Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Scenes From A Bus

Our few months in South America have been peppered with numerous butt-numbing, bladder-bursting and headache-inducing long-distance bus rides at the frequency of at least 1 long journey per week. We really wish that we could just hop onto a plane, but flights within this continent are just too expensive. Plus, traveling as a couple basically doubles our costs when it comes to flying. So up the buses we go.

On the bright side, long-distance bus journeys are good for endurance training. When it comes to going without a toilet break, our record stands at 16 hours. For a couple who is accustomed to zipping to any location in Singapore within an hour and used to balk at "long" distances on our little island (Woodlands, Choa Chu Kang and Sembawang used to seem like the ends of the world), we are now glad for "short" 4-hour journeys and no longer wince at the thought of "normal" 8 to 12-hour rides.

We are also getting more experienced at identifying the prime locations for seats on a bus i.e. where we can watch the movies screened on board without cranking our necks at some weird angle, where diffusing toilet smells cannot reach us, where we can get the best window views when traveling during the day, which seats get the least afternoon sun, and so on. We are also getting better at planning our outfits for night travel, when temperatures outside plunge so drastically that chill works its ways through the walls of the bus and into our bones. We now layer on our thermal underwear and Stupendous Socks (to borrow the term from Ching) which Ching practically forced us into purchasing in Huaraz for our failed Santa Cruz trek.

After spending a fabulous week in Cusco, we were all prepared to suffer another long bus ride to our next destination, Puno, more than 200km away. Well, hooray for Inka Express, an innovative transport provider who makes the long journey more enjoyable by including a sightseeing service en route. Together with an English-speaking guide, passengers on board this VIP service make five stops at small towns, villages and look-out points, and have the opportunity to tour museums, ruins, handicraft stalls and snap photo keepsakes of the mountain vistas. A buffet lunch is included in the ticket price and there is even a stewardess on board to serve mineral water, tea and coffee.

The entire journey, including the time taken for tours and lunch, takes 9 hours. Unfortunately for us, the Australian girl seated right in front of me chattered loudly non-stop to her counterpart throughout the day! How can anyone possibly talk for 9 hours straight?! Even before we were halfway through the trip, we had heard every detail about her family, school, ex-boyfriend, cousins, travel itinerary, etc. It was even more excruciating because she peppered her conversation (or rather, soliloquy) with one "like" for every 3 words. Like when she was like, 18 years old, and how she was, like, so mortified, like when her ex-boyfriend, like once boarded the bus she was on, like how coincidental is that, and she was like, omigawd, and like, didn't know what to do. Like, seriously.

Argh. Argh argh argh argh arrrggghhhhh. I fervently wished that a giant llama would just board the bus and SIT ON HER PLEASE!!!

The small village of Andahuaylillas (3,122m above sea level) was our first designated stop. We were brought on a quick tour of the church which had an intricately painted and gilded interior, and were given some free time to wander around the plaza.

Someone spent alot of time laying these stones in perfect circles

Pathways to the heavens

From Andahuaylillas, we moved on to Raqchi (3,450m.a.s.l), 125km away.

Dramatic skies make for good pictures

Everyone hangs out at the soccer field - women, cows, dogs...

At Raqchi, the most impressive monument that still stands is an incredibly high wall that used to form part of a temple. Similar to the ruins we saw in the Sacred Valley, large stone pieces formed the anti-seismic foundation on which the temple stood. Continuing skywards, the walls were molded with a mixture of mud and brick, with some alpaca hair thrown in for good measure.

The temple wall

Built on a scale so grand that it could only have been fit for the gods

The rest of the ruins at Raqchi tell of the Inca nobles' comfortable lifestyle. Just beyond the temple were the remains of an upper-class neighbourhood where huge bungalows or villas once stood. In my mind, this must have once been the equivalent of our Bukit Timah or Mountbatten areas!

We would like to make a down payment for this unit please.

Across the "street" from the bungalows were stones arranged in repeated circular formations. These used to be the silos, which stored grain and other food. Not unlike your neighbourhood NTUC or Cold Storage outlet.

Dan goes shopping at Cold Storage

Lunch at Sicuani (3,800m.a.s.l) was incredibly unimpressive. So no photos there.

La Raya, at 4,335m.a.s.l, is the highest point of the road to Puno. The quick 5-minute stop is hardly enough for you to soak in the panoramas of snow-capped mountains, much less peruse the crafts on offer (although I did see some tourists making a quick purchase at the expense of enjoying the views) or pose for a photo with a very scruffy alpaca.

The classic bowler hat and colourful cloth sacks worn by women from Puno. The owner saw me snapping pics of her hat and proceeded to cover it up with her cloth!

Peru Rail runs trains along the Cusco-Puno route too but tickets cost at least 4 times the price of the bus ticket

The very big and scruffy alpaca which looked like an overgrown sheep cos it was badly in need of a shave.

The road dropped to 3,990m.a.s.l as we passed through Pukara and onwards to Puno. The small, musty museum at Pukara was interesting enough, but I was quite content to stay on the bus with my nose to the glass and drink in the views of the countryside.

Can't take my eyes off the skies!

We even saw some flamingos (not pictured above - don't bother looking for them!) in the river but they were too far away for me to get a decent picture.

All in all, Inka Express' tourist service was a comfortable ride, and the itinerary and spectacular scenery kept us pretty entertained throughout (although I can't say the same for the Australian chatterbox.) Nevertheless, we were pretty glad when the bus finally pulled into the terminal at Puno at about 5.30pm, where we were warmly received by the owners of the guesthouse that we were staying at.

We loaded up into their car and vamos to Lake Titicaca!


Anonymous said...

oooh! you got such gorgeous blue skies!! :) it was awfully dreary on our journey in the reverse direction.


Yi Lin said...

Yes, the skies were amazing! Well, on the bright side (no pun intended), you didn't get fried at Raqchi. It was crazily hot there!

Tracy Su said...

In the picture of the dog, cow etc hanging out, it looks like there's a llama in the clouds!

Yi Lin said...

Oh yeah, Trace, you're right! Didn't notice that before. Real llamas have cute faces but are actually really matted and grubby. We saw some in Bolivia eating out of garbage cans!

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