Monday, August 21, 2006

Day 13: The Bus Ride from Hell.

This day sucked. I believe it's safe to say that this was definitely the worst day of our trip. Allow me to elaborate.

As expected, Alin and I got up at about 8:00AM for a short breakfast with time to wrap up a few loose ends and make our way to the bus station. As expected, at around 8:45AM we rendezvoused with our driver on the street near our apartment. He was waiting patiently for us, reading a news paper in the morning light.

Once we made eye contact and established that he was indeed our ride, he helped us with our belongings and made our way to the station. We arrived at the station at 9:00AM on the dot. With our possessions in hand, we made our way to our bus counter. There appeared to be a small crowd forming outside the small office. The people staffing the businesses appeared to be concerned and speaking very fast in Spanish. After 5 minutes of standing patiently and being ignored, we decided to try and understand what was going on. After a few failed attempts, we were finally able to ask him what was happening.

He was dealing with a bit of a crisis at the moment. Apparently, our very comfortable bus with reclining chairs, built in TVs, and music had broken down on it's late night return from Puno. Our bus operator had no bus for us to take to Puno. They scrambled trying to secure a means of transportation for us, with various members of their staff coming and going from their booth.

After about 45 minutes, they finally revealed their master plan. They had apparently negotiated a deal with one of the competing bus operators, securing us tickets for our trip. Alin and I were provided two consecutive tickets which we used to board our bus. When we got on, we realized we had been screwed. WIth no kick-backs or reimbursements, we were put on a an aging bus with broken seats, no TVs, no form of entertainment of any kind. As we arrived at our seats, we realized that our assigned seats were split across two rows and we'd be sitting on opposite sides. I headed back out to talk to the bus operator and he took our tickets and gave us a new pair that he guaranteed would be good to go.

Back on the bus, we made our way to our seats only to find that one of our seats was being occupied by a local. We tried to talk to her and she didn't seem to have any interest in understanding. We went back out and the bus operator came back on board to help us. He gave us new seats and we were finally able to get seated.

After the bus finally boarded, about 30 minutes later, we finally headed out. About 5 minutes outside the bus station, our bus stopped and picked up some locals. It appears that these locals could board the bus for a reduced fee and were required to stand. This family with three kids boarded and headed to the back of the bus. Trouble ensued. The mother and father struggled to hold the kids while standing. For over an hour, they stood there with restless kids, kids that were struggling in my personal space making my ride uncomfortable.

Finally, some people stepped off and a few of the locals were able to sit down behind Alin and I. Unfortunately, Alin had some how managed to break the restraint on the seat back and the seat was reclining, completely consuming the personal space of the person behind us. They mother and her child were jammed into a corner with Alin's seat back leaning right against the mother and child. Finally, annoyed, the mother confronted us and asked us to straighten our seat. Alin insisted that it wasn't intentional and that the seat was broken.

About 2 hours into our 6 hour journey, our bus stopped off and picked up a few more people. One of these people appeared to be a traveling salesman. He spent over 45 minutes trying to sell us on the positive attributes of his fizzy mineral powder. I was not having it and was going to lose control.

Just when we thought we had reprieve from the salesman, our previous salesman hopped off and a new one hopped on. This one selling more crap that no one was interested in. I was furious. We paid good money for what was supposed to be a comfortable and luxurious bus. Instead, we were put on a decrepit bus with hostile locals, broken seats, and infomercials.

After some time, Alin and I grew quite hungry. Unfortunately, we stupidly packed our food inside our bags that were now under the bus in the storage compartment. We held our hunger as we made our way down south.

As the further we got from the major cities, the roads became more and more hazardous. The roads were littered with pot holes and our bus would bump, vibrate, jump, and swerve for hours at a time. At one point, our bus came to a complete stop. Upon further inspection, we found that the entire road was backed up for over a mile due to some unknown reason. Nevertheless, we made the best of the situation. We stepped out, stretched our legs and picked up some food from some local vendors who came on board to sell their wares.

After 30 minutes, our bus decided to take action. Our driver rode up onto the embankment and made headway off into town. When he finally got there, he swerved, turned, and charged forward through back-streets and alley's to avoid the bumper to bumper traffic. Within an additional 30 minutes, we were clear of the congestion and back on the bumpy and uncomfortable road.

After 7 and a half hours on this bus, we finally arrived in Puno. The Puno bus station appeared to be far from the city center with no clear instructions on where to go or how to get there. We made our way to an information booth to pick up some details on local hotels and took a taxi out to the city center. He took us straight away to the Mercado Central, which was conveniently located in the middle of several highly rated hotels. We checked out a few places and settled on the Santa Maria Hostel.

We settled in and made our way out to go explore. I picked up some Doritos for Alin because she was craving them on our bus ride to Puno as we made our way to the major tourist street. We walked up and down this street, looking for a place to eat dinner. We decided that we'd share a wonderful dinner at a reknown restaurant called Ukuku's.

It's a small restaurant, situated on the second floor of a building, in an unlikely ally. For dinner, we each had a glass of Sangria, I ordered alpaca saltado, and Alin had the chicken with pineapple. Both were delicious.

After dinner, we made our way back towards our hotel and stumbled across an internet cafe. We decided to step in and check up on email, family, and the rest of the world. While there, Alin looked up the details on a nearby resort, where we'd be staying for our 1 year anniversary. Alin shared some pictures of our trip thus far with her sister and mom while we all laughed at how silly we looked. After an hour or so, we grew tired and decided it'd be best to head back to our hotel.

Once we got back, we took turns taking a much needed shower. After that, we curled up in bed and went off to sleepy land.

What a dreadful day that was.

-s

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