I was sitting on a Cruz del Sur bus in the downstairs VIP area feeling a little bit pukish after eating my dessert, a fluffy, overly sweet slice of chocolate roll. And I also felt pretty zombiefied. This was day three of a week’s worth of travel back up to Quito, Ecuador and onwards to New Zealand via Houston and Los Angeles.
I had left Arequipa, right in the south of Peru, Monday mid-afternoon, waved off by the lovely, smiling Cristina. Initially intending to set off for Lima much later at night, a surprise travel buddy turned up in the form of a friend who needed to get to Lima for onward travel to Argentina. This first fifteen hour leg was therefore more fun and social than anticipated: seats at the front (upstairs, economy) meant extra space to spread out so we put our feet up, we chatted, we laughed and we watched Peru pass by, great, chunky sand dune landscapes and glimpses of the Pacific Ocean as the sun set.
The following day, Tuesday, started early with an ejection from the bus at just gone 6:00AM. Lima felt pleasant and fresh, the sun not yet melted the morning mist. Sitting for a while to await a more appropriate arrival time at my great aunts house, I watched a constant stream of buses turn up at the terminal, sleepy passengers getting off and waiting for their luggage in a bit of a daze.
After a great night’s rest, I was ready for the biggie: twenty-eight hours from Lima, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador. For S/.30 extra, I’d treated myself to an upgrade, my first time downstairs in VIP. Additional comfort and attention and food and space were part of the deal (although I would argue that the front of the Cruz del Sur upstairs had as much if not more leg room than my downstairs VIP front seat). And a seat by myself, no sleepy stranger nodding off and slobbering on my shoulder. Space to sit and think and write. To be by myself, no, to be with myself. Needed.
It didn’t feel like long before the breakfast wake-up blasted out over the tannoy, preceded by soothing classical music and booming deep voices belonging to two noisy Peruvian guys who I’d been trying to block out with ear plugs. Clearly, I’d slept a bit, my eyes unable to stay open despite an attempted mental override (I had wanted to finish the film). It had almost felt drug induced, such a strong, all-consuming tiredness that has made a fair few appearances during my time in South America. No point trying to fight it.
Finally, by nearly 2:30PM we had cleared all border controls at Tumbes. Compared to the night-time crossing at Macara, the daytime Tumbes crossing was an extended, hot process involving hours of queuing in 35°C heat, once for the exit stamps for Peru and a short bus ride later again for the entry to Ecuador. A further four and a half hours along, back into the greenery and banana plantations of Ecuador and a setting sun, and we arrived into Guayaquil, a city which seemed to have a surprisingly low-level of light pollution.
And the last stretch to Quito? Well, I was back in Ecuador, back to upright seats and lack of air flow. Out came the fan, off came my shoes and I snuggled down for another night on a bus. The young guy next to me plugged into his MP3 and didn’t utter a word and we both nodded off, unavoidably resting into each other. The only disturbance? A sudden sleep sing from the guy next to me; a repeated phrase, clean, tuneful and haunting. Three times he repeated the phrase, and then nothing but shut-eye and an eventual arrival eight hours later into Quitumbe, Quito just before 6:00AM. Home.