivers I am finally now sitting in a small four-door sedan with five other people including the driver, two women that are traveling with large backpacks and a couple sitting in the front seat.
The girl next to me keeps coughing some nasty shit and blowing her nose it kinda freaks me out but not as much as the driver who is tearing south down the PanAmerican highway at dusk going what feels like 80 miles an hour and passing every car that we race up to. Sometimes he swerves over into the left lane and starts to make the pass as headlights approach in the distance, flashing high beams as if to beg us to stop and in my mind I’m screaming “Amigo, por favor!!” and at the last moment we hit the brakes and swerve back into our lane behind the car only to make another attempt after the car passes. Jesus…
It’s 6:30 Peru time and we are waiting in line at the border crossing and when we cross into Chile time will suddenly jump forward two hours because they are on summer time I’m told. All of this is happening mostly straight south of Virginia which is right in between the two time zones.
Talking to Chris by text has made all of this a lot easier and less stressful, at least somebody knows where I am right now. He cut his knee pretty badly crashing a bike the other day and he showed me the picture. It’s gory and he had to go get stitches and antibiotics to close it up. Does it make me think twice about wanting to start cyclo-cross with Sammy when I get back? Maybe, but not really.
I’m suddenly reminded of the time when I tried to hitchhike to Roanoke but never made it because I got scared and lonely after sleeping outside for one night. I luckily didn’t miss any school and Sammy helped me out by giving me the first ride outside of town. After walking down the highway for a while I finally got a ride to a truck stop where two unsavory dudes drinking beers picked me up. They would chug the beer and throw the empties them out of the window like water balloons at stop signs as we flew around corners and passed cars on a windy country road. These back-country hooligans scared the shit out of that younger me (is that still me? It feels so long go, like a different person) even though I could easily have had fun if it were my friends doing the same dumb thing. I think I only made it a few towns outside of Richmond to a small spot where I slept in a park near a city and was kept up all night by barking dogs and nightmares of angry cops and being maimed by wolves. I’m not sure I even had a tent with me but I had a sleeping bag and a head full of Jack Kerouac stories to fuel the adventure. After about 24 hours I called Sammy up again from a gas station and asked him to come pick me up which he did and I was pretty grateful and felt really silly about the whole mess — that must have been around 12 years ago now.
Back in Peru we are still waiting in the customs line in the colectivo and I’m getting kind of anxious to pass into Chile and check into the next hostel. It’s starting to get late already and when you factor in the two hour time jump it will make for a very uncomfortable wake up call to make it to the bus station for a 7:30 a.m. departure. The driver turns the car off we have been idle for so long. I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything different.
With five passengers paying 20 soles apiece to be shepherded across the border the driver is making about 30 dollars for the hour-long trip. I suppose if he gets five more people trying to pass north into Peru at the other station he can make about 30 dollars an hour just for driving folks around. Not so bad really.
That felt sketchy and it took forever. Now it’s ten at night and the driver just dropped off the two women at the airport and we lost the couple at customs there was some kind of problem and I was worried it would be the same for me but I had no problem going through customs, my passport says I have 90 days of vacation in Chile which is more than enough for me. Luckily the rest of my border crossings are by plane which I think will be much easier. I didn’t need to show any exit tickets or anything to prove I would leave before my 90 days were up.
First we had to wait in line in the car, then we had to get out of the car with all of our shit and wait in another line. After about 45 minutes we passed through the customs window where they looked at my passport and stamped an exit from Peru and an entrance to Chile. Then I had to get my stuff X-rayed which took two seconds. I followed the other girls from my colectivo with the penetrating fear that our driver had left us but he was just ahead of the border crossing leaning on his car. We waited for the other couple, who never made it through, for about 10 minutes…good luck I guess? Seems cold but I think the driver spoke with them about the problem and I don’t think there was anything I could have done anyway.
Finally we left customs and made a pit stop at the airport for the two women whose flight was leaving in an hour and they paid the driver 10 soles for the extra stop. Now we are on the way to the bus terminal where I will get dropped off and either take a cab to the hostel or just walk I haven’t decided yet. I think I will see how long the walk is and how shitty the town looks… It’s late already and I’ve had enough for one day. A bed will feel nice.