We’ve spent time on buses in foreign countries. Some buses are good. Some are very bad. But we’ve never done a 16 hour round trip bus ride before. I was hopeful, if not downright optimistic about the Cruz del Sur bus lines going to Nazca from Lima, Peru. I’d read some good things. Very good things, in fact. People lauded Cruz del Sur as a “luxury” bus line. I saw the word “luxury” mentioned several times at Lonely Planet forums before I went ahead and booked our journey. I envisioned an experience similar to what we’d had on Primera Plus between Mexico City and Guanajuato (which was amazing, to say the least).
The night before our trip, I admit that I felt slightly apprehensive. I hoped that my optimism wouldn’t backfire against me. We had to get up early to board the bus and we were already tired from having just settled into Lima. We had to unpack to pack for this trip. It was going to be uncomfortable, but I hoped that at least the bus ride would be an enjoyable way to see the Peruvian countryside.
We arrived at the bus station at 4:30 AM. We’d already purchased tickets online, but we still had to check in. We took very little with us: the clothes on our backs, some pajamas, toiletries, and food. I’d booked a hotel called the Nazca House. I knew we wanted to see the Nazca Lines, but other than our hotel, nothing else was set in stone. We were at the mercy of the Powers That Be which is inevitably stressful. Thank goodness our bus ride was slated to be “luxurious”.
We boarded the bus and took our seats on the lower level. They were comfortable and we settled in. I remained optimistic. The engines started. Some buses in Mexico and Costa Rica refrigerate their passengers with icy cold air conditioning. Other buses we’d ridden on in Latin America turned the televisions up full blast playing recordings of The Bee Gees: In Concert. When the engines started on this bus, I put my hand up to feel the temperature of the air coming through the vents.
Then, the TV came on.
We listened carefully to the 30 minute presentation regarding the rules of the bus. After the first five minutes of the presentation, I started wondering if it would ever end. But then, I started hearing some distressing and unusual rules. First of all, our bodily functions were to be strictly controlled (no pooping allowed). Secondly, we couldn’t unfasten our safety belts or we’d be “fined” by the Peruvian government.
I let this sink in, but still remained optimistic. Perhaps there was something I was missing. After all, this was supposed to be a “luxury” bus line.
A woman brought around Styrofoam containers with a triangular half-sandwich and a lurid looking salad item held tightly in place with plastic wrap. We couldn’t eat the lunch because we don’t eat gluten or dairy, but we noticed everyone else on the bus put them to the side as well and didn’t eat them. On Primera Plus, the sandwiches were devoured enthusiastically by passengers.
Then they started playing movies, one right after the other. Loudly. Now, I enjoy a good movie as much as anyone else, but I didn’t get to pick these movies and a person can only watch so many movies in a row. And this was an 8 HOUR bus ride. The speakers blared into our seats. Lydian and John tried to listen to their own music through ear buds but finally gave up. The last movie we watched before disembarking from the bus was Battleship. None of the movies were “family-friendly”.
But at least the seats were somewhat roomy and comfortable. Despite the lack of bathroom privileges and the law against unfastening our seatbelts, we survived our first 8 hours on the bus.
Two days later, though, we went back to the Cruz del Sur bus station to catch our ride back to Lima. This time, we’d been assigned seats on the second floor in a lower class. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but our family got split up. And the seats were painfully small.
Passengers, once again, were urged to not poop (solo urinario) in the toilets. John told me that he planned to poop beside the toilet so as not to break their rules.
In Ica, Peru, about 1/3 of the distance back to Lima, a couple of very smelly young women got on the bus and sat down beside Lydian and me. Every time the woman in the aisle seat would shift, a cloud of B.O. would waft through the entire bus. At this time, the bus wasn’t entirely full. Lydian went and sat in a different seat at the front of the bus to escape from the fumes. At Paracas, however, four hours into our epic journey, the rest of the seats filled and Lydian returned to her place beside me.
A Chinese woman in the seat in front of mine carefully removed her hat. Then she ritualistically began pulling hairs out of her head one by one. I wondered if she was eating them too (as many with trichotillomania do). Though I tried with all my might to ignore her and her hand twirling each little hair with care right before giving a firm yank(!), I could hardly blame her for pulling at her hairs. My coping mechanisms were wearing pretty thin by the time we were 5 hours into our ride back to Lima. Perhaps hair pulling would help.
I had strategically downloaded a book the night before to read in English on my Kindle because I knew there was no way that I’d be able to concentrate well enough on a book in Spanish to read it on the bus. It was a book about the Shining Path in Peru and I became hyper-focused on it though occasionally the movie about Kon-Tiki bid for my attention (especially when the parrot died). There was a sand storm outside. I took a photo of a giant whirlwind. Tiny villages and dilapidated huts passed by one after the other.
The sun went down.
I thought about how the summer sun cast a golden light over the distant dunes and the tiny square houses casting long rectangular shadows. At home it was winter, but without a doubt, I felt like it was
summer (because it is here). I tried to revel in this strange feeling and imagine what it was like to be home in the cold with the snow, the Christmas music and tinkling decorations and lights everywhere but there were too many distractions so I went back to my book.
The whole experience became painful. I wasn’t sure whether it was my body, my mind, or my emotional state that was revolting against being on the bus. Initially, I had tuned out everything around me but slowly, as time wore on and darkness enveloped the bus on the outside, I began trying to even tune myself out. Whenever I stopped reading and stared off into the distance I could hear it:
The Inner Scream.
It began as only a whimper early in the trip, but slowly gained momentum. It was ear piercing by the time we entered the municipality of Lima. Though there was no way for me to quell it, I turned to Lydian to solemnly vow that we would never, never take a long bus journey like this one again in Peru. She looked back at me, her eyes wild with irritation and said, “sounds good, Mom…” and then launched into hushed tirade of complaints about the crowd of people around us and the bus itself. Then she described, as best she could, what it was like as a 13 year old to walk that fragile line between sanity and insanity. She never raised her voice, but didn’t have to. We were shoulder to shoulder. Knee to knee.
There were only a few different positions I could manage in my tiny seat. Lydian and I took turns leaning our knees into the center of our space. Sometimes, I would bend my knees and balance my feet on the leg rest. Sometimes I would point my toes in toward my center line. Sometimes I would point them out. It was always a tremendous relief to move my legs into a new position. A part of my brain worked on possible new and creative positions that I could do in my seat, but I only came up with three. My elbows were raw from leaning on the hard arm rests.
The TV was loud. The people were loud. A man and a woman right behind us were enthusiastically groping and slurping each other. Lydian asked that we not talk about home. The idea of it made her feel “weepy” she said. There was a smell. The bus bumped and jolted down the road, slowing and then speeding up. I was beyond irritated. I looked back at John and he smiled at me, but gave me a look indicating that he was at the end of his tether too.
I got up to go to the bathroom (to pee, of course) and the bus driver swerved. I hit my head on a TV above the two lovers swooning. I decided to visit the downstairs potty instead of the upstairs one just to get some extra exercise. There was a dark peaceful alcove at the bottom of the stairs with a big window just outside the pee closet. I wondered just how long I could linger there before someone would come to fine me be being unseat-belted. It felt amazing just to stand upright. Outside, a sandy barren landscape rushed by with lights in the distance.
We still had one more hour to go before we’d get to the bus station.