The Man Who Pays His Way: With no food left and no sign of rescue, fellow travellers look appetising

By the ninth hour of being stranded on a high Andean pass, some of my 52 fellow passengers began to look really rather tasty.

The film Missing depicts the true story of a plane crash on the mountainous spine of South America, in which the survivors could remain alive only by eating the remains of passengers who had perished in the accident.

My chosen form of trans-Andean transport was a bus, not an aircraft. But with the on-board supplies of food exhausted and no immediate sign of rescue, the Hannibal Lecter cookbook began to seem like a good investment.



OF ALL the transportational sciences, arguably the most inexact is bus travel in Latin America. On the average journey from small town to small town, to be told the bus is leaving ahora ("now") usually means "Get on board and we may go in an hour or so when a few more passengers show up"; ahorita literally means "right now", but in practice translates as, "Well, we will start moving sometime soon but before we leave town we're going to drive around the Plaza Mayor (main square) a few times to drum up more business." And even when a specific departure time is shown on the schedule at the bus station, a timing such as "18.30" is merely an indication that, in an ideal world, the company would get the bus to depart at 6.30pm.

Turn up at the Cruz del Sur bus station in Cusco 10 minutes before the advertised 18.30 departure to Nazca, though, and you will be stuck for the night. The timetable on display is four years out of date; the double-deck Imperial coach, as black as the Peruvian night, is actually scheduled to leave at 6pm. It will get going around a quarter-of-an-hour late because of the stringent security.

In the manner of an old-style photographer preparing for a family tableau, the security guard sets up a video camera to get a wide shot of everyone having their tickets checked against passports and their hand baggage searched. Before the bus can leave, everyone has to smile for the camera a second time, as the future feature-film director takes a tracking shot of the entire length of both decks. Terrorism is an all-too recent memory here. As in-bus entertainment, the resulting video would make for more tranquil viewing than the violent DVDs that are shown on board, with the volume turned on full.

Nevertheless, the overnight bus from Cusco to Nazca is the perfect departure for anyone keen to maximise their time in Peru. You can spend a full day wandering the ancient Inca streets, then sleep as you cross the mountains to the town that trades on tourists visiting the cryptic "Nazca Lines". The bus is due to arrive at 7am, which is, conveniently, the time the first sightseeing flight takes off to view these mysterious geometric shapes – known as geoglyphs – that were created a couple of millennia ago. But that schedule does not allow for mudslides.

At 4,300m, the Huashuaccasa Pass is vulnerable to landslips after heavy rain. The embankment over the only highway in this region of Peru gave way, spreading hundreds of tons of mud across the road. Fortunately, no one was harmed; the first vehicle on the scene, which happened to be the noon bus from Cusco to Lima, stopped just short of the roadblock at 8pm. Traffic news on Peruvian Radio is evidently lacking, because my bus was around six hours away when the landslip happened. Yet it merrily continued to the pass that had become an impasse, arriving at 1am. Well above the tree line and just below the snow line, the landscape is lunar. And with the nearest emergency services many hours away, we might as well have been on the moon.



The first rule of travel in Latin America: always have a Plan B. A few unfortunate tourists had not built in an extra day or two to allow for exigencies of travel in Peru. When dawn broke, one German traveller climbed around the mudslide to reach the traffic on the far side. With the help of a wad of dollars, he persuaded someone to drive the 60 miles to the nearest town so he could try to reach Lima airport, and his flight home, that night.

At 8am, 12 hours after the landslip occurred, a dozen men from the highway authority turned up. The nearest bulldozer was apparently 200 miles away, so they could use only shovels and wheelbarrows.

The task of clearing a path through the heavy, sticky blockage would have taken all day, were it it not for the assistance of a truck driver who agreed to use his tail-lift as a kind of rudimentary digger, repeatedly reversing into the mud to scoop out bucketsful of Andean sludge.

I counted 40 buses on "my" side of the landslip; assuming each was full (usually a safe bet in Peru, where public transport is environmentally hyper-efficient), that means 2,000 people were stranded on the eastern side of the range wanting to go west, with a similar number heading in the opposite direction.

To incentivise the dozen workers to go just a little faster, an enterprising woman from the first coach in line brought a hat around asking for one sol (20p) from each passenger as a bonus for the crew.

After three hours (or, from the point of view of the first bus to find the road blocked, 15 hours) they cleared a channel just wide enough for vehicles to squeeze through. The 10-hour wait was over.

Two hours further on we reached the first town, Puquio. The crew planned to continue for another five hours straight through to Nazca, but a passenger mutiny forced a pit stop to buy bread, corn and bananas. After the first meal for many hours, we could at last stop inspecting each other from a nutritional point of view.

In this land of hopes and glories, you need not look for adventure; it will find you.



At Gatwick airport, I used to clean out Sir Freddie Laker's Skytrain DC10s after they had touched down at the end of overnight flights from America. After a seven- hour stint from New York, the cabin was rarely wholesome. Likewise, the interior of the bus from Cusco was in far-from-pristine condition by the time it rolled into Nazca.

We passengers were in even worse shape. Many were carrying on to Lima, another seven hours further on, by which time it would be Day Three of their trip. Pity the poor cleaner at Lima...

On a wing and a prayer

"Jesus Christ" is what you say whenever you raise your eyes above the ancient Inca streets of Cusco. That is because a white statue of the Saviour stands overlooking the city. But the same phrase is likely to be uttered by pilots when they approach the Peruvian city's airport for the first time.

Cusco's runway stands at 3,400m above sea level, making it a prime candidate – along with La Paz across the border in Bolivia – for the ultimate "hot and high" airport.

"Low and cold" is the usual preference among pilots, because at sea level at cold temperatures the air is conveniently dense, making landing more of a pleasure. In the rarefied atmosphere of Cusco and La Paz, touching down at at the right velocity is quite a challenge. And while the airport serving the Bolivian capital is on a plateau with no higher ground for miles, Cusco airport is ringed by mountains, allowing precious little room for error on the part of the pilot.

Taking off is exciting, too, as the weary old jets that tend to be deployed on the route to Lima struggle for enough lift to climb above the mountains – and the statue of Christ.

Even though no-frills airlines such as Star Peru offer fares only slightly above those of first-class buses, many locals still prefer to endure a trip of 24 hours, or more, by road.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
i100
Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album