July 30, 2006
I was anxious to get on my way to Ica, so I went to the bus station in Arequipa at about 10:30 this morning. I needed to withdraw some money, but for some reason, the ATM in the bus station wouldn't take my card. The buses for Ica all left at around 11:00, so I didn't have time to look for another machine. I barely had any cash left after buying my bus ticket, but I figured I'd just get some either when we stopped for supper or when I got to Ica, which I was told would be at 11 or 12 tonight.
At about 3:30, we stopped for an early supper. I was told that we would be stopping in a city so I could look for an ATM, but when I got off the bus I realized that we were stopped at a single restaurant in the middle of the desert on the Panamerican Highway. I got a plate of rice and looked at my finances: only 12 soles (a little less than $4) left. That probably wouldn't even be enough for a hotel, so I would have to get some money for tonight.
At about 4:30, Murphy's Law applied. Our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere and there appeared to be no way to fix it. I started to read a book assuming help was on it's way, but several unruly passengers weren't so faithful in the bus company. They started gathering large rocks and throwing them in the middle of the road. I couldn't quite follow the idiots' logic, but apparently, they wanted to make our problem everyone's problem to expedite our rescue. Of course, every time a truck approached us, it stopped and the angry driver got out and started arguing with the passengers. Then the truck driver would throw the rocks to the side of the road and the passengers would throw them right back to the middle. As soon as it looked like it was about to get violent, the passengers would back down and let the truck pass. Then they would throw the rocks back to the middle of the road and the whole process would start all over again. This went on for about two hours when the police showed up.
The cops didn't appreciate having to deal with a blocked road on top of a broken-down bus, but all they did was shake their fingers at the guilty parties and told them not do it again. The cops did stick around and direct traffic (it was now dark outside), so at least the situation was under control. There was still the question of how to get out of there though.
There were no cities within a day's walking distance, so the only options were to jump on any bus and pay them to take me to Ica, or to wait for a bus of the same company to come so I could go for free. The big problem with both of those options was that our bus was full when it broke down, so it was unlikely that more than a handful of us could get on any given bus. Indeed, several buses passed us in the next few hours, but they were already full and wouldn't accept any additional passengers.
Finally at around 10:00, an empty bus showed up. It wasn't apparent if it was called in specifically to rescue us or if it just happened to be driving down the highway empty, but nobody seemed to care. I was excited to get out of there, but then I learned that they wanted 30 soles for the pleasure. Maybe I could talk them down to 25, but I only had 12 on me, so I was completely screwed. I was joined by about a dozen other penniless passengers in sending off the rich bastards who could afford to pay the big bucks to leave the situation behind them.
The nice thing with everyone else being gone was that I could stretch out on several seats and sleep peacefully in the quiet bus. Finally at around 2:00 AM, another bus of the same company showed up. We were told there was enough room for us all and hurried aboard. However, there were no empty seats, so we were forced to take to the isle. I somehow created enough space between myself and the other suckers to lay down in the middle of the isle on the hard floor. I got a little sleep, but it was obviously not a pleasant experience. We rolled into Ica at 6:30, and I was too exhausted to care about anything other than the fact that we finally made it. After two full days of bus troubles, just being somewhere was good enough for me.