La Paz to Arequipa
This morning I woke up with a long to-do list, before the 12 hour bus ride ahead of me. Get the laundry, grab one more souvenir, go to Fed-Ex and mail them all home, pack up, eat (I had a delicious papas rellena, a potato stuffed with carne)
Then it was time to go!
I made it to the bus station just in time!
We had bought our tickets a day earlier- a direct bus from La Paz to Copacabana, then we'd switch buses before heading to Puno and on to Arequipa where we would arrive around 2:30 in the morning.
We got to the bus station and turned in our tickets. The woman looked our tickets up and down. There was a problem. Of course. There is always a problem. They didn't know where our bus was or if it even existed for us. Finally they put us on a new bus with a new ticket that was said to be the exact same. We boarded the bus and looked around to see that it was only a quarter full. We were stoked and smiling as we pulled away from the station. We headed down the road for a good 30 minutes and abruptly stopped on the side of some run-down street corner. I thought this was a direct bus? The driver got out and started announcing "Bus to Copacabana!". This went on for about 40 minutes as the bus filled up beyond capacity. People stood in the aisles clutching giant bags of oranges and bread, a man stood at the front of the bus a preached about Jesus for a long 15 minutes, trying to persuade us to buy his literature and my tolerance quickly depleted.
Through our three hour bus ride, people would, randomly, approach the driver and ask him to pull over so they could disembark. I had never heard of this practice before. Normally you don't get to pick where you get off, but what perplexed me even further was where these people were stopping. Older people, around 70 years old, would exit in the middle of no where. No town, no buildings, not even a side road in sight. Where were they going?! Did each one of them have their own underground bunker?! Were they the ones hiding Osama?! I had many questions.
Finally we reached Copacabana. We were supposed to have an hour to eat before our next bus ride, but, because of the many unplanned stops, we had twenty minutes to locate and consume food. We walked to the closest thing resembling food, a fast-food, fried chicken joint, and inhaled our and waited at the bus stop.
The ticket man notified us that, instead of a bus, we would be riding in a 15 passenger, jalopy van, to the boarder, 40 minutes ahead, and then we would transfer to a big bus from there. I was the first person in line as the van pulled up next to me. As I hoisted my bag up to the luggage container on the top of the van, I was, literally, thrust out of the way, without a word, by a man who, apparently, "needed" to sit in the front row of the van. I was shocked. I've never been so blatantly disrespected, especially physically, by a man, over a seat in a van! Hot, hungry, and short-fused, I was seconds away from turning the van into a wrestling ring, when the little angel on my shoulder popped up (I call her 'mom') and reminded me that I am in a foreign country and that this fight may be more trouble than it's worth. I told myself to take a deep breath and Rosa Park my ass in the back of the van.
After the border, we switched to a large bus featuring two lovely ladies whose Armageddon was our reclining seats. No one else on the bus had a problem with the reclining seats but these ladies proceeded to kick our chairs and scream sweet nothings in our ears. It was an overnight bus and I was determined to get some sleep in the reclining seats we purchased for such an occasion. Another glorious surprise was the temperature of the bus, or lack of temperature. I had a t-shirt, fleece jacket, snowboarding jacket, pants, knee-high socks, shoes, and gloves and I still felt like I was living in an igloo. The few moment of sleep that I was fortunate to get between the knees in my back and the chattering of my teeth featured dreams of new travels.. To the article tundra.. in my bikini.
I was relieved when we finally reached Arequipa at 2:30am and was more than ready for a speedy cab ride to the hostel with a warm bed to rest my head.
But can it ever be that easy? Oh no. We had already endured a hellish bus ride and, as the saying goes 'when it rains, it pours'. We got a taxi as we stepped off the bus and I was armed with the address of the hostel which the cab driver seemed to recognize immediately. Five minutes into the ride to our hostel, the cab driver unexpectedly pulls over, gets out, and starts to examine the exterior of the vehicle. We had a flat.
Although I would have love to ditch this broke-down piece-of-crap-mobile for the next cab that came along, he had strategically pulled over on a small street where there were no signs of life. We stood there, patiently waiting, at three am, on the side of the road, for him to change the tire.
We were off again. He pulls over, once again, on a hectic street with no signs and few lights and informs us that we have arrived. I told him that he must be mistaken because the address was #100 and the building we were in front of was #106, displayed, clearly, for him to see. To me, this was an unarguable point, he seemed to disagree. I told him the name of our hostel and asked him to drive down the block a little further. Normally, I would have sucked it up and walked myself, however, I didn't want to take the chance of walking down the street at 3am with all of our bags and potentially being stranded no where near our hostel.
Instead of heeding my advice, he decided that his time would be better spent pacing up and down the street, surveying the area. He finally got back into the cab and tried to tell me that the unlit, closed door, with no sign was indeed where I needed to be. Having done my research on the hostel, I had already seen pictures of the building, so I knew this was not true. After some forceful coaxing, I eventually convinced him to circle the block. He turned across the median of the busy street, proceeded forward as instructed, and then, abruptly, changed his mind. He no longer wanted to go forward. He was now in a reverse kind of mood.
This would have been mildly acceptable, had we been on a small street, or if it had even been the correct direction. However, we were on a busy street with cars flying at us at 40mph and honking and we were going the wrong way! After increasing the decibels in my voice a few more notches, sounding like a squawking goose, he finally put the car in drive. Still our hostel was no where. He erratically pulled over and knocked on one of the unlit doors. A drowsy Peruvian answered with no idea of where our hostel was either. But it just so happened that the man ran a hostel and said that he had a room available for us if we couldn't find our hostel. At 3:30 in the morning, it was a sign.. And we gladly took it. Goodnight.