In Peru, a two-hour taxi ride costs between $50 - $100 U.S. dollars. In America, a two-hour taxi ride would require you to get another mortgage on your house.
Needless to say, we took a lot of taxi rides during our Peru vacation. Not that we had many options transportation-wise - the bus system was daunting for gringos with limited Spanish.
The buses were brightly painted variations on VW hippie-mobiles, packed to the gills with riders. I didn't see any bus routes posted anywhere, guess perhaps it was written on the bus? People just seemed to hop on and off, sometimes in traffic while the bus was still moving. It looked like it would be a thrilling commute to work.
Here's a beautiful bus in Lima.
During our trip, the Peruvians we interacted with most were our taxi drivers. I would say that my view of the country is through their eyes, but truthfully I didn't learn too too much from them as my Spanish is at a second grade level. Makes it difficult for meaningful conversation. I could only remember the present tense in Spanish, which resulted in a lot of phrases like "We go to food now." I was constantly living in the NOW, baby. Forget the past, there is no future.
But you know what? It worked! Debie's Spanish was better than mine and we were able to get around. Thank you, high school Spanish teachers. I may have appeared to be asleep in class, but something got through.
In addition, most of our taxi drivers spoke a bit of English as well, so we were able to communicate between our terrible Spanish and their English. Some things were lost in translation though. While making our way out of Cusco after our flight from Lima, our cheerful driver put on the radio and that whistle solo from "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" came on. We all laughed - the song seemed to fit with our adventuring. With that, the taxi driver stopped the car in the middle of the narrow street. We're not talking pulling over to the side, no. He just put on the brakes suddenly and started rummaging, looking for something. We all started getting a little bit nervous. Then he pulls out his cellphone - he just wanted to show us that he has the same "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" whistle-solo as his ringtone. Phew! That was totally worth stopping in the middle of traffic for.
Landscape driving out of Cusco
I could never drive in Peru - it looked difficult. Traffic lights and lane dividers seemed to be mere suggestions, as most drivers did whatever the heck they wanted. Honking was also extremely popular. The first day we were in Lima, we thought everyone was honking at us in a lasciviously way. Could be, but also taxis honked at anyone walking down the street in hopes they might need a ride, and cars honked just to make their presence known. One of our cab drivers in the Sacred Valley honked at everyone on the sidewalk, and also a dog, even a bird. Stay back, bird!
That same cab driver tried to steal from me. In retrospect, we were too trusting. Our plan was to drive from the town of Ollantaytambo back to Cusco, with a stop at Pisac Market. Our American hostel owner called us a cab and told us the driver would wait with our luggage while we browsed the market for a bit. We paid up front - mistake #1 - and got in the cab. We then went to the market and bought a metric ton of llama dolls.
When we got in the car, I had a feeling I should check my bag and make sure my iPhone was still there. Mistake #2 - bringing an iPhone to South America. It wasn't in the pocket that I was 99% certain I left it. I'm sure I turned a paler shade of pale as I whipped around from the front seat and tried to whisper to my friends, "My iPhone is gone." But I suck at whispering and they didn't understand me. "Write it on your iPhone!" Debie said helpfully. The cabdriver watched while I tore through my bag and dumped everything on my lap. Finally, he asked in Spanish, "Did you lose something?" I told him I lost my cellphone. He then opened the glovebox and pulled out the iPhone. "Is it this?" he asked.
"Por que es en esto?" I said, my garbled Spanish attempt at saying, "Why is it in there, you rat bastard?"
He said something like, "Oh you left it on the floor and I was just holding it for safekeeping." Whatever. Lisa later said the zippers on her bags were undone. Needless to say, it was a tense car ride the rest of the way. We thought Lisa lost her cellphone when it disappeared from her backpack earlier in the trip, but in light of this incident, it was probably stolen.
Here are some pictures I snapped during that fateful cab ride and the one to Ollantaytambo. It doesn't come across so well in these pictures, but the Sacred Valley is breathtaking. The landscape really reminds me of Northern California, but on steroids.
Aside from the people who tried to steal from us, everyone in Peru was very nice. One cab driver in Lima even had my back - I was sitting in the front seat with the window rolled down while we were stalled in a traffic jam, and this man selling CDs came up to our car and started talking to us. I was listening to his sale pitch, but the taxi driver warned me to watch out for my camera, that the guy might try to take it. My first instinct was to roll up the window. So this man is going through his spiel and I just pushed a button and whiirrrrr.....the window starts slowly rolling up as he is still talking. Ha! It was funny and sad, maybe you had to be there.
Traffic intersections were a major place of commerce - you could buy food, stickers, CDs all without leaving your car. I so wanted to stick my hand out and grab a banana as this guy biked past.
We didn't only take taxis, though. Because the train tracks to Machu Picchu were washed out from this spring's floods, we had to take a bus to a different train station in order to get to Aguas Calientes, the town outside Machu Picchu. The bus hurtled along narrow unpaved roads with hairpin turns. This wasn't the worst part. People also used these same roads as sidewalks. As the bus rocketed by, I saw people walking and biking along the side of the road, entire families all wearing dark clothing at night, darting out in front of the bus on blind curves. At one point, a car going the opposite direction played a game of chicken with our bus, each refusing to move to let the other pass. Eventually, the bus backed down.
And finally, the last form of transportation: the train.
The ride itself was perfectly pleasant. But on the way back, Debie and I wanted to sit with Lisa and Caroline, so we sat down next to them, assuming that we could explain to whoever's seats we were in that we would like to switch seats. But then a French couple came along and booted us out on our ear. The man actually grabbed Debie by the elbow and removed her from her seat. She was not pleased about that.
I went to back to our original seats, but two other people had taken them. I tried to explain in Spanish what had happened, that they were sitting in our seats, but they just stared at me. I kept trying, desperately reaching into my brain for vocab words, but this couple just was not getting it. I was starting to get frustrated. In the midst of this debacle, I had a chocolate Sublime bar in my hand that was rapidly melting, so I was angrily speaking broken Spanish and simultaneously stuffing my face with chocolate. Oh, dear! Probably looked imbalanced.
This goes on for a few frenzied minutes and then it turns out the people I was talking to were deaf. So the whole time I was thinking that my Spanish is so terrible that no one can understand me, when in actuality I was trying to have a conversation with people who were hearing-impaired.
Really, what are the chances of this scenario? I suppose this sort of thing is what makes travel exciting.