The trip to Lima from my site in Northern Peru has become such an large part of my service. And I always think to myself, “I wonder how much of my service is spent in a bus,” because the trip is about a 24 hour journey and 20 of those hours is one loooong bus ride.
It sounds beyond horrifying, I know. I remember my second day in Peru, we were introduced to a volunteer from Amazonas and when she told us that she had to travel 24 hours to get to Lima, I specifically remember thinking, “Welp, that’s the last place in the world I want to be placed.” And here I am a year and some change later and for the most part I have come to enjoy the 24 hour journey. Maybe its the solitude and relative peacefulness of sitting alone or maybe its the simple fact that I know I’ll soon be in Lima – the promised land where there’s non-Peruvian food as far as the eye can see, museums galore, and the anonymity that comes with being in a large city.
So what’s it like? How do I not go stir crazy? What do I do for all those hours? And all the other questions I’m sure you’ve asked by this point. Well I’ll tell you:
Before I Leave I Make Sure I Have: Earplugs, Dramamine, Reading Material, Long Sleeve Shirt (for the air-conditioning), Slippers, Eye Mask (or something that can function like one), Baby Wipes.
1. Wait for a Car in to go to Jaen
There are no [safe] direct buses that go from my site to Lima so the first thing I have to do is travel to a small city in Cajamarca called Jaen. Its a bout a 50 minute ride from where I live. I go to the terminal and I have to wait for the car to fill up with people for the car to leave as there is no set schedule.
2. Arrive in Jaen, Eat Lunch
They don’t serve lunch on the bus so I go to a little restaurant that right above the car terminal in Jaen. After I finish, I walk over to the bus terminal and wait for the bus which
leaves daily at 3:00 PM.
3. Take a Seat
Its 3:00PM and its time to leave! I always buy a ticket for the VIP salon which is the small closed off room on the first floor of the bus where all the seats are large and with lots of cushion. They even give you a small blanket. I make a point to get one of the single VIP seats so I can sit by myself and capitalize on the whole solitude thing, ya know?
So now I’m all settled in and the first thing I usually do is I read. I read for about 2 to 3 hours or until I get tired of it. They often show movies where the audio isn’t optional and the volume is decided by the bus attendant. And since the bus attendant is, of course, Peruvian, that means the audio is obnoxiously loud by American bus culture standards. That’s one of the reasons why the ear plugs are so important.
5. Nap Time
After reading or being virtually forced to watch a movie because the volume is at ridiculous levels, I usually doze off. I wake up around 8ish and at that time, the lights are off and other people are dozing off or listening to music. At this point, I’m just listening to my iPod and watching the small coastal towns pass by my window.
6. Chiclayo Stop
Chiclayo is a coastal city about 7.5 hours away from Jaen, and for a reason which seems to make no sense to me, they make everyone get off the bus at around 10PM for about 20 minutes. I usually just sit there and whip out my iPhone because a few months back I begged one of the workers there to give me the wifi password.
7. Dinner Time
In Peru, dinner is generally served later than it is in the States but on the bus its ridiculous
. They wait until after the Chiclayo stop to serve our dinners. At that point its about 10:30 at night. They turn the lights back on and they also put the movies with the non optional audio back on. I mean it makes ZERO sense. And every time I’m at this point in the bus ride I get annoyed because the last thing I want to do is watch a movie, with bright lights while eating a rice and chicken dinner at 10:30 on a 20 hour bus ride. It drives me crazy.
8. Bed Time
After I scarf down my dinner as fast as possible and the bus attendant comes to collect the trays, I immediately pop a Dramamine which is something we get in our med kits for nausea but it also causes extreme drowsiness. I wrap my scarf around my eyes to block out the ridiculous blinding lights that are still on and I put my ear plugs back in because the movie is still going and the volume is still crazy. I honestly don’t know when they turn the lights and movies off for the night because I’m always asleep before I can find out.
9. Wake Up & Breakfast
I always joke that Peruvians don’t really sleep because I’ve never seen them go to bed and I’ve never seen them wake up. I’m always sleeping before them and I’m always awake after them. I would definitely say that as Americans, we put a large emphasis on the
importance of getting a good night’s rest – Here not so much. Additionally, as Americans there is a whole culture to “mornings.” We recognize that there are morning people and there are non-morning people and the general expectation is that the morning people respect the silence and space that non-morning folks need or that unnecessary noise really shouldn’t be made until after 9:00 AM or so.
Well that’s not the case in Peru at all – cultural norms around “noise” are very different here. I fully wake up at about 8 AM on the bus but I start to hear noise at around 6 AM. And by noise I mean, the movies are back on full blast and people having full blown convos on their cell phones not even trying to whisper. They serve breakfast a 7AM so the attendant is moving through the cabin asking everyone their drink preference. This is another point where I am pretty annoyed but I begrudgingly come out of my make shift sleep mask and confront the reality that this is Peruvian bus culture.
10. Los Olivios to Javier Prado & Arrival
There are two stops in Lima. One in an outskirts neighborhood called Los Olivos and another (the one that I use) called Javier Prado. We stop at Los Olivos and a good majority get off the bus there. The problem is that because traffic is so bad (Lima has some of the
worst traffic in the world) it usually take about 2 hours to go from Los Olivos to my stop. It’s a test in patience because you know you’re so close but it still takes forever. I usually break out my book at that point to try to get my mind off of how much I want to get off the bus.
And finally I make it to Javier Prado! I usually head straight to the bathroom and take a quick baby wipe bath, brush my teeth, and wash my face. Then I go out to all the wall of taxi drivers who are hell bent on overcharging me to go to Miraflores. I find a cab that doesn’t wan’t me to go penniless for a 15 minute ride and I head off to start my Lima adventure.
And even though there are some parts to the 20 hour bus that drive me crazy, I definitely think it will be one of those things from this experience that I’ll have a sense of nostalgia about when I get back to the States.