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Buses in Peru
Incredibly mismanaged or death traps?!
Here at the Nomada Newsletter, we do NOT recommend taking buses in Peru. There are more deadly bus crashes in Peru than anywhere else…at least from what I’ve seen.
If you want to feel sick to your stomach, simply search “Peru Bus Crash” on YouTube and see for yourself. For example…
The opposite of Nike…Just. Do. Not. Do. It.
This is a guest post from long-term LatAm traveler: @misteritter1
So it was my first time traveling in LATAM as as a naive 24-year-old Gringo. I had just spent the previous 8 months working as an English teacher in Spain, so I was excited to test out my Spanish en latinoamerica.
My dad and I had just finished hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, and we were planning on visiting Lake Titicaca in Bolivia next.
To get there, you need to take a four-hour bus ride from Puno to Copacabana, a town that sits right on the border next to Peru.
This was our first time in LATAM, so we were as naive of Latin American culture as you could imagine.
Being the obsessive compulsive German that he is, my Dad booked us bus tickets months in advance. In a perfectly symmetrical world, the idea was to leave the hotel at 7am, get to the bus station at 7:15am, show our printed out bus tickets, board the bus, and esso es.
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The Realities of LatAm
The day of the bus ride arrives.
We wake up according to plan, check out by 7am, and get on our way to the bus station in Puno.
The taxi driver didn’t want to accept the cash that we had. If you’ve ever been to Bolivia, you’ll know that US dollars are often accepted in place of bolivars. The problem is that the bills have to be in pristine condition so that they can get exchanged for local currency. If there is even a tiny fold or tear, they won’t accept the money.
Ok, whatever. Delayed by a few minutes so we could go to an ATM.
Once we arrived at the bus station, we started looking around amidst the chaos to find out where we could get more information about the departing bus.
We were the only gringos there, with huge backpacks.
A gentlemen told us that we had to pay an impuesto to depart the terminal. This is pretty a pretty common fee you pay in Latin America to leave a bus terminal.
We went to a counter and got the tickets stamped in exchange for the pesos. No problema.
We go back out to the bus and load our huge camping sized backpacks into the holding area of the bus.
My dad and I looked at each other relieved, we finally made it was the mutual expression that we exchanged. With 5 minutes to go ‘til departure.
We get to the entrance of the bus and the bus driver says that he can’t accept our tickets:
“Tienes que ir al mostrador para obtenerlos.”
First lesson in LatAm:
European bureaucracy doesn’t apply here. It doesn’t matter if you buy the tickets online in advance, because 99.999% of people who ride buses in South America buy their tickets directly at the bus station.
We had no idea, but whatever. We still had 5 minutes left to go.
So we left our backpacks in the bus and walked back into the bus station with the printed out tickets.
As soon as we get to the counter we encounter the next problem. The petite Bolivian woman at the counter starts rapidly typing away at the keyboard and squinting her eyes at the computer in front of her:
“No hay mas asientos. Se agotaron.”
What the fuck?! I told her angrily that we had reserved the tickets months in advance, and that we needed to be on that bus. We had a ferry in Copacabana to catch at 12:30, which would take us to Isla del Sol.
I translated this to my dad, who started getting very agitated.
3 minutes until departure.
She starts typing away again rapidly, and shakes her head.
Normally I would’ve accepted the situation, but my dad stepped in and started yelling:
“WE ARE GETTING ON THAT FUCKING BUS!!”
I nervously translate my dad’s visible anger, and the woman looks at us and tells us there’s nothing we can do. Besides, ya salío.
She told us the bus had already left and there was nothing else she could do.
At this point my dad became irate:
“OUR FUCKING BAGS ARE ON THAT BUS!!”
Again, I translated, but this time sharing some of the mutual anger from my dad. The woman looked at us nervously, understanding the seriousness of the situation.
She whips out her phone and starts calling the driver over WhatsApp and speaking frantically in Spanish. Mi español was not suficiente para entenderla.
At this point, she starts rapidly typing on the keyboard, faster than I’ve ever seen anyone type, prints out a small piece of paper, and just leaves the counter without saying anything to us.
What Do We Do?
Should we follow her? Should we wait?
We were clueless, but decided that the urgency of the situation meant running after this woman. We needed answers, as well as our fucking backpacks.
Now this woman was fast. She ran out of the station, and started running through the streets of Puno.
I was about 20 meters behind her, with my dad close behind me.
We turned a corner and voilá. There was the bus.
We get to the bus and she starts talking to the driver. We had no idea what was gonna happen.
Apparently, they decided that they had oversold tickets, and they needed to kick off some poor souls who had already paid for their tickets.
Coincidentally, they picked the only other foreigners, two french tourists.
They convinced the French guy that they could sit on the lower level of the bus, but after finding out that we wouldn’t sit next to his girlfriend, Frenchie refused.
The passengers were starting to get pissed. The whole situation had already delayed the bus by about 20 minutes.
My dad and I were standing in the middle of the aisle looking cluelessly at everyone.
Eventually, we came to the agreement that everyone had to be on that bus. I ended up sitting for four hours on the ground until we reached the border for passport control.
But as karma has it, and the universe has a funny way of dealing with these things, the only people to get held up at the border for expired passports were the Frenchies.
Nothing felt better than taking their seats.