Saturday, July 4, 2009

Day Eight - June 17th, 2009 - Puno to Cusco (epic!)

Bad pun of the day:  We'd brought much bigger packs than we needed, in anticipation of all of the stuff we'd buy.  Allison had already loaded up on a number of things including some pan flutes for gifts.  As we prepared to leave, she said "Why is my pack so huge already?  Must be all of those flutes"  I replied "they're the flutes of your labor".

After breakfast we hop into a cab at 7:15 for a ride to the bus station.  Today

will be our epic Puno to Cusco 12-hour ride.  The bus leaves a bit late, at 8:45, and drives 100 yards, to the nearest gas station.  Then we are on the road.  We'd asked Yolanda the other day if this would be a public bus, and she'd said yes.  Of course we'd pictured some ramschackle bucket of bolts, loaded down with chickens and donkeys, careening around the mountain roads.  In fact it is a Mercedes Benz tour bus, and really nice.  Kind of a relief when facing a 12 hr ride.

Side note - Many of the handicrafts that we've seen EVERYWHERE that we've been, in shops, in markets, at roadside stands beside tourist attractions, in the hands of sellers roaming the cities, are EXACTLY the same design of product, just with color and embroidery patterns varied.  Clearly someone (the government?) has identified certain items that the turistas will buy, and they are cranked out by the billions in a factory somewhere.  When I say billions I really don't think I'm exaggerating here.  Trust me.  There are certainly small-run handmade items to be had around Peru, but sometimes it's hard to know if you're getting the mass-produced stuff or not.

The bus trip is LONNNNNNG.  Some excellent scenery though.  

The circuitous route required by the strike is over half unpaved roads, which navigate several high mountain passes, some with turns that the bus can barely make.  No one would ever take this route unless forced.  I have one of my greatest missed Kodak moments.  Passing through a city, there is a motorcycle with 2 people and 2 live sheep on it.  There's a sheep up front, mostly laid across the handlebars, then the driver, then another sheep across the seat, then the rear passenger.  You do what you have to to get by...

We'd been through all sorts of small, poor towns, we'd waited on livestock to clear the road, we'd stopped to remove fallen rocks from the road, we'd used the nasty bus restroom, since it NEVER stopped for passengers to get off, and on, and on, and on...  until, just after sunset, and about 2 hours from Cusco, we stop, and pull off to the side of the road, into a long line of stopped cars.  Hmmm.  Turns out that a cargo truck has smashed through the timbers of a one-

 bridge just ahead, that we HAVE TO CROSS to get to Cusco.  It's stuck in the middle of the bridge, rear wheels dangling over the water.   There are probably 100 cars and trucks backed up on either side of the bridge, waiting for it to clear.  Probably NONE of these people would be taking this route if it weren't for the strike, which is probably why the bridge broke to begin with.  A small team of truckers is busy working on either side of the stranded truck.  I climb up on the steel bridge structure to watch by headlamp, hanging my butt out over the river below.  I take a few pics of the guys working, long exposures with no flash.  I'm pretty sure that taking flash pics while they are trying to work will result in me being force-fed my camera.  There are 3 guys on each side of the truck.  

 have some massive timbers laid across the steel structure of the bridge, and are using the two biggest hydraulic bottle jacks I've ever seen to jack up the truck's rear end.  Clearly the goal is to get the truck's wheels completely above the broken road surface, then repair it with some eucalyptus tree trunks that are already cut to length and ready to slap into place.  Then just drop the truck and drive away.  Of course, questions remain:  How long will this project take (possibly hours), when complete, will the bridge be able to hold all of the huge trucks (and our bus) or will it break again immediately.  If the bridge does hold, will there be a massive traffic jam?

Some of the folks on the bus catch wind that another bus (unrelated to our bus company) is on the other side, ready to take up to 70 people to Cusco.  Our driver assures us that everything will be fixed and we will be on our way in an hour or two, and reminds us that he can make no guarantees about the other bus service.  Still many people have shouldered their loads, and are making their way across the precariously screwed up bridge, balancing on the steel structure where no timber exists, working between the men working on the truck.  We weigh the options, and eventually decide to join them.  We cross the bridge, and walk about a half mile up the road to the waiting bus.   On the way we hear a cheer come from the bridge.  Probably it was the moment that a timber was successfully placed under the wheels of the truck.  The new bus is even nicer than the one we were on, and it's taking us for 10 Soles a person (about $3.33).  Score.  Of course, it's in a long line of stopped traffic, and it's facing TOWARD the bridge.  We pull out into the empty oncoming lane, back up for about a mile, and finally find a place that the driver deems suitable to turn around.  After a 9 point turn we are on our way to Cusco.  We arrive VERY VERY tired, at 10:20, about 13-1/2 hours after leaving Puno.  We do a lot of wondering about the fate of our original bus, and the few (maybe 4 or 6) people that stayed with it.  We will learn more later.  We grab a taxi, and he swings us by a great little sandwich shop on the way to our hotel.  We are starving, and our avocado and cheese sandwiches are excellent.  Avocado is everywhere here, and for that we are not sorry.  We finally arrive at our hotel, Hotel Corihuasi.  It is a beautiful little place, spanish mission style, with little stone steps leading to rooms here and there around a pretty little courtyard.  We crash, hard.