The Day I Thought Might Be My Last

If New Years Day is any indication of the year to come then I was in for a wild ride. It was January 1st 2012 and I was traveling through the country of Peru.  The day started off at 6 am which usually would be no big deal but since I was staying in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, the New Year’s Eve festivities ran through the night and I was unable to sleep.

Picture of Plaza de Armas in Cusco Peru

Plaza de Armas in Cusco Peru

When I walked out of the hotel in the early morning I was surprised to see how clean the plaza was considering the enormity of the festivities during the night. Tens of thousands of people converge on the Plaza de Armas from all over South America to celebrate New Year’s.  I was able to find a taxi which I was warned would be in big demand at a much higher price since it was a holiday and most people did not work on national holidays but since it was so early I had the upper hand.

I arrived at the bus station at 7:10 am and waited for the Tour Peru bus to load for our 7:30 departure. 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, the time kept passing.  Passengers who were scheduled to be on the bus approached the counter asking about the delay. We kept being told fifteen more minutes, fifteen more minutes and that the bus was being cleaned.  We heard excuse after excuse. One of the women waiting for the bus pulled a police officer over to the counter to try to help us.  This got the attention of the woman behind the counter and the story soon changed. The new story was that she couldn’t get a hold of the driver. Then the story changed again to that she couldn’t find bus. By 9:45 am we had had enough and we were all demanding our money back.  As it turns out the police officer was useless.

Just as I thought my plans to go to Lake Titicaca were ruined, the bus pulled up and I decided with hesitation to jump on board.  From the time I got on the bus I realized it was a mistake. The bus was filthy and as soon as we took off I could smell the toilets. It smelled like an Andy Gump in wheels.  I had no idea how I was going to make it seven hours under those conditions.  A little less than an hour after leaving the bus depot, the bus broke down and couldn’t make it up a hill. We would have to wait for a new bus.

Come to find out that there was no new bus. I learned that the bus was broken before we left the station but because everyone was complaining the woman sent us out on a broken bus instead of refunding our money.  I decided to take matters into my own hands and instead of waiting countless hours for something to happen, I decided to get off the bus and change my plans.  I would take either a taxi or bus back to Cusco which was only about a half hour away.

As I stood on the side of the road I saw a big shinny gold bus driving down the street.  I stood in the middle of the road so the bus would stop.  As it pulled up the bus assistant took my luggage and I jumped on board.  Paying 3 soles ($1 dollar) to return to Cusco and standing most of the way.  There was a drunk local who tried to make me his wife.  His face looked like it was used as a punching bag and his left eye was bloodshot.  The stench of alcohol was unbearable and he insisted on standing just inches from me which made my stomach turn.  After he realized my age and having a few passengers play interference on his aggressive behavior, he finally backed down and was nice enough to tell me when to exit the bus so that I could catch a taxi to the airport for another 3 soles.

I got off the bus and it started pulling away.  The only problem was that my luggage was still on it!  I grabbed both the door and the assistant who collected my money yelling for my luggage. Both the driver and the assistant insisted that I didn’t bring any luggage onboard.  The bus stopped and after a big fight and my unwillingness to let go of the assistant’s shirt collar, surprise they found my luggage and I got it back.  This is one of the scams that occurs on busses.  They drive away with your luggage and you’re out of luck.

I was told to hail a taxi from the side of the road.  I waited and waited but there were no taxis.  I stood out like a sore thumb in a neighborhood that was covered in graffiti and was starting to get very worried.  As I stood on the side of the road, the rain started pouring down and still no taxi. The streets were empty. Not only were there no taxis there were very few cars.  Eventually a police truck drove by and slowed down to look at me.  I waived them down and asked (in my very poor Spanish) how to get a taxi to the airport. After deliberation between the two of them one responded, “There are no taxis today.  It’s a holiday.”

There I stood in the pouring rain hungry, wet and with a massive coffee headache with my luggage in hand.  I was the only gringo in the area with no hope of finding a taxi. The police officers once again deliberated and then told me to get in the truck. I got a funny feeling and the first thing that went through my mind was, “Holy shit”.  I didn’t know if I would be ok since most of the horror stories I heard both from the locals and the tourists were about police corruption and how they were the people you had to worry about most.  It was common practice for police to insist on large amounts of money to let you go for something you didn’t do.

I soon realized that I had no other option but to get into the truck.  I had no idea if the police were corrupt or if they would bring me to the airport or rob me and then bring me to the airport. I hesitantly got in the back seat. They told me to close the door and never looked back at me.  They also stopped talking to each other which made me feel even worse.  The energy was so intense you could cut it with a knife.  At this point I also realized that we were headed in the opposite direction of the airport.  The thought crossed my mind, “Is this how it ends” meaning my life.

I remembered advice that I got from a friend from Mexico City. She told me that if I was ever kidnapped or feared for the worst, the best thing I could do was make myself human. I know I wasn’t kidnapped but I got the feeling that this wasn’t going to end well.  I tried communicating with them in my broken Spanish to humanize myself.  I talked about my family and thanked them profusely.  Eventually, they looked at each other, turned car around and started heading towards the airport.  When we finally arrived I reached into my pocket and gave them all the money I had and thanked them. They looked at each other and looked straight ahead driving off before the back door was closed.

Cusco Airport

Cusco Airport in Cusco Peru

I wish I could say that the story ends here, far from it. I stood in line for hours at the airport checking all of the airlines that has flights to Arequipa (my new destination). There were no flights. I got to the LAN purchase line and waited there for over an hour to learn that all flights to Arequipa were sold out for the next few days and flights to Lima were also sold out for the day.  Defeated, exhausted and hungry from not eating in the last 24 hours I decided to take a taxi back into Cusco and to come up with another plan.

When I walked outside I found a taxi. The man loaded my bags and then called over another guy. “What’s going on? Why are there two of you?” I asked.  I was warned about getting into a taxi with more than one driver since the scam was that they could over power you.  They take you to an ATM and make you withdraw all your money at knife/gun point.  The one that found me outside the airport said, “He is the driver” to which I replied “Get my bags out of the car now.”  He refused and insisted that I get in.  Thankfully there was a police officer standing next to me.  As I tapped the officer on his shoulder the driver took my luggage out of the trunk and told me off.

I found another taxi driver who could take me to the plaza.  He could see that I was visibly upset and asked where I was going. He tried “helping me” by trying to book me into a hotel that was way over priced.  The place was depressing and stunk so I started walking down the hill.  He rode along side me and offered to take me to a place I knew but when he started driving in the wrong direction I asked him to stop the car so I could get out.   Luggage in hand I headed to Starbucks to rethink my strategy, use their WIFI, and get something to eat and drink.

I carried my luggage up to the second floor and found a window table in the corner. As hungry as I was there was almost no food left since it was a national holiday and there was no food delivery.  I grabbed a tea and sandwich, sat down and started eating.  It was three o’clock in the afternoon and as the food got into my system I started feeling better.  It was time to change my itinerary for the
last five days if my trip.

My first task would be to find accommodations for the night. I started walking towards San Blas Plaza up the stone streets while dragging my luggage behind me. I walked into a couple of places and looked at rooms but there was nowhere that I wanted to stay even if it was just for one night. I finally came to across a hotel that would do.

I got to my room and I was exhausted. I fell into bed and slept for an hour.  I woke up with a plan to book the first flight out in the morning to Lima and head south down the coast from there.  I got online but was unable to book a ticket with any airline.  So once again I hopped into a taxi and went to the airport to buy a ticket for the first flight out in the morning.  When I got to the airport it was closed. All the gates were locked and I was told because it was a holiday everything was finished for the day.

The driver was angry and before he began to speak I assured him that I would pay for the round trip back to the plaza. He asked the guard what time the airport opened in the morning and the guards response was seven o’clock so once again I returned to the plaza.  I walked back to my hotel exhausted and wanting to end the day.  I took a shower, got under the covers and went to sleep.

The next morning I woke up feeling like a new person.  I was able to catch a flight to Lima and finish the rest of my trip.  2012 has been a roller coaster of a year and that New Year’s Day is one that I will never forget.  It’s also one that I never want to relive!


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2 Responses to The Day I Thought Might Be My Last

  1. DW says:

    Rough! I think your day was worse than mine, and I rode that second, older, slower, fouler-smelling bus 8 hours to Puno!

  2. Alisia says:

    We both had bad days although I know you’ve had much worse on the road!

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