22 hour bus rides are not fun. This is probably obvious, but until you have had the pleasure of trying the bus ride from Lima to Cusco through the Andes, whipping around switch-back mountain roads in the middle of the night on tiny roads in a double-decker bus, you may not know just how awful. We sure didn’t, although we definitely had warnings.
At breakfast the morning of our departure, we were chatting about our bus trip with some of the other hostel guests. One of the other guests, a Spanish guy who had just moved to Lima to look for work, had taken this trip before and told us that it was, “Horrible.”
Spanish guy: “So, what are you taking to help you sleep on the bus?”
Us: “Oh, nothing. The seats supposedly lie almost completely horizontal, so we should be fine.”
Spanish guy: (shaking his head ruefully) “…Brave Americans.”
Smarter people would have gone straight out to buy sleeping pills. Not us. We’re intrepid explorers! Instead of sleeping pills, we just grabbed a sandwich and some water for the trip. Turns out these items would not prove terribly helpful.
The company we chose, Cruz del Sur, deserves its excellent reputation. The company caters pretty much exclusively to tourists (the price guarantees that…our two tickets cost $125 total), but they offer WiFi on board, serve you two meals, and have seats as comfortable as you would want for such a long bus trip. Well, they say they offer WiFi on board – it didn’t work for us. Most importantly, their busses don’t tend to go off the side of the mountains, and that was really the #1 criterion for us.
Our ride started innocently enough. We meandered through Lima’s enormous urban sprawl along the Pacific coast until we left the city and started seeing enormous sand dunes straddling the highway along with some pretty spectacular views of a Pacific sunset. Then we slowly started our ascent. About 3 hours later, the proverbial wheels fell off.
This trip takes you from basically sea level Lima to Andes mountain town Cusco, at 11,200 feet. But you don’t go straight up. Instead, you climb for about 19 hours of switch-back roads in the middle of the night and early morning. And the switch-backs are not gentle: you will roll around in your seat if not either plastered against the window or holding on to the arm rest for stability. When the barf bags were passed around “for the altitude,” we knew we were in trouble.
Although we didn’t have to use our barf bags, I (Mike) did have to call some dinosaurs from the bus restroom, after which I was chided by our steward who was possibly the nicest Peruvian man on earth. Apparently, the restrooms are for “urines only” (his phrase, not mine), and although I did feel pretty bad about breaking their rule, it’s not exactly the most rewarding rebellious act of my life. In any event, the rest of the bus ride (only 10 hours left!) was spent alternating between saying that we loved each other and holding our stomachs while trying not to pray for death. Fun!
Ultimately, we learned some valuable lessons from our 22-hour-tour:
1) Take freaking sleeping pills when someone tells you a bus trip is “Horrible.”
2) Take the altitude sickness meds we have before getting on a bus climbing 11,500 feet.
3) Finally, to paraphrase Chris Rock: There’s no barfing in the “urines only” bathroom.