July ’09


“Kiwi”, as she was nicknamed, was the first person I sat alongside on a long, overnight bus journey in Argentina. A shy, non-talkative, middle-aged Bolivian woman on her way back home. In response to my interested expression she gave me a detailed monologue of the beautiful plaza I was gazing at just outside of Buenos Aires where we left. Unable to comprehend how a person couldn’t speak Spanish, she continued to ask me questions in an ever-increasing annoyed tone. She did, however, give me one of the three kiwi-fruits she was carrying, and thereafter removed herself and her belongings to a vacant seat a few rows back. She returned a few hours later, easing my hurt feelings (not to mention the cold seat next to me). But salt was added to the wounds when the bus driver announced I was at my destination. the old bag knew I was departing the bus and so took up her origional place, with me out of the picture. The kiwi-fruit giving still baffles me. Maybe where she is from it is a hoax. Who knows … she might have even attempted to poison me with it. Travel hint to others: learn how to speak Spanish before boarding public transport, or risk your life being seated among the elderly.

“The snoarer”, be it male or female, who periodically passes gas in their relaxed state. This scenario occured on more than one ocassion while I travelled through Bolivia and Peru. I am sure most people can sympathise, having been in a nearby seat to one of these oblivious souls before.

“The drunk, obese, excuse for a human being” who takes up more than is comfortable of your already-tiny seat, squashing you into the corner of the side of the bus while he/she spills fat rolls and sausage appendages into the isle. My former experience did not end there. The former frunk (fat drunk) who passed out half on top of me momentarilly awoke to a blurred world through his drunken stupor. Without realising, he sang at the top of his lungs to whatever hideous song was blaring from his overloud earphones. This was syncronised by flinging flabby arms and sausage fingers wide open. During one of these outbursts I received an unexpected blow to the head, followed by a minor knock from the follow-through of blubber which followed his limb’s actions like a wake. He got up at some point during the night, probably in search of more beer. I took the opportunity to relieve my toes of my bag, placing it carefully on the beer-soaked seat beside me – now dented with indistinguishably wide buttock cheeks. Before I knew what was happening, a giant shadow covered my bag, followed by the heavy load of the frunk. He had passed out on his feet, which gave way, and gravity forced his body downwards onto my bag. The attempt at politely waking him proved fruitless. I proceeded to push with all my strangth, growing increasingly worried that my camera and other belongings were on their way to material heaven, smelling of beer. Not a pleasant way to leave this life. I eventually managed to pull my bag out from under his heavy hind, unscathed. After waking the entire bus and missing the toilet bowl at the back of the bus, the frunk was threatened to be kicked off the bus. He left for a mere ten minutes at one stop but, to my dismay,was back next to me by the time we started moving again. Needless to say I had a sleepless night, guarding my chest area in wait for the unpredictable arm-flinging outbursts which continued well into the uncomfortable hours of the morning. The looks of sympathy from other passengers I glanced back at through exhausted eyes were the most genuine I have ever seen.

Then there is the screaming kid who must be dehydrated from so much tear and snot loss at the end of ten hours. As for the rest of us … deafness, sky-rocketing irritation levels, headaches and another sleepless night. Add a grumpy man who makes it his life’s purpose to make it impossible for you to cross over him to go to the toilet (at this point I would like to point out what a luxury it is to have a toilet on the bus, even if it is the size of a cardboard bus, spells of urine and lacks toilet paper), and you are guaranteed a third world bus experience.

This brings me to Jeorge. Not much company on the bus as he slept half the time and ate the rest, but a genuinely pleasant day we spent together. I made contact with him the previous night via email, arranging to fly over the Nazca lines the next morning as my bus arrived in Nazca, southern Peru. Jeorge was a tour guide and was recemmended by the travel-guide I had. Having arranged the fee and details, I arrived at 5 a.m., on the street as the bus companies operated independantly from small offices just off the main highway. Not knowing where I was, in the dark hours of the early morning, a solitary female, no Jeorge in sight, I seeked refuge at the closest hotel I could find, laughing at myself to have thought something this casual could have been pulled off. But, to my surprize, one phone call later and Jeorge and I were shaking hands in greeting. He had been drinking coffee waiting for me, a simple explanation. The skeptic in me kept looking out for signs of having been ripped-off as we took a taxi to the small airport. The deal we had seemed a bit shadey, and could have been had it have happened with another guide. The weather was coming in and even though I was amongst the first to arrive at the fixed-wing runway, I had to wait three hours before boarding a six-man plane. The standard price and airport tax were the only other necessities I was charged. Jeorge kept me informed of the progress. The weather cleared eventually to a cloudless day and I squeezed into the first available single seat. I had booked last minute whereas some tours were arranged a year in advance. It helps being single on occassions and knowing the right person to go through. Even though I had a dent in my wallet after the flight and an uneasy stomache, I was ecstatic. The 40 minutes in the air were breath-taking. A certificate and peruvian broach from Jeorge were a nice touch. We walked back to the bus stop via a friend’s house, a local potter who makes ceramic replicas, dated BC, from the Nazca, Moche and Paracas cultures. The full-on demonstration I received of how a piece is made using clay and later painted made the skeptic in me wonder if this was just for show. But the genuinity and easy attitude of the man when it was clear I was not going to buy anything made me warm to him. Jeorge accompanied me on the next bus to the next major city. He was meeting his niece and taking her to the cinema. On arrival he made sure I was safely on my next bus before even thinking of saying farewell.

The tip I gave him felt like too little and too much at the same time as I felt he deserved more than what I could afford but then again it felt wrong paying someone who had become my friend. A promise from me to stay in touch and a promise from him to see the movie I had recommended left us both feeling as though we had gained the most of our time together. A warm hug later and I was on yet another bus, happy for the empty seat next to me for the first time.