Something To Be Thankful For

December 13, 2008 at 9:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I had another great trip with two high school friends over Thanksgiving rounding out a November of travels and finishing the month with 19 soles ($6) in my bank account (!). Two of my oldest friends flew down and did Cuzco on their own before we all met up in Puno, which sits on Lake Titicaca, an enormous lake shared by Peru and Bolivia. All the Peruvians say that “Titi” is the Peruvian side and “caca” the Bolivian side. To me it all looked beautiful. We spent only a day in Puno, a little over 24 hours, getting up early to head out to see the floating islands. Back when the Incas invaded (according to our guide), several of the locals escaped on rafts, grouped them together, and they eventually anchored. Now there is a community of 52 floating islands, all made from reeds from the lake. Their huts are constructed with all organic material, and some of the islands even have solar powered electricity. It was one of the more impressive things I have seen in my time here. From there we went to another island, Taquile, which, given the description, seems a bit like a communist utopia. Everyone works, everyone contributes, and everyone receives from the communal ‘pot’. A group of authorities oversees the island, its inhabitants, and all their disputes. The most interesting thing about Taquile was that people use clothing to communicate about certain characteristics – whether they are single, married, or dating, whether they are working or studying, even whether or not they are in a good mood on that particular day.

At 9pm we headed out to take an overnight bus to Arequipa. Upon arrival at the bus station, the bus company, Cruz del Sur, informed us that the bus had been cancelled. They gave us no warning, and in no way tried to contact us. We frantically searched for seats on another bus that was leaving that evening, finally settling on Sur Oriente, a company I wasn’t familiar with. This was a huge mistake. In retrospect, we probably should have stayed another night in Puno, and waited until the next day to travel to Arequipa. At 3 am the bus ran up over the guard rail and after some very bumpy jolts came to a halt. We were traveling over large mountain passes, and no one knew if we were on the edge of an abyss or about to tip over into a gorge. Miraculously, the idiot bus driver managed to crash on one of the very few parts of the road that had some give on either side, so we ended up on a tilt with two tires blown out, but otherwise safe and unharmed. One of the passengers told us that the bus driver had been drunk, and had fled on the first car that had driven by, taking with him the key to the luggage compartment. So there we were at 3am on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, freezing and without our bags. No cell service, no police, no help, no nothing. After about an hour, some men had figured out how to break into the luggage through the top floor of the bus, and one by one pulled out our suitcases. Then more waiting, attempts to hail down buses and cars driving by to see if they would take us the last hour of the ride into Arequipa. Bus after bus passed us by, and finally one stopped. The men who had helped with our suitcases pushed us through the crowd and helped us get onto the bus.

In an evening we saw the worst (irresponsible drunken bus driver) and the best (strangers who busted into the luggage compartment to get our things, then ensured our safety by helping us get to our destination) of Peru. There were some Polish tourists on the bus, and after the crash they kept saying, “where are the police, where is the bus company, why haven’t they come to fix the bus”. I tried to explain to them that we were at that point in no man’s land, and that if they wanted to get out of there they would have to make it happen themselves. It’s scary knowing there is no authority coming to save the day, but heartwarming that people were there to help, people who don’t know me from Adam (or Eve). We arrived to Arequipa at 6am on Thanksgiving day, tired and scared, but otherwise unharmed.

Arequipa was beautiful, and I wish we had had more time there. To be honest, the rest of the trip passed as if part of a dream. My friends both freaked out (understandably) after the crash, while being the ‘host’, I did my best to hold it together. All things considered, we all handled the incident well. Except, after seeing my friends off on Sunday morning, that night I boarded my bus to take the flat journey back to Chiclayo, and I lost it. I guess it was the first time in a week that I hadn’t been in charge, didn’t need to be ‘in charge’ and thus, spent the first two hours out of Lima in and out of tears, explaining to my bewildered fellow passengers about my adventures from the days before. I think I felt responsible since I made the travel arrangements, and guilty for making my friends endure such an ordeal, not to mention terrified for what could have been. It was a very intense experience to have shared with people I’ve known well for over 12 years, and in the end it gave the three of us something to be very thankful for.

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