Destinations, Peru, South America

The Night Bus to Lake Titicaca

January 4, 2016
Lake Titicaca, Peru

I’ve learned to ask a lot of questions when I travel.  And I read the fine print.  But now and then something unexpected slips up on me.

It happened in Peru.  I had been in volunteering in Cusco for about a month, but I wanted to see some more of the country.  A travel agency in Cusco helped me organize an itinerary and book all “accommodations and transfers” in advance.  Easy, right?

My travel-buddy from Canada, MJ, flew down to join me for a week of Inca sightseeing.  When we picked up our confirmation packets at the travel agency, something wasn’t quite right.  Our itinerary seemed to have holes in it.  All our transportation was in order, but we were missing a few nights of lodging.  Surely it was just a mistake.

But it wasn’t.  Apparently, an itinerary that includes all “accommodations and transfers” doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have accommodations every night.  It means that on any given night, you might have transfers instead of accommodations.  For us, that meant we were booked on the night bus to Lake Titicaca.

Uh oh.  We weren’t counting on that.

What to do?  The Lake Titicaca leg of our itinerary fell in the middle of the week.  Rearranging it would mess up our trip to Machu Picchu.  We didn’t have any wiggle room, so we resolved to stick it out.

As the bus left the station, we felt optimistic.  Or perhaps we were just oxygen-deprived in the high elevation.  In any event, the bus was freezing and the night was pitch black as we drove the crooked road out of Cusco.  I resolved to sleep, but that was before the rain began and the windows leaked a steady stream of cold water onto the seats and floor.  I would have laughed if my teeth hadn’t been chattering.

I drifted in and out of an uncomfortable sleep as the bus drove on and on for hours, making occasional unannounced stops in the darkness.  One stop seemed to be taking longer than usual, so I got up to investigate.

A man outside the door was pointing to our bus and yelling “Copacabana! Copacabana!”  We had arrived at Terminal Terrestre in Puno, the main town on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca.  The bus was about to depart toward its next stop in Copacabana, Bolivia, and everyone onboard was still asleep.

MJ and I stumbled off with the other sleepy and startled passengers as the bus revved its engines.  As we exited the station, we waded into ankle-deep, foamy water.  It was both raining and snowing in the pre-dawn light.  I’ve never seen such a wild, swirling sky or such bizarre, snow-foamed rain puddles.

It was an eerie welcome to the world’s highest lake, but we were ready to get off that frigid bus.  And we were lucky we didn’t wake up in Bolivia!

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