Night buses, indeed travelling by buses at all, is normal behaviour in South America for tourists and locals alike. On this occasion I was travelling from Arequipa in Southern Peru to Arica in Northern Chile via the border town of Tacna. The bus station in Arequipa is a hectic mess even at 9 o’clock in the evening. I arrived and was greeted with a mass of people shouting, pushing, eating and no information as to where I might go or where my bus would depart from. The station itself is filled with companies offering their services and selling tickets. As there was no departure information I went up to the desk of the company my ticket was bought through hoping someone could help me. I gave the lady behind the desk my ticket and she looked at it like I had put one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets in her hand. It was as if she didn’t even recognise the company name. Turning the ticket over looking with equal disbelief at both sides, she mumbled something, pointed to the exit and told me to wait.
So wait I did.
I waited until it was ten minutes until my bus was due to leave and then I sought out the buses and found the right one through trial and error.
I climbed onboard, sat down in my semi-cama (a reclining seat), got my blanket out and prepared to go to sleep. Little did I know I wouldn’t be sleeping much this night as I was sat next to a Peruvian mad woman.
First of all she asked me the usual questions, my name, how long I am travelling for, where I am from etc… She told me I was from Germany, I corrected her and said I was from England. She said that I am from Germany, so for this one night I was to be Janna the German. It felt like it would be easier to agree with her than show her my passport.
She said “Inglaterra” and gave me a manic grin and the thumbs up, she did the same with “Alemania”. Both got her approval.
Then she said “España” with a look of disgust on her face, wagging her finger saying “no, no”.
So I said “you don’t like Spain?”
Again revulsion passed over her face and she pointed to my backpack and said “España” and then proceeded to kick it. It seemed a little extreme but I didn’t say anything. I was hoping this would be the end of our conversation and I could go to sleep.
That was not to be the case. She spoke to me on and off throughout the night. She laughed in a manic way and made eye contact with me that was hard to break away from. She got out a receipt from her bag and asked me to read the words and then laughed at my Spanish. She took out her digital watch numerous times and got me to say the numbers, again laughing at my Spanish.
At just past midnight she woke me up and showed me an SD card, pointed to the word Jamaica and asked what that was. I explained Jamaica was a country. She said it couldn’t be as she’d never heard of it. I knew she wouldn’t let it go so I said that actually, I had just remembered, it was a town in Germany (and obviously I should know as that’s where I’m from).
At 2am, after me showing me her digital watch and asking me to tell her the time, she got some medication from her bag and asked me what material the casing was made of. She appeared happy with my answer and let me go back to sleep.
At 2.05am she poked me and asked if she should take the medication. I have no idea what it was or the recommended dosage, I looked at the pack but it was no clearer. I said I didn’t know. She grinned at me and started laughing and said she takes it everyday. I told her to take it then hoping it might be sleeping tablets. Whatever it was, she was quiet from then on so I was grateful for it.
It was an unusual bus journey. However we arrived at our destination on time, I said adios to my friend and she pressed something into my hand. As she walked away I looked down and saw she had given me the receipt as a farewell gift. The kindness of strangers…
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