Lima, Peru, Backpacking, South America

Our 54 Hour Bus Ride to Colombia

Saturday September 14, 2013

Lima, Peru, Backpacking, South America

So you know how I was just talking a few days ago about how there was no way we could add Bolivia to our list because it was going to be hard enough squeezing three countries into our visit? Â Well, make that two now. Â We’ve decided to skip out on Ecuador since we feel that if we do both that and Colombia, we won’t really get the full experience of either country. Â I don’t think either of us expected that we’d have spent over two weeks in Peru, but there was so much to see and so much to catch our interest that we couldn’t just whiz through it, only stopping in one or two places. Â This is what we feel would happen if we tried to fill two countries into our last two weeks. Â Sure, we could spend one day in about two different towns in each country, but that would be it. Â Even from where we’re sitting in Mancora, going to Bogota is almost 800 miles just in travel as the crow flies. Â Traveling there in a bus at speeds of 40 mph while you wind through mountains and treatcherous terrain, and it becomes a very long trip. Â Another 300 miles from Bogota to where our plane departs in Medellin and I think it’s safe to say that just a couple of those days will be eaten up by travel. If I had to do it again, I would just get a jet card membership at Jettly to lessen my travel time.

So we’re leaving out Ecuador.  People just keep giving so much praise to Colombia that we want to be able to experience it just as much as we’ve done Peru.  Which, I should note, we could easily spend our next two weeks here and not get bored.  I am SO glad that we chose this country to visit.  It was really hard to say good-bye this morning, and if we hadn’t already purchased our forwarding bus tickets back in Lima, I probably would have been able to talk Matt into a few more days here.  But we had no other option than to leave at two o’clock that afternoon, so we made the most of what time we had left there.  Packing our bags was no easy feat, I swear they grow bigger each city we stop at.  Which I guess technically they are, since we seem to buy some kind of souvenier at each place we stop.  In Mancora, it was a blanket sized sarong that we’ll now be able to lay on beaches with, without the fear of dragging sand back to the boat since it will shake right off of it, unlike a towel.  After that was finished we paid our bill at the hostel and spent our remaining time laying on the beach and going out for one more lunch.  I am really, really going to miss this place.

enjoying a Cristal beer on the beach in Mancora Peru

lunch in Mancora Peru

I think I’m going to miss you most, $4 meal (including beer).

Having just a little bit of Peruvian money left as we arrived at the bus station, we filled our backpacks with a few more snacks and drinks for the ride.  When our bus finally pulled into the station an hour and a half late, it was not at all what we were expecting.  For a direct ride that was going to take over 2 days, we thought it might be more luxurious than the normal buses we were riding, not that they had been at all bad, but come on.  2 straight days on a bus?  It better be a pretty frickin comfortable ride.  But this was not the double decker bus we were used to.  This was a bottom of the line bus.

When we approached our seats, we found a younger Latin girl already in it.  We pointed to the seat numbers on the bus and then at the matching numbers on our tickets, and waited while she moved 50 different pieces of belongings to the open seats on the other side of the aisle, including a fuzzy blanket that had me spending the first hour of our ride pulling pink colored fuzzies off my clothes.  It also turns out that our new seats disrupted a conversation with the people sitting in front of us that she had been talking too.  No matter to her, she just continued the conversation over us at a louder volume.  Yes, I know it’s part of the Latin culture to be loud and talkative, but if there’s one thing that can instantly get on my nerves, it’s loud or high pitched noises.  It’s why I tend to avoid crowds in general. She, happened to be both.

A few hours later my stomach began to growl and I was about to pull out one of my snacks except that I expected dinner to be served at any moment.  It was normally served around 6 pm, and I was getting extremely excited to have a hot meal and a cold drink placed in front of me.  Except it never came!  Even though we were using the same bus line we had been since we’d gotten to Peru, this particular class of bus did not serve food either.  It was looking like it was going to be a very long 2 days.  As we pulled into customs and immigration that evening to check out of Peru and into Ecuador, there was a quick run to the tienda across the street for some Doritos and Coke.  Just when we had been starting to eat healthier meals, we were thrown back into old habits of chips and pop for dinner.

The next morning around 10:30 we made a stop in a large town in Ecuador called Quito to unload passengers and take on some new ones.  I was tempted to run into the streets to see what kind of street vendor food I could pick up, but I had no idea how much time we were stopped for.  When we were picked up in Mancora, I don’t think the process took more than five minutes.  I decided not to get off.  Getting on though, was another young gringo couple close to our age.  I was elated when I found out they held the seats right next to us.  Finally, someone we could talk to.  They went through the same process we did of having to kick out the same Latina girl and also subsequently spent the next hour picking pink fuzzies from their clothes.  We found out the name of our new friends were Ardun and Jen, and they hailed from Australia.

As our bus set off and bumped along again, we found out that just like Hannah and Kyle, they’re taking a few months to take on South and Central America.  Except unlike our other friends, their lives basically revolve around traveling.  A few years ago, they actually road tripped across the United States by living in a Dodge Ram camper and even wrote a book about it called Boon Dockers.  The four of us got along great, and during our one stop of the day for lunch, we had a great time recounting our stories from our South American travels so far.  Jen and I also united while, during our check in to Colombia that night, we tried to stall the bus driver from leaving as the guys ran down to a street vendor to grab us all dinner.  For a moment there, we thought the four of us were going to be stranded on the side of the road.

Jen & Ardun Ward

 (Photo courtesy of Jen & Ardun Ward)

Even though there were the occasional leg cramps and having to hunt down toilet paper since the bus didn’t supply any, the trip was looking up.  We’d learned to stash food when we could, they finally added subtitles to the movies, and we had some great and interesting people to talk to.  I was feeling quite content when my eyes began drooping just after 10 and and settled in for another night’s sleep.  I didn’t find it too unusual, when just after midnight, the bus rolled to a stop.  I figured it was a requested bathroom or food stop since we were in front of a gas station.  One of the stewards walked down the aisle to give a quick speech, and people began floating on and off the bus, and smiling and laughing as they talked to each other.  Pretty routine I figured, and tried to go back to bed.

The bright lights and talking had woken Jen and Arudun up though, and I overheard a conversation she started with the bilingual guy behind her, trying to get more information of what was going on.  “Oh nothing”, he replied, “We’re all fine, it’s nothing”.  “But I just heard the steward say ‘peligro'”, she countered, “That’s the word for danger”.  That’s when the guy broke down told her what was really going on.  There were reports of guerrillas that had stopped and robbed three buses ahead of us, and we could be next in line.  We were stopping  at this gas station to take on military protection.  It was at that time that we all looked forward to see one of the military men boarding, a loaded AK 47 in his hand.

Through more persuading, we learned that the intended plan was to bring three military men on board with us.  Two would board the bus, standing at the front and the back, and another would be stowed below with our luggage.  Matt and I looked at each other in utter shock.  Our thoughts turned to everything we had on us.  Two cameras, two computers, two e-readers, and $600 in cash.  We started scanning the seats for any crevices we thought we might be able to hide our belongings in, but we knew the search was fruitless.  If we were stopped, the guerrillas would find it.  We settled on stuffing a good portion of the cash in the seat back, while I tucked $50 into my underwear.  We’d heard that if stopped, they line all passengers up next to the bus and make you empty your pockets, plus take off your shoes and socks.  I couldn’t think of any other place that hiding money might be safe.

As we started moving again, my breaths were short and shallow.  It was one of those things that I had a feeling deep down inside that everything would be fine, but the armed guard next to me reminded me that it might not.  I wasn’t worried for my safety, apparently after they ransack the bus they send you back on your way, just minus all your belongings.  But loosing all our belongings would still be a pretty big blow to us.  All the curtains were pulled shut inside the bus and every light was turned off except a few red bulbs running along the aisle.  Most people took the cue of what a sobering situation it was and kept quiet.  Not the Latina girl that had been seat hopping.  She made it a point to stand in the aisle in her glittery tank top, loudly talking with the person in the seat behind her and making sure the good looking military guy could see her every time she tossed her hair back and laughed.  I kind of wanted to smack her.

An hour later we rolled again to a stop.  We had made it out of the danger zone unscathed.  The military men were unloaded and we continued on our way once more.  I know part of me still should have been a little scared and a little alert, but by this point, I was just exhausted.  Young Latina girl had finally quieted herself, and I was ready for sleep.

The next morning we said goodbye to Ardun and Jen as they departed the bus in Cali, and we still had a few hours left until Bogota.  By now the bus was nearly empty and we were able to space ourselves out a bit more as well.  Loud Latina girl was gone, also having got off in Cali, and I was able to spend the remaining hours of the afternoon sleeping in something other than the fetal position, and getting some work done on my computer.  We’d covered a lot of miles, skipped one country, and almost had all our belongings stolen, but 54 hours after first boarding our bus, we were ready to explore Colombia.  Once we get to our hostel, eat, shower, and sleep.