Trip Start Jan 22, 2008
101Trip End Sep 30, 2008
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Thursday morning was spent in my usual pose as I walked the streets of Cusco for the final time, headed bowed, as I said "no gracias" with a pained expression to the various offers of postcards, massages, paintings, alpaca, wooden musical instruments, cigarttes, shoe repairs, and various other items...
At 2pm, I climbed aboard what would turn out to be the first of three buses - this one bound for Lima. I had been warned that it was a pretty unpleasant 17 hour journey from Cusco to the capital but it was actually OK - the winding mountain roads on the early part of the route reminded me of those in Laos, although fortunately none of the locals were vomitting this time, and one truck had come a cropper and rolled a short way down a mountain, outlining the potential danger. However, I was soon enough asleep and only awoke after we should have arrived in Lima, only for the journey to overrun by three hours.
I had intially planned to spend one night in Lima, despite having heard numerous negative stories about the place and I soon formed my own as I arrived to overcast conditions (apparently cauused by its coastal locations), could not decipher my Lonely Planet map meaning that I wandered the suburbs for a couple of hours before giving up and taking a taxi, was warned by three seperate locals how dangerous the city was for tourists as I looked for a bus company office and in the end, when I was told I could leave in the next hour (at 4pm), I bought my ticket and spent my final hour in Lima in the "Exclusiva" bus lounge.
Bus number two was a plush affair, and one could still smell the fresh leather of the brand new coach in which I had the previously unknown bliss of a 180 degree reclining chair to myself. I took full advantage of the business class style travel and slept the majority of the way to Tumbes, which is in northern Peru and near the border with Ecuador, waking periodically to note that the landscape continued to be mostly baron desert. This suddenly chnaged dramatically to the lush, vivid green of paddy fields and mangroves - looking more like South East Asia than South America - as we neared Tumbes. LP warned that this particular border point was one of the more dangerous in the world and I therefore gratefully followed a chap who said he would take me to the CIFA office, supposedly the best bus company with which to cross the frontier. Within two minutes I found myself in a car with him and two of his menacing looking associates, one of whom insisted on baring his stomach to show me two viscious looking knife wounds he had apparently received in altercations at the border. Conversation was stop-start and when asked my profession back in the UK I panicked and decided to lie, saying I was a soldier on the basis they would be less likely to try and kill me than if I told the truth of my paper pushing job. The area around the border and in the Ecuadorian frontier town of Huquailles was intimidating and I was quite happy to have my three "bodyguards" with me, until it came to payment for their services and the bus ticket onwards to Quito, whereupon the biggest one started pushing me and things all turned a little sour. I begrudgingly handed over 50 dollars for what was clearly a 10 dollar ticket (they had changed the printed price in blue pen) and like to think that I had the parting victory as I called them each a "f$%*ing thief" as I passed over the cash. Luckily, I donīt think they understood the words (they should have grasped the sentiment) as it was probably not my most sensible ever move. The fleecing showed me the worst side of human nature, less than 24 hours after I had seen the best as I had dropped my cash and card filled wallet at the crowded bus terminal in Lima, only for a local to pick it up and chase me to return it (this would have been a serious problem). It is a shame that my predisposition caused my to dwell a lot longer on the negative incident than the postive one. Discuss...
My exorbitantly priced ticket did not exactly secure me the luxury of the previous coach and I was crammed into a small red seat next to a huge lady with a baby which sneezed approximately ever forty seconds and continually insisted on squeezing my ear. Wrose news was to follow as I searched my bag repeatedly but it appeared that in the border crossing fun and frustration, I had somehow managed to lose the travel lifeline that is my Lonely Planet guide book. At least the scenery was enough to raise my spirits as we passed through bright field after field of banana trees (Ecuador is the "banana capital of the world") punctuated by towns busy with people celebrating Saturday evening with outside barbeques and beers. It was distinctly more humid than Peru, something which prompted many of the locals to remove their shirts whilst I squirmed and sweated vainly ntrying to get comfortable and consoling myself with the fact that it was only a ten hour journey. Almost as soon as I let this ray of hope enter my mind we careered off to the side of the road and it turned out that both front and rear right hand tyres had blown (well, they say bad luck comes in threes, letīs hope thatīs me done for a while). In truth, until this point I had been amazingly lucky with bus journies on my travels - it was just unfortunate that my luck ran out about 55 hours into my most epoic movement to date (although it was probably not surprsising that my luck should run out with a driver who seemed to have decided that red lights were optional, provided he used his horn to warn other vehicles that he was not stopping). The incident caused huge excitement and everybody was off trying to offer their assistance, but in the end it was over an hour before we were back on the road. Shortly after this hiccup we were boarded by armed police and all had to alight and stand with hands on the bus legs apart, whislt we were frisked before having our papers checked, and the two delays combined meant that I eventually arrived into Quito at 5am this morning, 63 hours after leaving Cusco. My bottom feels as if I have been riding a horse for a year and my knees now face the worng way, but the sun is shining, Quito looks really nice and life could generally be worse...