Buses in South America can be hit-and-miss. Sometimes you pay good money for a reclining seat in the hope that you’ll get some sleep, only to have the guy next to you bump you with his elbow every five minutes, or bring his goat along. Other times you get the cheapest public stops-everywhere bus and it’s perfectly comfortable.

On this occasion, I got a reasonably (by South American standards) expensive bus from Puno to Arequipa, Peru. The trip was uneventful for the first hour, at which point we stopped in Juliaca to pick up more passengers. This isn’t abnormal – even the most expensive “express” buses in Peru will make a few stops along the way to drop off and pick up people. That said, you don’t normally remain stationary for a full hour.

After we had spent our full hour sitting in Juliaca with the driver and his assistant wandering the street spruiking for blow-in passengers by yelling “Arequipa! Arequipa! Vamos!”, I began to get irritated. Indeed, driver, vamos. We waited until the bus was completely filled – I don’t think there was a one hour limit on his spruiking routine. Come one, come all – yes, bring your screaming children and goats, that’ll be just fine.

During our hour-long wait, the following occurred:

  1. Various vendors boarded the bus offering fried trout, bread, cheese, fried cheese, mandarins and other assorted snacks. An typical conversation with a seller and myself would go like this:

    “Senor, mandarinas?”
    “No Gracias.”
    “No Gracias.”
    “Senor, Mandarinas?”
    “Senor, por favor, mandarinas?”
    “No! Callate!”

  2. A fistfight erupted with the spruikers for two buses (one of them being our very own spruiker) fighting over the fare of a slow moving older gentleman. The yelling combatants barged each other aggressively, jockeying to get in front of one another to get right in the old man’s face and literally scream centimetres from his face about how their bus service was more relaxing, comfortable and affordable. The jostling of the spruikers became more and more intense until there was a strong two-handed push offered, which was responded to with a head-butt. From there it was on for young and old – literally – the old man threw a few punches himself, though I can’t think of why he would want to do that. Maybe he was frustrated with the fact that two men grabbed him and literally screamed into his face for several minutes. Anyway, a corn stand was knocked over and nobody was seriously hurt. I don’t think the old man ended up catching a bus, though.

When we finally left Juliaca, a Catholic Preacher who was apparently disguised as a human rose from his seat, raised his bible above his head and literally thumped it as he preached. It was an extended sermon, which lasted for at least 45 minutes. While my Spanish is pretty awful, I managed to catch the following roughly translated gems. I’m sure I missed the best bits, but in many ways I’m quite pleased that I couldn’t understand most of what he said.

  • “Homosexuals don’t belong in Peru and they should all be expelled from the country”
  • “Jesus is the only person that anyone can truly love”
  • “Aborted babies all go to hell”

Following our delightful sermon (which I largely ignored by listening to music), another guy stood up, this time with his own headset microphone (kill me now). He continued to explain the basics of cancer: “You know Pavarotti, the singer? Yeah, he died of pancreatic cancer.” He listed all the different types of cancers, and explained that eating too much spicy food, meat, or drinking too much all led to cancer! It was all obviously very scientific and thoroughly explained. “Anyone on the bus with cancer, raise your hand.” Guess what, folks with your hands raised?! He had the cure, to every┬átype of cancer! And he had chosen to sell it just to us, this special lot, on a five-dollar, six-hour bus ride! Medical community be damned! The “cure” was some type of plant extract and a couple of poor cancer-riddled suckers bought their $2.50 treatment. I’m impressed that he was able to convince anyone to buy it, but he had a microphone so I guess he exuded an air of legitimacy. And the people with cancer were desperate and being exploited.

When cancer man finally sat down, we were ten minutes from Arequipa, and I was finally able to enjoy the bus trip.

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