Cruising in the South During the Terremoto
Trip Start Jun 06, 2007
9Trip End Ongoing
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I rode the economic bus to Cusco. For 11 hours en route it cost me $6.00. The other, much more comfortable option, cost $50.00. So, what difference does $44.00 make for a person travelling by bus here in Peru? Let me tell you...
Every week there are tragic bus accidents in this country. Since my arrival here in Peru I have heard reports of 17 deaths on account of a distracted driver, 24 deaths because the road was damaged from striking professors, and another day buses plummeting down the side of cliffs resulting in the death of 30. Two of these accidents were from the bus company that I paid $6.00 for to get to Cusco.
I expressed my concern about my coming trip to some friends. They told me that fatal crashes only happen on Tuesday and Thursday and the gringos always survive. I didn't believe them so my fear accompanied me into the taxi to the bus station. I shared my anxiety with the taxi driver, thinking he would understand my preoccupation since he drives around all day in the congested and dangerous streets of Lima. With a crucifix swinging below his rear-view mirror he told me to have faith. I certainly agreed with him, but there is also that joke about the guy stranded on the roof after a flood. God sends him deliverance, but he fails to recognize it. Could my deliverance really cost me an extra $44.00?
Safety is certainly one advantage of the pricey option; comfort is another. Comfort includes the amount of space in and around your seat, the food you eat, and the smell of the bus environment.
When you pay $50.00 for a bus ticket you share the bus with people who paid the same. When you pay $6.00, you share the bus with people who paid $6.00. Somehow the people who pay less always have more- more things. Things like bundles of potatoes that fall to the floor on a turn, chickens that squawk and smell like shit, crying kids in laps who have to go to the bathroom (and they do) though there is not one on the bus. Potatoes, chickens, and kids take up the limited space, stink, and make a lot of noise.
Now, let's talk food. On any journey more than ten hours you are going to want to eat something. My extra $44.00 gets me two meals served by a cute, smiling, Peruvian bus attendant. My $6.00 ticket gets me nothing. Nothing but the option to buy something from the old Señoras who enter the bus from some little pueblo with huge sacks on their backs. The first sack of the Señora was filled with fresh bread and juice. I got some for 50 cents and it tasted great. I was still a bit hungry though, and curious about the other sack. I heard a terrible, "thwack," turned, and saw the other Señora raise a huge butcher knife. She was hacking away at the entire body of a goat. How is this possible, I wondered? I learned that they stick the body of a goat in a huge stone oven, like a giant crock pot, until it is nice and tender. My neighbour bought a hunk. He offered some to me, I tried it, and it tasted good. I looked at the Señora, considering a purchase, she smiled showing a tooth or two. The smile had an unsettling effect unlike the smiling Señorita on the expensive bus so I passed on the goat.
Now, a bit about my neighbour on the bus. I sat next to a guy named Salvador (Saver). I think the only thing he saved was a bit of money by neglecting his personal hygiene. He had a grossly wild smell about him. It took me awhile to place the scent but then it struck me. I was back in my cousin Jeff's garage, buck knife in hand, skinning one of the two deer carcasses hanging from the rafters. That was Salvador. More than B.O., he had W.A.B.O: Wild Animal Body Odor. I guess if I could endure the smell of the deer I could endure the smell of Salvador. Although, I didn't have the satisfaction of looking forward to eating Salvador like I did with the deer so I guess it was a bit different...
Next time will it be $6.00 or $50.00 for my ticket? Probably somewhere between. My mother, concerned about the crashes might just send me a few extra bucks for a safer ride. I can do without the smiling Señorita, but hope to avoid the reek of dirty diapers and guys like Salvador. The extra debt for deliverance. It was interesting and economic to ride cheap once, but I'm not sure I would do it again.
2. Where were you during the Terremoto?
Checking in on me, a good friend wrote in an email, "Bridges fall in Minnesota, hundreds die in earthquake in Peru. What is going on?" Well, that is exactly the question everyone has been asking here in Peru since the terremoto, the movement of the earth. They ask, "Where were you during the earthquake?"
Here is my answer:
I felt the terremoto lounging in my bed in Aguas Calientes, the stepping stone little city to reach the Wonder of the World, Machu Picchu. My good friend Tyler, who was adventuring with me in Cusco for a week, slept soundly through the small tremor while I waited out the soft and almost comforting rocking of the earth. Ironic how there was so much chaos and destruction happening within the borders at that very moment in Lima, Ica, and Pisco.
Tyler and I saw something on the news about five deaths in Lima, felt sad for them, but were able to continue on and enjoy our night. The next day we visited Machu Picchu, still fairly clueless to the reality of the destruction. We were clueless to the reality of others and their responses to the question, "Where were you during the earthquake?"
Take the case of my cousin Cheridyn. She was at the foot of the colossal Marriot Hotel on the coast in Lima. As the tower shook and panes of glass shattered, the people could only watch and hope it wouldn't fall, pinned in by the unrelenting Pacific roaring behind them.
Take the case of Isabel, my Peruvian host mother. She was alone in her house in Lima. I had gotten off the phone with her only ten minutes before. The house shook. Frantic, she got out and into the street to join the hundreds of neighbours in the street. Some of them were screaming at the groans of the earth and the bursts of lightning above. They were crying, wondering if this could be the end of the world.
Thanks to be to God that it was not the end of the world for Cheridyn or Isabel. Cheridyn and every one of her Peace Corps comrades have mobilized in a relief effort. Isabel lived to welcome her family and me home in Lima, and also to cook Arroz con Pollo for me, my favourite Peruvian dish. But, not everyone was so fortunate.
Over 600 hundred did not live to answer the question, "Where were you?" Take the case of the young Peruvian man from Lima who travelled to Ica to meet his fiancé. His heart was fluttering like a butterfly for her just minutes before his body was crushed by one of thousands of unfounded, crumbling houses. Weeks after the disaster the front pages, the news at night still show lifeless children laying under tarps, whaling mothers, and macho but broken Latino men unable to hold back tears. This country is in a sombre state.
The mourning has not paralyzed the country, it has mobilized much of the world. The Peruvian President has made bold claims of reconstruction, countries around the world, poor and wealthy, are sending help in supplies, money, and their country-people. If there is anyone in or anything about Peru that you hold precious in your heart I would suggest visiting the following site: www.directrelief.org
"Bridges fall in Minnesota, hundreds die in earthquake in Peru. What is going on?" It is hard to say. Easier to say that bridges can fall on the way home from work; Cathedrals can crumble in the middle of mass. Life is precious, call an old friend, write to a loved one, smile at a stranger, and remind them that their life is precious too.
Con mucho Cariño, love, and a hopeful smile,