1:30 in the morning. It is wet and cold. I am standing in mud halfway to my knees working with many other bus passengers trying to dig a semi out of the mud so that we can get home to Andahuaylas. This is the last stretch of journey that started a week ago, and I am tired.
It all started Monday, Feb. 18. It is never a good idea to travel during the rainy season of January & February, but we didn't have a choice. The changes in the immigration laws and the ones that have come from the religious freedom law have made it necessary to try to get an extension (which we hoped to do in Cuzco) or to cross the border by the 23rd. The new laws, supposedly written to make things easier for Evangelicals here in Peru, have actually made life more difficult. We have been doing like many missionaries and keeping ourselves legal here by doing a border crossing every 6 months. But now they can only give a 6 month visa once per year, the others can only be 3 months long. Due to ...complications, we have to do everything over again to get the resident religious worker visa again. The costs are staggering and with the falling dollar quite frankly out of reach at this time.
So, hoping to avoid the long lines, bureaucracy and corruption of the immigrations office in Lima, we decided to try in Cuzco. If we couldn't renew our visas there, then we have to go to Chile from Cuzco and cross the border.
That sounds like a deal!
But, we have to make a border crossing by the 23rd. So, we buy the bus tickets and leave that evening for Tacna and the Peru/Chile border. The bus trip was very pleasant, it was on a bus line we have only used once before and we were a little nervous about how it might be. Becky and Abby come with us to see Tacna and to spend some family time with us.
We arrive in Tacna about 5:30 in the morning, go to our usual hotel. But there are no vacancies. We go to every hotel we know of - no vacancies. It is the last week of summer vacation and everyone who can is visiting family and friends, and Chileans are visiting Peru. It began to seem like we would have to run to Chile and get back to take the bus back to Cuzco the same night--not a pleasant prospect. But, we found a taxi driver who new of a couple of nice hotels off of the beaten path and we found a nice room at a decent price.
Tammy, Chris and I check in and leave Becky and Abby to have a nap while we cross the border. No problems with the crossing, except the prices for the taxis have gone up. We even got a 6 month visa coming back into Peru; the immigrations lady asked us how long we wanted and why. When we told her we are working up in the Andes, she gave us 6 months!
We spent the rest of the day and the next one touring Tacna, a beautiful city in the Atacama desert. It was a nice time with the family. We had bought our return tickets on the same bus line that we came to Tacna on - San Martin. We were anticipating another easy and comfy trip. Boy! were we ever wrong about that.
We boarded at 7:30 at night and right away we saw that the bus was older than the hills and hadn't been cleaned for a long time. There were bags of vomit beside the seats, the bus reeked of urine and the seats were small and uncomfortable. But we hoped to just take a Dramamine and sleep through the trip - no big problem, we thought. It is only a 14 hour trip.
It ended up taking us 20 hours to get to Cuzco. The driver, who was drinking chicha, a homemade corn beer the whole night, also stopped in every little burg and picked up passengers. A little extra for his pocket, but quite against the law and dangerous, that is how kidnappers and robbers get on buses. He also flattened 2 tires on the back left rear so the bus had an awful list to port and he drove on the flat tires until he had gotten well out of town. Then the next afternoon, going up a mountain about 15 miles outside of Cuzco, the bus coasted to a halt. He had burnt up the clutch. The bus line said that they were sending out another bus to pick up the passengers, but it never showed and we had to flag another bus, pay another fare and ride in the aisles to Cuzco. We arrived just after the last seats for buses to Andahuaylas had been sold. So we had to spend the night in Cuzco - with our money running out and waiting until the next night (Sunday) to get our ride home.
The bus pulled out of Cuzco about 8 and we were making good time until we got to the still unpaved stretch of road at about 1 in the morning. There--stuck fast, buried up to the axles in a hairpin turn blocking the whole road-- was our stuck semi. We finally got the truck out of the mud. Chris did a good job of getting the driver to understand about rocking the truck to get it going and by 3 am we were back on the road. About 6 am we pulled into town, exhausted and broke, but home at last.