19 March 13
The bus winds up a well maintained dirt road, barely clearing soil outcroppings and skirting a long, tumbling fall of hill on our right. Every time we hit a bump, I land into my seat and a little poof of urine-scented air escapes the cushions. I spend five and half hours debating ‘would I rather be in this extremely comfortable seat that smells overwhelmingly like pee, or on a clean but uncomfortable wooden bench?’ Every time I think I’ve settled on the comfortable recliner, we hit another puddle, the stench assails me again, and the thought of a numb tailbone sounds better and better. We keep climbing higher, the bus stalling when our driver shifts gears as the vehicle crawls into la sierra. The views are strangely familiar – rice paddies terraced into the mountains, the small white houses clinging to places barely flatter than a ski hill, corn growing in fairly straight rows. A few banana trees are scattered here and there, but I can’t find any elephantine taro leaves. We pass a vulture. He and I are on eye level because his tree roots somewhere down the cliff, so his perch barely clears the road’s altitude. A brown river rushes by, carving the valley ever deeper. There’s a proper bridge crossing the chasm, but next to it is a small zipline with a one person pulley attached. It looks equal parts fun and terrifying. We cut through a village; eight houses clustered on both sides of the road, and guanabana and popcorn are sold to los pasejeros through the open bus windows. We start off again, zigzagging up a series of switchbacks. All I can think, when I’m not debating the comfortable urine seat v. the clean wooden bench, is ‘please, bus, don’t tip over.’ I spare a moment to think about what would happen if we flipped into the hill on our left instead of the empty space on our right. It’s patently obvious that the right wheels would barely leave earth if we leaned against the cliff, so steep is its ascent from the hard packed dirt of the road. The power line cuts a cleaner path up the gorge and we crisscross underneath it. The lowest line is covered in air plants, happily perched on the metal and soaking up the sun. Occasionally, we sidle past cows, horses, or burros hanging out on the side of the road. They hear the honk of the horn and scatter to the edge, ignoring the autobus careening by. Trees are silhouetted against the skyline and suddenly we’re inside a cloud. I revert to childhood whenever I’m in cloud, and, tickled pink, smile to myself. ‘I’m in a cloud’s belly!’ The mist grows thicker until I start praying that the bus driver can see better than I can, because to me it looks like the road ends five feet in front of us, and he’s flooring the gas. We cross the spine of the mountains and suddenly it starts raining. Welcome to Peru’s microclimates. The temperature drops from the mid nineties to the low sixties and I’m very glad I packed my chaqueta in my daypack. Suddenly, we’re headed down and I’m irrationally upset. ‘All that work going up and now we’re just going back down?’ But that’s it. We’re here, and I suddenly become self conscious. Do I smell like urine now?