Buses in Peru

You might remember that riding the buses in Bolivia was not the smoothest experience on the planet… and so we come to the buses in Peru – which in general turned out to be a better experience than in Bolivia…. but not always…!

Our first bus journey in Peru was from Puno to Arequipa, and this bus must have been channeling the ghost of Bolivian buses, because we had a very similar type of incident….  We were sitting near the front of the bus, and as we passed a side road, I noticed a truck coming VERY fast along this side road towards the road that we were on. I thought to myself that this truck must have really good brakes if it’s going to be able to stop in time… yes, that turned out NOT to be the case as there was a sudden loud thud and I felt the bus shunt sideways… the truck had come out of the side road and crashed into the side of the bus – luckily (for us…) it hit the back of the bus and not the area where we were sitting…

The driver slammed on the brakes and went to investigate. It wasn’t a very severe jolt, so the truck must have at least managed to get some kind of braking to happen before it hit us. Nobody was injured, but the bus had a great big dent in it. The truck driver seemed totally unconcerned, had a quick look, and then started to drive off. He then had the cheek to ask the bus driver to move the bus, as it was blocking the side road!

The driver didn’t look too pleased at this request, and so the truck had to reverse before it could drive away. Meanwhile we sat on the bus for around an hour while the driver waited for someone from the bus company to give the go ahead for us to continue…

We also wasted around an hour in Juliaca while the bus driver ate, chatted, and tried to get more customers – and then to cap it all off, there were roadworks in Arequipa which involved us going on a huge detour along bumpy gravel for around an hour. In the end we arrived in Arequipa after 9 hours on the bus – the journey was meant to take 6 hours…

I was pleased to see that the Peruvians embraced the concept of shouting ‘VAMOS, VAMOS’ whenever the bus was needlessly delayed – but also that they stamped their feet and banged the windows – causing the whole bus to vibrate! Presumably to try and shake the driver into actually leaving… not a great strategy when the driver is not actually on the bus…

The next couple of bus journeys were uneventful, so we knew that we must have shaken off our Bolvian bus curse – YES! 🙂  We also discovered that Peru had implemented a few security rules to make bus journeys safer from criminals – and we were quite surprised to find a man with a video camera filming us as we boarded the bus! There was also a man with a hand-held metal detector scanning people as they entered the bus, and nobody was allowed on the bus without showing photo-ID that matched the name and ID number on the bus ticket.

Sounds pretty good and secure eh?! Well, perhaps it would have been – except that there were a few interesting interpretations on how to implement these rules. Some of our favourites were:

– setting up the camera on a tripod facing the bus, but not turning it on.
– filming people getting on the bus with an iphone, but answering a call in the middle of the filming so half the people weren’t on the film.
– holding the metal detector while saying hello to people as they boarded the bus, but not turning it on or scanning anybody with it.
– boarding the bus when it was half full and filming the passengers, then leaving the bus and not filming anybody else afterwards.
– leaving both the camera and metal detector on a desk next to the bus while everybody boards.

The one rule that was generally enforced pretty well at the bus station, was ID checking – BUT, believe it or not, after the bus left the bus station – it actually stopped by the side of the road picking up RANDOM passengers anywhere – no filming, no metal detection, no ID – NOTHING….! Sometimes the first pick up was actually JUST OUTSIDE the bus station gates…!

Now, I’m no criminal mastermind – but perhaps the best way to get on a bus without the security checks would be to get on it outside the bus station gates?

We discovered later that the expensive, posh buses kept to the rules and didn’t pick up passengers except at bus stations – but the problem with those buses (besides costing double) was that most of them only travelled at night… yes and we don’t like night buses…

So the main difference between the Peruvian bus system and the Bolivian bus system,  was that in Peru there existed some modern, clean, comfortable posh buses – as well as the normal, run-down, mechanically dodgy buses, which were pretty much the same as the ones in Bolivia.

We managed to take three of these ‘posh’ buses during our time in Peru – two of them were short runs along the coast between Nasca, Ica, and Lima – these were lovely and comfortable and around 3 to 4 hours each with no extra stops… BUT one of them was a DREADED NIGHT BUS between Abancay and Nasca 🙁

There was no other choice on this route, so we had to get the night bus… the bus was brand new, clean, and comfortable – UNTIL the driver started driving…. we were thrown from side to side as the driver hurtled down the mountain at breakneck speed – doing the journey even faster than the time stated on Google maps…. the route is around TEN hours through the Andes mountains – there are NO flat parts – we watched as people strapped themselves to their seats and wedged all manor of clothing items amongst themselves to try and keep them from being thrown out of their seat as the bus driver drove down the mountain at a speed that could have probably won a rally.

Needless to say we didn’t get ANY sleep – and giving us a breakfast box at the end of the nauseating journey just wasn’t enough to avoid it being voted the ‘WORST BUS JOURNEY OF THE TRIP SO FAR’.

As far as the rest of the bus journeys were concerned, they all followed a similar pattern – at least one of our seats would be damaged in some way, it would leave an hour late, hundreds of passengers would get on and off during the journey, and it would arrive two or three hours late.

The buses were constantly boarded by an array of salespeople of an amazing variety – our bus from Arequipa to Cusco, which lasted ELEVEN hours – managed to cover every imaginable scenario.

First up was the guy who helped load the luggage on the bus – he gave a quick speech telling us that he was the one who put our luggage on the bus, and then went round the bus selling sweets for a ‘contribution’.

Next, came a guy on the bus, who stood up and sang eight or nine songs – with no musical accompaniment – and also quite badly…. He then asked for some contributions from the other passengers. We were quite surprised when he didn’t get off the bus afterwards – usually salespeople and buskers do this so that they can board another bus and repeat the performance again. He actually stayed on the bus all the way to Cusco – so was an actual passenger… I guess that’s one way to pay for your bus fare…

The next guy was a good old-fashioned salesman, with a very polished sales pitch including audience interaction. He started by tricking everybody into listening, by talking about the bus journey, rules of the bus etc – so it seemed like he was the bus conductor or something. Then suddenly, he had smoothly moved to the health benefits of drinking water…. by now he had everybody’s attention…. ‘It’s important to drink AT LEAST two litres of water per day’, he said. ‘Studies show that this has great health benefits’, he said. Suddenly he was was looking at me…. ‘Foreigners know this, they always drink water…. Mr. Tourist – How many litres of water do you drink per day???’.

‘ERM, ERM, FOUR!’, I said….I had unwittingly become part of his sales pitch 🙁

‘YES, YES!’, he shouted… ‘And which is better – soft drinks or beer?’, he continued.

This felt like a trick question – I was scared… ‘Soft drinks?’ I ventured….

‘NO, NO’, he said – ‘BEER! Of course it’s beer’, he continued, ‘If you’ll excuse me ladies and gentlemen, you can tell by the urine’.

I wondered if I had understood him correctly, but then he continued, ‘Yes, when you drink beer your urine is clear – very healthy. And also the flow is very strong, very powerful. The flow is like a fireman’s hose’.

Yes, he did say that…. (well we think he did anyway…he said ‘una manguera de un bombero‘ – we couldn’t think of any other meaning….. 🙂 )

At this point we realised that his tactic was to start talking about the bus journey, move to general health advice, and then once he had established his credentials he could go for an old fashioned sales pitch. He proceeded to try and sell a bunch of lotions, some disolvable powder, and a few other bits and pieces which were all ‘EXTREMELY GOOD for your health’. He had lots of special prices going on – first five people get a discount, buy a lotion and a powder is half price, bulk discounts etc. etc. At the end of it all, he had actually managed to sell quite a lot of stuff – to our surprise… as all the merchandise looked pretty dodgy!

By now, we were wondering who was coming next…. but nobody very interesting came along for quite a while – just drinks sellers, fruit sellers, cake and bread sellers etc. However at around 7pm, we pulled over by the side of the road in a small mountain village and an old lady boarded carrying a huge brown paper sack. What could be in there we wondered….?

We soon found out, as she started shouting to see if anybody wanted a ‘pig dinner’. There were lots of takers for the ‘pig dinner’, and she hoisted her giant paper sack onto the shelf on the bus where the broken coffee dispenser was. To our surprise, when she opened the bag, it didn’t have a bunch of takeaway boxes in it – no…. it contained a WHOLE actual PIG (already dead and cooked thank god….!!!).

She then produced a huge cleaver and started hacking bits off the pig, causing the whole bus to shake. After she had hacked off a few chunks of pig she wrapped them in paper and one of the passengers bought their ‘pig dinner’…

She was on the bus for about 30 minutes – hacking away at the pig, and doing a roaring trade in ‘pig dinners’. We wondered why she didn’t pre-cut the pig – maybe she likes to show it’s just been cooked, or maybe she didn’t have time to do so, or maybe the best cutting surface around is the coffee-machine area of a very old bus… we will never know…

During all our other bus journeys in Peru, we encountered a fair few salesman selling dodgy health products, but we never had another old lady chopping pig on the bus – she was unique.

There’s only really one thing left to say now about buses in Peru – and it’s a complaint I’m afraid… yes, unfortunately in many Peruvian towns and cities (including Lima, Chiclayo, Trujillo, and Nasca) there are multiple bus stations – each bus company runs its own bus station, and often they are not even in the same part of the town or city.

This is a MASSIVE pain – as unlike in other countries, you can’t just go to ‘the bus station’, and then go to the various different company windows to see where and when they go, and how much it costs. NO – In Peru, you have to go to a separate bus station for each company – sometimes they are kilometres apart – and spend half a day trying to work out which bus company goes where you want to go.

You can get a bit of start on the internet, but only the big ‘posh’ companies have websites – none of the smaller local bus companies do. Sometimes you can find some information posted by a previous traveller on a forum, and often somebody local will know which company goes to which place – but the bus companies change their schedules constantly – so the only way to find out when the bus goes, is to traipse to THEIR bus station and ask them… SO BORING….

OK… in truth, you could phone them up as well I suppose – but how are we supposed to do that without a local SIM in our phones….  🙂

ANYWAY, it’s still CRAP to have 12 different bus stations instead of one…. that’s my last word on buses in Peru….

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