11 May 2011

A dangerous commute!

The programme at Picaflor House starts each afternoon at 2.30 and to get there I have to catch one of the local mini buses. These range in size from 12-seaters to 20-seaters but there is no limit on the number of people and produce they carry, so a 12-seater can, and does, carry as many as 40 people, crammed in like sardines, clinging on tightly to any overhead railings and seatbacks, with the ‘conductor’ frequently hanging out the side door trying to attract even more customers to squash in.

The journey to Oropesa takes about 45 minutes and, as we head out of Cusco, the number of passengers tends to thin out and we manage to find a seat. Today’s bus was more crowded than usual and we (Peruvian teacher Nellida and volunteer Mat) stood for over half the journey, squeezed and prodded and pushed as passengers came and went. Eventually I got a seat on one side of the bus and managed to free up my camera to grab a couple of photos of the jam.

Moments later I rescued a very sleepy little girl from being squashed between the big people and within a few minutes she’d fallen asleep on my knee. She was about 5 and was travelling with her ‘big’ brother – he must’ve been about 7. They got off the bus as we neared the first country town outside Cusco, and he led her off into the fields, presumably heading for home. Children learn responsibility early here!

We eventually reached Oropesa and were just about to stand up to exit the bus when there was an almighty crash, schoolgirls screamed, the interior of the bus filled with red dust, broken glass and one of the bus’s speakers fell onto my lap, and passengers started pushing in panic towards the side exit.

As the bus had turned left across the main road, another vehicle had hit us just behind where I was sitting, scraped along the side of the bus and then obliterated its entire back end.

Amazingly, no one was hurt, though many were shocked and frightened. The driver of the other vehicle hadn’t stopped – maybe he was worried that he’d be in trouble if he’d killed anyone on the bus!

A policeman materialised out of nowhere and started shouting at our driver, so I assume it had been his fault. Though some of schoolgirls who had been at the very back of the bus were crying from shock, most of the locals seemed to regard the whole thing as a source of entertainment!

Luckily the bus trip home tonight was totally and completely UNeventful!