We over-landed most of South America, because the buses are so cheap and comfortable. That’s not to say they weren’t strange places to be at times. Locals seemed to find these stories not so out of place, but us gringos thought they were just a tad peculiar. Here’s a selection of our weirdest bus journeys in South America.
Potosi – Tupiza
The bus fills up in Potosi; all the seats are taken. It’s 10pm, so we try to settle down to sleep. When the bus stops, we’re confused, but think nothing of it. That is, until we wake up to find people sleeping in the aisles. One woman has her head on D’s armrest!
Pantanal – Corumba
Part of our Pantanal price included a transfer to Corumba, the border town with Bolivia; although we had heard vague rumors that this was not a transfer in the traditional Western sense. After a bumpy ride in a jeep from the lodge, we stopped at a small island of grass on a dual carriageway that stretched both ways as far as the eye could see. The majority of people disappeared into waiting cars or minibuses, and we waited in the shade of a tree to see what was in store for us.
Eventually, our guide gave us tickets and pointed down the highway. “Your bus will come from there,” he said, “in about 80 minutes. You need to cross the road to flag it down.” Then he left with the jeep, leaving us there with no-one and nothing in sight. We proceeded to watch the road like hawks, jumping into action every time we saw a speck on the horizon. In the end, the bus did come, and we safely got to Corumba.
La Paz – Copacabana
Copacabana sits on Lake Titicaca, and is accessible by land only through Peru. The buses however drive to the edge of the lake where there are small wooden barges, only slightly bigger than the bus, waiting to take them to the other side.
The barges have motors, but the water at the bank is too shallow to use them. After the bus is half on, the mooring ropes are released and the momentum of the bus roaring the rest of the way onto the barge is what moves it off the shore.
Quijarro – Santa Cruz
Eight hours in to an otherwise uneventful bus journey, we start getting a bit hot – the air conditioning has stopped working. Not long after, the TV goes black. Soon, we hear the bus engine die, and the bus crawls to the side of the road. We get off and discover we are in the middle of nowhere, in the dark.
We spend an hour there, watching the driver fiddle with the engine while cars speed past. Other people bring jerry cans of what is presumably diesel from a building across the road. No explanation is given. Eventually, the engine starts, we all pile back on and the bus continues its journey.
Puno – Cusco
This is probably our one of favourite bus journeys in South America. By now, we’d come to expect people popping onto the buses to sell their wares. So when two ladies got on with a bundle in Peru, we thought nothing of it. Until they proceeded to prop this bundle up on D’s seat arm and unwrap it, causing the rapid dispersal of the stench of slightly old meat.
At this point, I looked away, covering my eyes, ears and nose with anything I could find. D reckons it was a whole llama leg. All I know is there was a cleaver, some hacking, and people buying bags of meat – on a bus.
Do you have any stories of bus journeys in South America, where quirky things happened? Any other quirks from South America. Check out our blog posts about the quirks of countries we’ve visited.
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