May 22 – The Royal Frankenstein
Woke up with sorer than usual ribs, no doubt from the ‘boob job’ Karoline gave me last night. She’s always trying to get me to look at her boobs because she knows it makes me uncomfortable, her being more or less a sister and all. I usually avert my eyes and scramble away, but sometimes she tackles me and mashes her tattooed tatas into me. Damn her boobs! Damn them all!!!
We went out for one last desayuno vegetario before heading north. When the bill came we had nothing but 100 B bills. Without going into the conversion rate, let’s just accept that 100 B’s are more than are needed for a breakfast for four. This would not be a problem if restaurants and venders and attraction ticket booths carried change for 100 B bills, especially since gringos are only given 100 B bills when they exchange money. But this is not so. Our waitress asked us to come back in the afternoon when she ‘might’ have change. I wasn’t sure how she planned to get change since all the tourists (60% of the town’s population, and 99% of her clientel) were only gonna have 100 B bills. It was a huge, elaborate plan to urge tourists to leave big tips, and to prevent us from haggling since it’d be hard to haggle with only a 100 B bill.
After breakfast we boarded our bus to Cusco. It stopped first at the Peruvian border where we were made to exit and pass through customs.
I got my stamp and had two B’s left to spend before changing over into a new currency. I went to the snack lady (who was also the cambrio) to see if something struck my fancy. Golpe candy bars were 1 B but I really wasn’t hungry for anything so I had the lady change my 2 B’s into 1 Peruvian peso. In the time it took the other passengers to go through customs, and with the brightly colored Golpe wrappers gleaming in the corner of my eye, I mustered up the urge to get one. I went back to the lady selling them. She said the price of a Golpe was 1 peso (1 peso = 2 B’s). Two minutes earlier Golpes were 1 B. Inflation doubled in a matter of minutes. As did my hunger.
Eventually we were all back on the bus and on our way towards our next stop – Puno. Crime and violence and generally nothing special to see or do make Puno a least favorite, least desirable stop to many Peruvian travelers. We were only going because we had to change buses there. My friend, a Peruvian who now runs several recycling centers around the central California valley, and who has many times lived on the streets and eaten from dumpsters and survived much self-imposed hardship, and who has MADE IN PERU tattooed across his lower back in Old English, had one thing to say to me wen I told ihm I was going to Peru: Bring a gun. We teamed up with Brian and Sara for the safety-in-numbers theory, and because they were funny and spoke some form of English and hardly no Spanish.
When we arrived in Puno our bus was ushered into a holding area where passengers could retrieve their luggage with minimal fear of it getting heisted. There was some confusion as to whether all the passengers were supposed to get off, so when all the Puno-bound people got their luggage and headed into the rough and tumble streets of the mother-fuckin’ P-to-the-U-to-the-Niz-O, the rest of us stood outside our bus and waited for someone to explain what was going on.
With the luggage doors open on either side of the bus Devon and I each took a side and watched our luggage. I also got a good look at our bus. It was called El Mas Bus but I likened it more to El Mas o Menos Bus. It was dirty both inside and out and, even at an idle, didn’t sound too good. Someone unaware of the bus toilet’s plumbing configuration started using it and their waste quickly began pooling at my feet. Next to Devon was another bus that began spitting exhaust not only out the exhaust pipes, but through two other large hoses pointed directly at Devon. From less than ten feet away he was getting hazier and hazier. Actually I wasn’t sure if the air was getting cloudy or if it was just my head. To make matters worse, all the smokers on the bus took the opportunity to light up. For once I was confident the area around me smelled worse than I did.
About ten of us remaining passengers were ushered back on the bus and taken to a proper bus station where we were to catch our continuing bus. Before leaving Copacabana we paid extra for a double-decker pink bus to take us from Puno to Cusco with amenities like air, individual lighting, comfy, reclining felt seats and a pink baño. We pulled into the station (which was gated and heavily secured), past our Pink Pony Bus, and then unloaded and quarantined to the inside bus terminal. It was loud, well-lit, and resembed a suburban all-ages adventure land with a pool of multi-colored plastic balls and a rock climbing wall. They padlocked the doors behind us, leaving us no chance to wander out onto the tarmac and pee behind a bus. Instead we were given the choice of holding it or paying for the public toilet. I held it for about an hour then gave in. The women at the door took my money and in return handed me a square of pink paper mache. I think it was supposed to be toilet tissue but during the few minutes I was peeing I made a little flower out of it and left it on the counter.
We sat with the Scots in hard plastic chairs in the center of the fluorescent-baked lobby. We were joined by another woman from our earlier bus. She spoke decent Spanish despite being from Holland and so was welcome to be part of our group. We called her Holland. Safety in numbers. I wondered aloud what the kiosk in the center of the complex was for and Holland said it was the place where you pay the bus tax, as if we should have known. Good thing I asked. We all bought our tax tickets, which looked very similar to the tickets we got when we went to the bathroom. Out of boredom we flashed them to the bathroom attendant and sure enough, they worked. Go Holland!
The station walls were decorated with a wide variety of posters. Most advertised destinations while others tried to sell popular sodas and beers. All of them displayed women with exposed breasts. A scan through the guides books of Puno may not leave you enticed, but put a naked lady on a poster for Puno and I bet you people come in droves. But the advertisement that stuck out most bore no naked ladies. It simply read: 1 death occurs every 5 hours in Peru. I think it would have been more appropriate in the bus driver lounge. Come to think of it, why would you post that at all in view of the passengers, the ones who have no control over the driving?
For the following hours we sat in our chairs, unable to explore much more than a pay toilet and a few soda stands. Holland and I were both reading when we looked up and swore we’d just heard "Sieg Heil" come through the loudspeakers.
To help the time go a little slower we fended off a gaggle of shoeshine boys. No no no, we told them. Si si si, they replied. No no no. Si si si. And so it went until Robert offered to shine their shoes. No no no, they said. Yes yes yes, he told them. No no no. Yes yes yes! A minute of that and they left and never came back. I walked around a little later and saw some of the boys by an open door catching pigeons and pulling the feathers out.
On the streets of Bolivia every bus had a person hanging out the window yelling the bus’s destination. Here, in a Peruvian bus station, each booth (there were eight total in our wing) had a person hanging over the counter yelling select destinations. I wonder how one gets these jobs? Do they walk up to the booth and yell, "HOLA, NECESITO UNO TRABAJO!! ARE YOU HIRING?!!"
As the terminal got busier the yelling increased until it sounded like dogs in the night, calling and responding. Out of frazzled patience and boredom we started joining in, blurting out cities we’d heard of. Without thinking I yelled, "Como mi propio mierda" and the place went silent for a nanosecond. For all the seedy things Puno is known for I guess eating their own feces isn’t one of them.
After an hour of standing in it’s exhaust, and after a few maintenance repairs and hubcap changes (stealings?), we finally boarded our 7pm bus at the distinctly Sudamerican time of 8pm. And we were far from the only bus leaving at this hour for Cusco.
The Pink Pony wasn’t all that we desired. Our seats were lined in plastic so even though they reclined – especially when they reclined – we slid all over them until the nervous sweat our bodies produced help us stick to them. What’s worse, our seats were located directly above the pink baño, whose floor-to-ceiling plastic décor absorbed none of the smell. In fact, it helped the stench of multicultural urine waft directly towards us. (Why a completely plastic bathroom? Easier to hose down like the Gravitron ride at the fair?) Thankfully, the baño had a bay window big enough for anyone outside to see exactly what was going on inside. This made for some picturesque moments for passing motorists. Especially when we hit the rough road that caused the 6 ½ foot-tall guy from DC to fall over while he was peeing.
The cabin lights were very bright, while the individual reading lights did not work. And unless we were accelerating (which we only did on windy mountain roads) the bus vibrated so much I couldn’t hear my walkman much less read or sleep. The unfortunate people in the front seat, above the drivers, had a full window in front of them, so there was no hiding from the impending view. It was like a larger-than-life IMAX screen projecting non-stop images of approaching death in the form of cliffsides, oncoming traffic and various large game. And they didn’t even have foot room.
We stopped numerous times to let on candy merchants and local passengers. We also stopped a few times for no good reason other than to open the luggage compartments allowing anyone walking by to take what they wanted. The threat of theft and the constant bombardment of vendors stalled the possibility of sleep, but as soon as Conan: The Barbarian came on with Spanish overdubs I was out like a (Pink Pony Bus reading) light. On one stop the police came onboard and took away the lady sitting next to me. All in all, not one single stop our tour bus made was for anything tourist-related.
Our ride ended at 4am. Us and all our luggage were dumped onto the adjoining bus stall where tourist vultures watched with cunning eyes, waiting for us to turn our heads so they could make off with a bag full of dirty clothes or tacky souvenirs. Or a llama fetus. The Good Book (found at your local bookstore in the Lonely Planet Travel Guides section) gave no hint of what to do when arriving at this hour. In fact, the rough road we had just endured was actually a ‘new’ road that shaved five hours off the ride. The standard Puno-Cusco bus route had not yet adapted their schedules so for over a year now passengers from Puno were arriving at 4am with no options except to wait in the bus terminal )or chance a ride into town to find a hostel that was open).
Holland, the Scots and us again picked a section of the bus station to set up camp in. I figured if we just sat on a bus for eight hours, another two in a bus station wouldn’t hurt. Somehow I figured 6am was a reasonable time to start calling hostels. (By the way, the hostel we were holding out for was the Royal Frankenstein, a charming little place advertising "cold, dark, gloomy rooms.") In our first hour at the Cusco bus station we were approached no less than 15 times by 10 different hostel representatives. Holland, not so sure she wanted to follow the rest of us to a place that boasted breakfast with a tarantula, took one of the hostel offers and disappeared.
At 5am the terminal sprang to life. Booths opened up, the yelling started, and the fluorescent lights screamed on to make us even uglier. A formerly unlit painting beamed out from the stairwell. It was a provocative canvas depicting Jesus being assaulted by a guy riding a bull with a baseball bat. It was very tasteful. Just a step above the roving dogs who kept trying to pee on our stuff.
At 6am on the dot I called the Royal Frankenstein.
My coin lasted just long enough for me to find out they had rooms open.
We hopped into two separate cabs and both raced through the empty streets
of Cusco to get there first.
Marita and her equally spicy friend let us in and gave us rooms. They wreaked of pot and had a case of the giggles, but the cold, dark atmosphere was just as the advertisements promised.
After a shower and a shave I went to bed contented at 8:30am.
WHN? in Sudamerica - May 2002
0 – Please wake me for meals.
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