A Slow Bus To Cuzco

It was a funny old day and in the end a well worthwhile trip. Morning began for me with a 6am start in Loki Hostel, La Paz. This meant I would miss the free breakfast that day, as it doesn’t start until 7am. I got a sharp taxi ordered from hostel to bus station (I had walked it the last time when heading south to Potosi, but that was at night and with just one bag on me. Now I had both bags, so the 15 Bolivianas for the taxi hardly seemed much. That’s £1.50.


Actually I always used to say I don’t like taxis, but have changed my mind recently, as firstly in South America they are cheaper and secondly they save me having to carry my bags everywhere! Sometimes a traveller needs a rest. In places like La Paz and Arequipa, you have to be very careful of taxis however as they can be fake, and actually kidnap you and take all your stuff. I heard a lot of these stories in South America and am always still wary of taxis.


Anyhow I arrived at La Paz bus terminal and I was booked on the 8.30 am direct bus (with a border control) all the way to Cuzco. Indeed less than 24 hours later I would begin the world famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.


I had already been to the La Paz terminal twice and thought I knew it quite well. A poky, dodgy little terminal, but unlike others this was very central to the city, rather than in a dodgy neighbourhood. There are about 30 different bus agencies operating from there and I was booked on the Internacional Continente. At first I couldn’t find them and was approached by about 10 old ladies, all very poor, all dressed typically Bolivian, all asking for money. I certainly wasnt about to reach for my wallet being laden with stuff, but soon at number 24 I found my bus company.


There I checked my bag in, was about 55 minutes before departure, time for a quick cheap final Bolivian breakfast to use up those Bolivianas. While standing there at the office I noticed a couple, who looked like they were also travellers, and asked them in Spanish if they were on the same bus as me. In fact they didn’t understand me! They don’t speak Spanish, only English – a couple, Andrew and Erika from Manchester. No bells rang immediately but Erika said “we know you – we met you before.” I was shocked and at first wasn’t sure. They said it was probably in Argentina, but the dates didn’t add up. Somehow I had met them before, but not in Argentina.


We agree to stick together as travellers do, and I told them there was a Peruvian money exchange outside. We walked out and couldn’t find it unfortunately. Then when we came back in, they met another couple they knew who were also travelling and were from Leeds. The four of them didn’t want to eat, so I went to a wee cafe on my own and in there got a cup of tea and a ham and cheese toastie, which was excellent. I then had a few Bolivianas left to use up, so used the notes to buy some snacks in there, and decided to give my coins to the beggars that had plagued me. Just to get some peace perhaps.


Bus was on time, but just before that Andrew came bursting into the cafe telling me to not forget my departure tax. I had forgotten to get a ticket, so while I finished my toastie, he got me a tax ticket and I paid him back later. It was 2 . 20 Pence in British. At this point I suddenly realised the bizarre truth of where I had really met Andrew and Erika before – it was TWO MONTHS EARLIER on the East Coast of New Zealand! We were in the same group together for the Franz Josef Glacier Trek! And now here we were on the other side of the world on the exact same bus to Cuzco. Such a bizarre feeling!


The bus left on time and I was in a seat right at the front – seat 2, but not at a window. In fact my original seat was 22 or 23 and they moved me for some reason. I was sat beside a Peruvian guy called Edwin, who I got to know along the journey, still wary of those around me and trying to ensure I didn’t fall asleep on the bus. As Peruvian buses are very dodgy for “sleep thefts” (i.e. when you drift to sleep, someone nicks all your stuff and they either get off at the next stop, or stay on but you have no idea who did it.)


Street scene on the way out of the busy maze that is LA PAZ.


More La Paz mayhem.


Edwin beside me is a technican heading back to Peru to visit his family. He now lives in Cochabamba in Bolivia and simply going back for Christmas, we got talking a fair bit but I drifted into writing my updates from the last week into my book, and checking out the excellent views…


This lake out Edwin’s window initially l thought was Lake Titicaca, is actually Lago De Huynaymarka, the first of many Quechuan place names over the next week or so. Great views at such an altitude. Around this time they served us hot tea and a bread roll for breakfast. After about an hour, the police hop on and check everyone’s passport, but no stamp, just an immigration card to fill in. This was at Guaqui.


Then we get to the border, with a small hamlet on the Bolivian side, a bridge over a river which leads into Lago De Huynaymarka, and on the other side, clearly visible is the busy looking Peruvian town of Desaguadero. It seemed quite a smooth border check this one, and we had to note that the time on the other side of the bridge was different.


Leaving Bolivia.


Standing in Bolivia with Peru in the background.


Bolivian Border Control.


The streets on the Bolivian side of the bridge.


Our bus, which we hoped would wait for us by driving to the Peruvian side and waiting there. In that photo is Andrew from Manchester!


Just after crossing the bridge which held the same sort of mayhem as Ciudad Del Este, but with more organisation and less danger.


The bridge itself which is the border and some people hang around, unsure which country to walk into…


The queue on the Peruvian side was long, but during this time I spoke a lot to Andrew, Erika and the Leeds couple. We also filled in our immigration cards and talked about previous border controls we had been to. I’d been on a fair few in Europe (Slovenia, Italy, France, Liechtenstein, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Belgium, Luxembourg and all the UK ones) just one in Asia (Malaysia – Singapore) and was now clocking up a few South American ones.


After about one hour we got our stamps with a minimal of fuss and were officially in Peru, home of Machu Picchu. Desaguadero was mayhem but seems to serve its purpose as a border town, and I reckoned relies on trade from the tourists to bump up it’s economy. At any rate, I was happily in Peru and not far from my Machu Picchu Christmas dream.


Andrew and I needed change, and wanted rid of all our Bolivianas and swap a few of our US Dollars into Peruvian Soles. This was the perfect chance to do it, as there were 3 or 4 Cambios nearby, and people from our bus were behind us in the queue, giving us time. 

We took amusement in the Cambio called “Fanny” and got our money changed there. I would have enough now to last me until after Machu Picchu!


So, the bus waited, we got back on and left Desaguadero. First up we pass a small town called Zepita and venture inland again. This is when to my right I got my first sighting of the humungous highest lake on earth – Lake Titicaca. Indeed it is my plan to sail on it and some day stay over on some of the islands on the Lake. But I was moving fast here and was giving it a by ball on this occasion.


The vastness of Titicaca meant it was visible for the next few hours or so, we passed through (in order, and without a single stop or problem…) Pomata, Juli, Ilave, Acora, Chucuito, Chima before lunchtime arrival at Puno. It feels like 4 pm, but is actually only about 1.30 pm bearng in mind we have rolled back one hour in time as well. 


Puno was drab and boring. A few more passengers got on, and the driver gave us our lunch there, I think they were all ready made and sitting in the terminal ready for us. Pretty tasty, eh?


Some boats in Titicaca.


Random Puno house…


The whole journey was being made comical by the constant pornography being shown on TV. Some Bolivian boobies.


These two girls got their kit off in a forest on a porn movie. Appropriate I thought as we sailed past Lake TIT – icaca. It really was full of tits.


On the ascent out of lowly Puno (I say lowly, cos we ascended to get out of it, but it’s really high up!) we got some cracking views over the city.


Not dissimilar to the concrete lego block carnage of La Paz.


Rural look at Peru, huts near Juliaca. This is where we started to have problems the bus broke down. Great I thought! Not going to make it to Cuzco tonight, the first delay was for 20 minutes. A further 20 minutes up the road we break down again and it’s now late afternoon.


Late afternoon in the Peruvian wilderness. I tried not to fall asleep, was still munching my food (I had a wee supply, and shared some with Edwin). For some reason I didn’t take any more photos for the next 3 – 4 hours, as we stopped and started, and broke down a few more times.


I then got out of the bus at what ended up being our final breakdown, at San Pablo, an unknown Peruvian village. The bus was going very very slow and felt like it was on its last legs.


Roadside near San Pablo. At around 9.30 pm, Edwin told me we were only about an hour away from Cuzco and my sweat was still dripping down. I really did doubt we would make it and dreaded missing out on the following morning’s start of the Inca Trail.


But life works itself out and some things are just meant to be. I was emailing the tour organiser for the last few days – a guy called William, and he was meeting at my hostel (I pre-booked Hostel Pirawana the night before) at 8 pm that night to give an introduction and guide to the tour. Well I had already missed that and now just hoped I would make it.


After 20 minutes we reached a city which I thought was Cuzco. It wasn’t but it was big, so big in fact that it went on forever. There was a full moon in the sky and these lit up streets seemed to last forever until we finally arrived in a dark dodgy bus station nowhere near Cuzco. So this, then obviously had to be Cuzco Station. It was almost 11 pm, and the bus’s scheduled time was 7.30 pm, so just 3.5 hours late and I would make the Inca Trail.


I just had to get to the hostel and get some sleep and packed. I had already spoke to Andrew and Erika and they weren’t staying in the same hostel as me (I later learned Cuzco for whatever reason has LOADS of hostels and is popular for backpackers – for the life of me I can’t work out why – quite a boring city really) so had decided maybe a taxi was best. 


I looked on my map but still had no idea how far the bus station was from my hostel – turns out it was a fair few kilometres. Once I got my bag and it was late, so I totally missed the chance to say bye (for the second time) to Andrew and Erika (or to get their email addresses – I told them I had a group shot from the Franz Josef Glacier trek) and Edwin had kindly agreed to get me safely back to my hostel.


Initially I didn’t actually trust him, as I trust no-one on my travels. BUT I was reassured when a tour guide at Cuzco Bus Station said it was fine and ushered us both into the next taxi, which took me straight to the front door of Pariwana Hostel. For 3.5 Soles, just over $1 US. Edwin came in for a moment, and I realised he was just waiting for his wife to collect him there. I went to reception and met Fernando the local worker, who checked me into Room 207, on the first floor with a balcony outside looking into the forecourt. The hostel was big, lively, nice design and friendly. 


Plus they had free tea, and Coca leaves, so I had a cup of tea. Then I packed my bag for tomorrow for the big four day Inca Trail. William from Andean Life (my Inca Trail company) had left a note for me at reception telling me simply to be at the hostel’s front door for 6.30 am. It was now almost 1 am. I used the internet quickly, had a shower and relaxed.


In my room I met David, an Irish guy from South Dublin. He was the only other guy in my room, and I told him how unprepared I was for the Inca Trail – no food, no water. He told me not to worry as the company would give us enough food and would take us to a shop beforehand (which they did) and also kindly gave me his 1.5 litre bottle of water! The friendly Irish, eh? I also met Teigan from Melbourne but soon fell asleep.


It had been a slow bus to Cuzco but I was there and ready for an exciting four day experience.


Countries Visited – Bolivia, Peru

Cities Visited (the ones we were actually properly in): La Paz, Desaguadero, Cuzco

Transport Used – La Paz Taxi, Internacional Continente Bus (which was slow and kept breaking down), Cuzco Taxi

Nationalities Met – Bolivian, English, Peruvian, Australian

Strange Currencies – Bolivian Bolivianas, Peruvian Soles

Where I Stayed – Loki Hostel (La Paz), Pariwana Hostel (Cuzco)

Sightseeing – Lago De Huynaymarka, Lake Titicaca, Puno, Juliaca, Bolivian and Peruvian countryside

Crossed the border by – Foot (walked across the bridge)

Total travelling time – 6.45 am to 11.05 pm (plus add an hour for the time difference) 17 hours and 20 minutes

Favourite Food – Yoghurt

Favourite Drink – Hot Tea on arrival in Cuzco Hostel

Key Song:

MANIC STREET PREACHERS – FOREVER DELAYED:


LEAVING LA PAZ:


BOLIVIA – PERU BORDER AT DESAGUADERO:


ON THE SLOW BUS TO CUZCO, past LAKE TITICACA:

ARRIVAL AT PARIWANA HOSTEL, CUZCO:
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