02/06/2012 07:32 am ET Updated Apr 07, 2012

Riding The Night Bus To Cusco

I pushed my way through the crowded streets of Ica toward the bus station and threw myself into one of the blue plastic seats, and breathed in deeply. I was about to board a twenty hour bus from Ica to Cusco and knew I had a long night ahead of me. My sister was traveling with me at this point in my trip, and we had decided to get to the station about 30 minutes early, just to give ourselves some time to grab some snacks and water and stretch our legs, before sitting in a tiny seat for an entire day.

Half an hour passed quickly and I kept craning my neck, looking for our bus to come. Another 30 minutes passed and I started getting nervous. I flagged down one of the station workers and began to ask in broken spanish, "Donde el autobus a Cusco?"

The workers assured me that my bus was coming, and I sat down again to wait. As the daylight started to fade and 30 minutes turned into two hours, I thanked my lucky stars that I was not alone at this deserted bus station. Besides for my sister and I, there were two older gentlemen in one corner, getting into a heated discussion, and a family of four, eating dinner from one of the many street carts. The light grew darker and darker, and as I checked the time, I realized that the bus was four hours late.

"Maybe this is just Peruvian time," I thought nervously as my sister and I waited in tense silence.

Just as we were debating whether it would be safer to go back to our hostel and try to take a morning ride, our bus chugged into the station, casual as ever. Grabbing our bags we ran onto the bus and up the flight of stairs to our reserved seats on the upper level. Overnight buses in Peru are dual level, and have options of cama and half cama (full or half-reclining chairs). Our friend Marijus, who had already braved one of these night buses, had advised us to book the cheaper half-reclining seats on the upper level. He told us that the views were spectacular, and the difference in comfort was minimal.


As the bus pulled out of the station, we finally took a deep breath and began to settle in and relax for the start of our 20 hour trip. The journey from Ica to Cusco is not only challenging due to the length, but also because of the change in altitude. Cusco is 11,600 feet above sea level, while Ica is only 1,332 feet above sea level. We thought that traveling by bus would give us a gradual transition to the higher altitudes, rather than taking a flight, and being thrust from one extreme to another.

If only that had been the case.

About two hours into our trip, I began to feel strange. My body felt like it was floating, and my head was pounding. I took in some deep yoga breaths, trying to calm down and relax. When that didn't seem to work, I decided to stretch my legs and walk downstairs. As soon as I reached the bottom of the staircase, I felt the full movement of the bus, as it wove through the mountain roads.

I ran up the stairs, back to my seat, ripped open my backpack and grabbed the plastic bag I had the foresight to pack. I made it just in time, and won the honor of being the first person on my bus to throw up. I lay weakly back against my seat and willed the nausea to leave my body. I must have fallen asleep because I woke up, what seemed like a few hours later to the sound of numerous people throwing up. I looked behind me and half the bus was puking. "Great," I thought, as the smell started to spread throughout the bus. Suddenly I felt something wet on my jeans. I looked down and saw that my plastic bag was leaking.

Using my Burberry scarf as a mop, I wiped up what I could and resigned myself that this would just be a bad memory in just a mere fifteen hours. I plugged in my headphones and a few more hours passed in a dizzy haze. About halfway through the trip, I heard footsteps running from the back of the bus towards the front. Looking up I saw a little boy, running towards the bathroom. As he reached the stairs, he stopped and threw up all over the staircase. With ten hours to go, I was trapped on a bus, covered in my own throw up, and surrounded by the smell of other sick people around me.

I started laughing.

Finally, with about four hours until we reached Cusco, the bus pulled off the mountain road onto a small side street and stopped. We were informed that the driver wanted to eat breakfast, so we would be stopping at a roadside restaurant for 45 minutes.

I stumbled off the bus and blinked against the bright sunlight. After sitting down for so long, my legs wobbled for a few minutes as I wandered around the countryside. Having no appetite after that nightmarish ride, I just sat in the sun and snapped pictures of the gorgeous mountain views. We were already high up in the Andes, and I had never seen such incredible views. The air was thin, but it was fresh and clean and what little I managed to breathe in felt cleansing and pure.

Finally, we piled back into the bus and prepared for our final hours towards Cusco. The views kept getting better, and finally we rounded a corner and I could see the cluster of buildings, making up Cusco's central district. Desperately needing a shower, a hot meal, and a change of clothes, all thoughts left my mind as I peered eagerly out the window.