I enter the terminal to the sound of men calling out the various destinations. “Cusco! Cusco! Chincero!” “Ollantaytambo!” Occasionally I am noticed and one calls out the name of some nearby tourist destination for the gringa. “Maras! Moray!”
But today I am not traveling for pleasure. Today I am heading to a different place, on a bus that las turistas rarely take. And why would they? There is no obvious reason to go to Yanahuara.
I step onto the bus and take a seat on the front bench, facing the rest of the passengers. We are waiting for the bus to fill up near to bursting. The driver will not leave before then.
The bus is in fact a van, converted into a combi of sorts, with four or five rows of seats bolted to the floor, and a bench along the front, facing the rest.
Here I sit.
Slowly the bus fills with characters from agrarian Peruvian life. At first glance they are all quite similar, in speech, in appearance, in attitude.
But look more closely.
Here is a stout old campesiña woman, carrying my weight worth of vegetables on her back in a brightly colored tapestry. And behind her a younger woman in traditional dress, a similar brightly colored tapestry on her back, but within it? A baby.
Next, a couple step on who, by appearances, could be from the United States. Modern clothes and modern cell phones, the only thing giving them away is the way they speak Spanish.
An elderly man enters, draped in a brightly colored traditional poncho and hat, and close behind a young boy similarly dressed.
And last, a group of school kids, middle school aged, talking loudly and teasing one another. To listen to their conversation they could be from anywhere. From Tokyo or Seoul or nowhere, USA.
The bus is full at last and we pull out of the terminal. Slowly we inch out of town and up into the farmland. Every once and awhile a “baja sol y luna” sounds and a few passengers step off. Later the bus pulls over and a few more step on.
There are no designated bus stops. The system has no order. And yet somehow it works perfectly.
The sounds on the bus rise and fall. Conversation switches from Spanish to Quechua and back again. Everyone seems to be at least some little bit bilingual.
Occasionally there is a furtive glance at the gringa. Children stare, openly curious. But mostly I am left alone, neither harassed nor treated like some special being. It is in a way comforting. To be left alone to observe. To people watch. To disappear into the tapestry.
Eventually my turn arrives and I say to the driver, “baja allyupampa”. I step off and pay my ochenta centimes for the ride and the bus drives off along the single paved road in the valley, leaving me in the dust.
And such is my experience riding a bus in Peru.