20 things that happen on buses in Peru

I know, 20 seems a lot, doesn’t it? But the thing is, I’ve spent a lot of time on buses here. Of the last 48 hours, over 30 involved me sat on a bus (I know, I know: when I told the woman at the travel agency that I’ve arranged my time here in Huancayo with that I had come from Cusco and was going to Machu Picchu next I got a look of ‘But WHY?!’ All I can say is that it made sense at the time.) But anway, suffice to say that I’ve had a lot of time to spent thinking about the oddities of buses.

20. You get on the bus and someone comes round with a camera taking mugshots. It’s unclear whether this is because you might be a hijacker, or so that they can more easily identify your body when the vehicle goes over a cliff.

19. You notice that there is a sign by the front seats on the top deck. It is of the ‘remember, you may die’ variety, pointing out  if you’re not wearing your seatbelt, you WILL end up going straight through the windscreen. It may be true, but it’s not EXACTLY reassuring.

18. There is a departure tax in the terminal. Of a bizarre and arbitrary amount: 1.20S, 0.90S, 1.60S. Where are these people getting all of their change from?!

17. You have opted for a window seat. Yet for some unknown reason it always ends up being the gap between two windows where there is no window, with any residual potential view blocked by the curtains that stubbornly refuse to draw back. And the strange black substance inexplicably covering the outside of part of the window too…

16. Before the bus can leave, the post van pulls up with a set of boxes that are unceremoniously lobbed here, there and everywhere. Even the ones labelled ‘FRAGILE’. Not exactly FedEx…

15. This is by far the least odd thing loaded under the coach, however. Items range from child-size rucksacks to enormous bags of potatoes (we’re talking ‘two men to lift’ weight), not forgetting the bags of live chickens. Just don’t bring a cat: they’re bad luck. Oh, and remember, everything is labelled (even the enormous saucepan of raw meat), and you’re not getting it back if you lose your ticket. Like anyone else wants it…

14. You realise that there are an awful lot of signs about people trafficking. Most appear to be of the ‘how to’ variety, with a small  warning in the bottom right hand corner that this is highly illegal and all offenders will be prosecuted. Right. Not entirely convincing.

13. As soon as you arrive at the terminal to board your bus, you are bombarded with people trying to persuade you that you want a taxi back into the city you just came from. For an excellent price, of course.

12. Similarly, the most persistent sales people at the terminal are the ones flogging tickets to somewhere you have no intention of going. But they just won’t take no for an answer. Am I meant to snap in the end and say ‘Yes, what the hell, I was going to go to Lima but I’ll go for Puno instead, since you’re offering such a good price.’?

11. The woman handing out the meals on the bus is dressed like a flight attendant, complete with hair scrunchie and matching red shoes. But as the bus goes over the Andes, she also has a spare coat and a woolly pair of socks. And spends most of her time wrestling windows open and shut for people.

10. You think it’s lovely that you’re being offered sweeties as you go over a mountain pass. Then a bag is offered too and you realise it’s meant to stop you being sick everywhere. You are glared at when you refuse the bag: think you’re invincible, do you?

9. The first badly dubbed science fiction film you see is OK. By the time you’ve reached the fifth of the omnibus DVD, you’re wishing the predicted apocalypse would hurry up and happen already. Plus you’re a bit disconcerted by how avidly the small children around you are watching all of the gore.

8. Having been lulled into a false sense of security, believing that the seat next to you is unoccupied, you have spaced into it, only for someone to appear, utterly spread out (we’re talking armrest control, foot space invasion, the works) and fall asleep, snoring loudly for the next 20 hours. Do you climb over them or wake them up to use the toilet? Or do you just hold on..?

7. The service station you stop at appears half constructed. There are three versions of the same shop, only one of which has any stock, whilst the toilets are being fiercely guarded by a boy who looks about 5. On the other hand, there are various kinds of soup, chicken and fried rice available, and what you don’t finish you can take away in a polystyrene container (just to add to the lovely fresh fragrance of the bus). The drivers appear to have their own secret clubhouse.

6. The windscreen is cracked in various places. Some cracks have been patched with sellotape. The advantage of this? The glass isn’t going to suddenly shatter into the driver’s eyes. The disadvantage? It’s not the cleanest or the clearest, so he’s having to peer through big grimy grubby strips to see the twists and turns of the road, and stop the bus plunging into a bottomless abyss in the middle of the night.

5. The people who want to get off early are never actually ready to get off when the time comes, leading to frantic shouts of ‘let me off, let me off’ as the bus pulls away, their luggage unloaded but them not.

4. The use of mobile phones with obnoxiously loud ringtones is prevalent, particularly by older women who aren’t quite sure how they work. Queue lots of repeated ‘Hola! HOLA! CAN YOU HEAR ME?’. Updates of progress are usually along the ‘I’m on the bus’ lines. No-one is ever ready and waiting to pick them up when the bus arrives at the terminal.

3. The concept of the terminal is a sketchy one, particularly in Lima where it doesn’t appear to exist. Everyone helpfully sends you in the wrong direction for the office you’re looking for, or informs you that buses don’t go there, or not at this time, or only from ‘arriba’. It is only when the bus is actually pulling out from across the road that you realise this is all lies, damned lies.

2. The conductor feels that it is wise patrolling the bus at frequent intervals loudly reminding everyone that the on-board toilet is for urinating only. ‘Cause it’ll stink if you shit in there. So if you need to go, knock on the door and let us know’. Obviously this is a popular course of action for the discreet traveller.

1. When it’s time to get off, there’s a free-for-all and if you miss your slot, you’re doomed to be the last left on the bus. Oh, and you will smack your head on the low-hanging TV. The children giggling indiscreetly at this are probably more entertained than they have been all trip. So you are useful for something…

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