Friday, June 17, 2005

Buses and More Buses

After three weeks in Peru, I am surprised to check my map and discover that I haven´t even covered half of the north-south distance of this country. It is a big place! But I am moving at light speed now and will be making more giant steps in the next two weeks. Unfortunately for me, down here, covering lots of territory inevitably involves taking night buses.

On Monday night I took a bus from Cuzco to Ica, a city near the coast, and at 400 meters, the lowest altitude I have been at in nearly three months, by a margin of almost 2000 meters. As some of you may know, I have a very difficult time sleeping if I´m not totally reclined, so I spent most of those 17 hours reading, listening to music or trying to watch the stupid movie they showed--an action movie with lots of explosions and shooting, like in almost all the bus movies I´ve seen. And of course (Murphy´s law) I was sitting across from a very loud snorer, who fell asleep basically as soon as the bus started moving and didn´t wake up until we arrived.

Anyway, at Ica I went directly to Huacachina, a tiny oasis in the middle of the desert, where the specialty is dune buggy rides and learning to sandboard! Fun fun fun! I met some other travellers, and had some time to read in the sun and climb the dunes. But after only one night it was time for another bus. This time it was only 9 hours, and actually, I´m getting much better at this. I manage to put myself into a sort of trance, where I´m not exactly sleeping but where I don´t go crazy from being in a confined and uncomfortable space like I used to. Anyway, this bus took me to Ayacucho, where I am now. Oh yeah, but before the bus I also saw "Mr. & Mrs (Sr. y Sra.) Smith" which I enjoyed more than I expected, and it was only $3 for entrance, popcorn and a drink!

Ayacucho is a welcome escape from the "Gringo Trail" as it´s not a highly touristed place, despite being a nice little city. In fact, one of the major draws for me was that 15 years ago, it would have been impossible for me to visit it. Ayacucho´s University was the breeding ground for the Sendero Luminoso ("Shining Path"), a terrorist group which was at work in Peru in the ´80s. This was a very dangerous place to be at that time, and foreigners were not welcome. The Sendero´s leader was captured in 1992 and while the group still exists, it is small and located in other regions. Ayacucho is also where a decisive battle was fought for independence from Spain. So, all in all, a very historic place! It´s also refreshingly normal. I´ve seen only about 10 other tourists, and I attract a little bit of attention, mostly from older women and schoolchildren who seem very interested in the "gringita". They want to talk to me and ask me about where I´m from, and if I´m travelling alone (they all seem so concerned when I say I am, so sometimes I invent friends or a boyfriend waiting for me in Lima). So I´ve been just hanging out, walking around, checking out the crafts, and having the $1 lunch menu (yesterday I ate at a place called "Kevin Chicken´s").

Actually, today I had to visit a doctor, because it seems I picked up a case of pinkeye--probably from someone on the bus. I completely blanked on the name "conjunctivitis", which is the same in Spanish, and I kept calling it "Ojo Rosado" ("pink eye"), which made the doctor´s receptionist think I couldn´t speak or understand Spanish at all (apparently they just call it "ojo rojo"--red eye). As a result, when I went in to see the doctor she spoke extremely slowly and loudly, as if I was an idiotic, deaf child. But anyway, in the end we understood each other just fine and now I have eyedrops to cure me. Which means hopefully I won´t pass it on to too many other people when I get on my next bus, tomorrow night, to Lima.