The bus hits a bump and I come to. It’s shortly after sunrise, a very typical-looking day here in small-town Inner Mongolia. Wait, what? Shake my head, when and where the hell am I? In a couple hours of sleep we’ve abandoned the lush, beautiful and clean Ecuadorian scenery for small, one-main-road desert towns lined with slogan-painted one-story brick buildings and plastic bag berms and overcast with a grey-brown haze. The similarity between what I’m looking at and western China ten years ago is striking.
Not long after that we jump out in Piura. It may look like Inner Mongolia but it feels like we’re back in Central America. Within seconds of getting off the bus we’ve got taxi drivers following us around – “Taxi?!?” “Taxi!?!” “Taxi!!” and grilling us on where we’re going and why we should go with them (“Mas borato!!”). Jesus Christ, fuck this town already, let’s just jump on a bus to Lima. The next bus to Lima isn’t until 5 pm – maybe 9 or 10 hours away – but the cabbies swarming us tell us there’s another terminal. “A que hora a Lima?” “A las tres.” Well that doesn’t help much. We’re burnt out and have no patience for this bullshit, but find a guy who can change Ameribucks to P-Bucks. We circle his corner window, backs to all the cabbies to try to get them to stop hassling us, and shit gets comical. One of them runs outside and grabs the window facing us, slides it sideways and yells “TAXI?!?!?” his little head popping up like a muppet from the street, looking through the window. Are you fucking serious??? After way too much hassle making change – a lot of “Oh to make it even I need these coins – oh you’ve got those – I’ll take two and give you these back”, likely a straight-up hustle – we do jump in a taxi and check out the other terminal. The cabbie pulls another classic scam on us. Before getting in he told us the cost is five P-Bucks, but when we arrive and I hand him a twenty he gives me back 5. Five EACH he explains, with a sly grin on his face. You prick.
Checking around at a few ticket companies we confirm that the earliest bus really is at three, giving us the better part of a day to get acquainted with Piura. The area around the bus terminal isn’t thrilling – there’s very little to look at because we’re constantly being yelled at – “TAXI!? TAXI!??! TAXI!?!?!?!” “SHOESHINE?!?!” “SUNGLASSES!?!?” “SUNGLASSES!?!?” “CAR?!?” “CAR?!?!?” “CAR!?!?!?!?!” I know these types of aggressive sales tactics are all over the world but I’ve never grown accustomed to them and I can’t explain enough how much I hate them, especially when someone blocks my path on the sidewalk or whistles in my face. We cut into a market and it’s mostly just piles of fish and seafood parts so it doesn’t have a strong appeal for Murphy or myself (we’re both deathly allergic). Cut back out of the market, getting yelled at again. We haven’t eaten in quite a while but all of the roadside vendors have bicycle-carts full of ceviche, not an ideal option. Finally we cut into a place on a side street and get what we hope is some proper food. It’s pretty mediocre chicken & rice and as the woman finishes taking our order she asks if we want to buy a drive somewhere as well. Hilarious. While we’re waiting for breakfast to come out two different sunglass vendors and a shoeshine guy come into the restaurant and shove their wares in our faces. By the way, none of us wear shoes that can be shined.
Not digging the vibe of this town at all and if we’re going to spend a whole day here, solace is required. We find a cheap motel near the bus station (less than $20 for all three of us) and throw our shit down. Single-bed room but all we really need is a place to lie our heads and grab a shower, even if it is a cold one.
After a brief respite from the chaos we decide to check out the city. Murphy hits up some web sites and finds a plaza and a basilica that look decent so we all pile into the back of a mototaxi and head over to that part of town for about a buck.
The plaza is pretty chill, a statue of someone (?) in the middle, commemorating an anniversary of Peruvian independence if I remember correctly. Not a lot of bar / restaurant action happening but there are some banks and farmacias so we get cashed up and I attempt to buy codeine OTC, partially because my back is sore from last night’s bus ride but mostly because I know the 15-hour ride to Lima will be boring as shit and getting some opiates in my blood would be swell. After some pantomime and Spanglish the pharmacist decides I don’t need codeine though (sadface) and she gives me muscle relaxants instead. They do help my sore back but I was really angling for the buzz.
We stroll a couple blocks over to the river and there’s not much happening there either, but we’re led into a series of tents by a woman who keeps saying “libros”. Books? From the exterior it looks like a typical clothing or seafood market but inside it’s almost entirely books. Strange but neat. Don’t need any though, keep hoofing along.
A sidewalk-posted tourist map shows us where we’re at and what we should go see. We head toward some of the highlights (like a run-down stadium) and are thoroughly unimpressed. We’ve covered most of the “downtown” area of this city by this point, to hell with it, back to the hotel.
We hit the nicest gas station in the Americas, which is weird to find in this town, take a breather from the heat and nab some bus and blog supplies, snickers, chips, beers, and Murphy picks up a gift pack of Jager with a nice tray and 6 shot glasses. After doing some maths we determine that a 3 p.m. bus will land us in Lima at 6 a.m., too early really. We kill another couple of hours in the room, waiting for the 5 p.m. bus. I write up some blogs while Drisdelle and Murphy hit the roof with some beers to get a new perspective of Piura.
Around 4 we decide some decent food wouldn’t hurt so we jump downstairs to a restaurant across the road and order up some pollo milanesa (Murphy), “poor-style” steak (myself) and a family-sized plate of ceviche and accoutrements (Drisdelle). It’s only five minutes to the bus station, surely an hour should be enough time to eat in peace? We order up some Inka Cola, the local cola that outsells Coke and was subsequently bought up by it. Looks like Mountain Dew but tastes like cream soda.
Nope, race time! My steak comes out around 4:35 and I eat half of it then run back to the room to pack my shit. I’m finished and waiting when Murphy & Drisdelle come running up the stairs to do the same. Twelve minutes to departure. Run to the bus station!
“Tres boletas, Lima, a las cinco”, breathless. “No.” No seats available. Shiiiit. The cashier points out that they also have buses at 6 and 6:30. Can we have tickets? No, they’re sold out too. Shiiiiiiit.
Run through traffic to the ticket vendors on the other side, no one’s going to Lima. Our last resort is to head back to the other terminal, but it’s unclear whether there will even be any buses available – we’d learned there was a 5 p.m. bus from that terminal but we would’ve already missed it, there may not be any later departures. Gotta try. Don’t want to be stuck in this place another day.
We hail the worst cab in the world and jump in. It’s a Daewoo Tico, possibly the shittiest production car made in the last twenty years, but this one is extraordinary. The back window has been replaced with a semi-transparent, loose-hanging plastic bag. Both side mirrors have been smashed out/off. The body looks completely fucked. From the inside we see that it looks like the roof has been taken off and then welded back on by an untrained gorilla at some point, and the cabbie honks at traffic not by pressing on a horn, but by connecting two loose wires.
A bus is departing for Lima as soon as we jump out of the cabbie. It’s already moving but the side door is open so we run up and ask if we can jump on. Nope, no room. Shiiiiiit!!! Okay, run to the desk, any others? Yes!!! Another one leaves at 7. We buy some tickets for what we later find are jacked-up rates (supposed to be about $13 a piece, we paid closer to $30 each). The guy who ripped us off lets us throw our bags behind the desk and we decide to go find some beer. On the way out we meet a German chick named Eva who’s travelling solo so we invite her along and she accepts; she’s a teacher from Freiburg who just spent three months volunteering in a school in a poor district of Buenos Aires.
We sit around over a few beers and give each other tips, as we’re headed in opposite directions. Before we leave she hands us three postcards to send out – she’s already got them addressed and stamped but can’t find a postbox in Piura, so she asks if we can do it in Lima or Cuzco. (Still need to do this… oops… sorry Eva…)
Back to the terminal but when we try to retrieve our stuff our scam artist has a new one for us. We have to pay for luggage? What the hell? No way that’s right. No, he insists. We don’t have much time to waste but we manage to talk him down to about $10 for all of our luggage but then he asks for a tip. We laugh in his face and he kind of grins too, the gig is up you dick.
Climbing onto the bus we’re slightly dismayed to see there aren’t beds like there were on the other buses to Lima, but that was just the start…
P.S. I know this post is crazy negative, but after several nights with little sleep and getting yelled at and whistled at all day, it accurately represents our state of mind. I also know that Piura is a big place and it probably has a few good things, but I wouldn’t recommend going there to anyone I like.