Route: Tacna – Arequipa
Bus Company: ???
Cost: 20 soles (+ 1 sol terminal fee)
05:30-11:30 (6 hours)
As feared, we arrive at the terminal in Tacna at 00:30. It’s long and dark and quiet. The only place that’s open is a brightly-lit restaurant catering for lost men. Opposite me is an old man with a kind face who tells me that he’s waiting for his daughter, “a doctor” he tells me with pride, who works for 20 days in Arequipa, and then has 10 days back here with the family.
One of the women from the bus also wants to go to Arequipa, so we sit together, protect each other’s things, and wait for the offices to open. She’s not overly keen on conversation, in that she responds to all my questions with a single word that has been solemnly drained of all enthusiasm. Her daughter, 22, married and with a son, lives in Buenos Aires, near Once, a barrio of Buenos Aires famous as a place to buy cheap clothes material and to see shells of humans dying slowly through addiction to Paco. I don’t mention this last fact.
She strikes up a conversation with the kindly old man which is conducted in the most matter-of-fact way, as if they were policemen cross-examining each other. What’s your name? What’s your surname? So you’re from the north? When did you move down to Tacna? Is it cheaper here? The woman tells me that you can tell where someone is from by their surname. Hers is Sosa. I tentatively suggest that Sosa is in fact an extremely common surname, but stop pursuing the matter when she tells me that it’s not. I nod agreement and ask about her sons, tour guides in Arequipa.
At some point I realise that we’re 2 hours behind Argentina, which means that our wait for the bus will be even longer. A driver offers to take us to Arequipa for 50 soles as part of a shared car. I’m suspicious so I check out the car, a muscle car with a tail wing, all good so far. The man shows me his office at the bottom of the terminal and it looks mildly professional, with a name that matches a sticker on the car, and sheets of hand-written names with official-looking numbers next to them. I suggest it to my companion, but she says that it’s too expensive, and since I now feel almost like her bodyguard I politely decline and return to my uncomfortable plastic bum-number and wait in vain for sleep. Of course, the truth is that by sitting next to me, a gringo, she’s increasing her chances of being robbed by about a thousand percent. Aware of this I put my hood up to hide my white face, shining like a beacon through the darkness, and I pretend that my legs are not the length of most people here by concealing them behind my rucksack.
Sleep is next to impossible. My friend of few words is completely bent over her legs, which are straddled sideways over two seats. It looks intensely uncomfortable, and may well be a yoga position. Sure enough she soon flops back and sighs dejectedly. Down below, in the gloom near the end of the terminal, is a cluster of multi-coloured forts, as old as the terminal itself, built by the homeless. I find myself envying their relative comfort. And as I imagine peeling back an entrance to reveal a grand Bedouin tent, sleep mercifully comes.
At 4am (Peruvian time) the Flores ticket office opens and I’m told that a bus is leaving inside 10 minutes for 20 Soles. They won’t accept my dollars so I ask my friend to exchange some dollars for soles but she looks at me blankly and a little offended, as if I were trying to rob her. Behind us someone starts shouting ‘Aaaaarequipa, Arequipa, Arequipa” and my friend drifts towards the sound, hypnotised, and spends 20 soles on a ticket for a bus that leaves 40 minutes later than the Flores one. I consider asking her why she did that, and then decide that it’s not worth the bother. At least I can pay in dollars at this one.
The bus eventually leaves at 5:30am, and my friend is sitting on the top floor at the front; I’m a few seats further back. She doesn’t even say goodbye.
Semi-cama is a significant step down from the luxury of cama. My legs are cramped even before the person in front has ratcheted his seat back. The hinged leg rest that comes out from the back of the seat in front is on a spring, and so bounces into the back of my legs with every bump of the bus. There is no space for my bags under the seat or above in the luggage rack, so I have to put my feet on top, thereby pushing my knees up to my chest. The armrest is too thin to put my elbow on, so any attempt to sleep invariably ends up with my elbow slipping and the head whose weight it was supporting hitting the armrest at cell-eliminating speed. It’s just not cama.