Altitude sickness, dueling ventilation systems, popped tires and more awaited Andrew Evans as he boarded his bus to travel to Bolivia.
Some buses are better than others.
In South America, bus companies attract passengers based on levels of bus quality, comfort, security, entertainment, and sleeping space. When leaving Lima I chose the Peruvian bus company Ormeño because I had already taken them in Ecuador and liked their big buses and nice service. The bus line also holds a Guinness World Record for the longest single stage commercial bus route in the world (from Lima to Buenos Aires–72 hours). I thought it was fitting that they be a part of my journey to Antarctica.
Unfortunately, my 30-hour bus journey from Lima to La Paz was lacking in many of the comforts advertised. Strangely (and ironically), the heat was turned on while we were crossing the blazing Peruvian desert. Then at night, when the temperature dropped to near freezing, the air conditioning came on good and strong while the heat remained. I was baking below my waist and shivering above–an odd sensation.
To make matters worse, we were climbing from sea level (in Arequipa) up to Peru’s altiplano in the Andes–a beautiful high altitude plain some 12,000 feet above sea level. On the way, many passengers began showing signs of altitude sickness. As a preventative measure, I asked the bus attendant for some coca tea. She finally relented, but made me drink it in secret so that they other passengers wouldn’t see (because then they all would want some). After some 20 hours (without stopping), our bus popped a tire and we were forced to stop. Passengers spilled out into the open plain and tried to keep warm in the cold mountain air.
My fellow passenger Sara Améstegui described our trip as her “worst travel experience ever.” She and her family were returning to Cochobamba in Bolivia after a month-long vacation in Colombia–I enjoyed traveling with them. Sara had just graduated from college with a degree in communications, and she speaks English very well, so I’ll just let her explain our trip in her own words. (For the record, the “seat partner” to whom she is referring was not me.)