Travel, I find, is often romanticized and reduced to elusive concepts such as “escapes” or “adventures”. While there may be inherent elements of both, much of what makes travel both exhilarating and exhausting is ignored when the predominant discourse is based on marketing labels. The traveler, now ‘customer-king’, is emphasized, not the extraordinary opportunities to connect across cultures, learn from each other and share moments, human to human (not nationality to nationality). The result is a de-humanization of both local culture and the experience of the traveler.
In this sense, I think it’s important to contextualize these ideas by reminding ourselves of some travel moments that make our journeys both exciting and frustrating and turn them into enriching learning experiences.
With this in mind, here is a post about some of those moments relating to the use of local transportation.
Expect risks. A friend of mine traveled to Lima and had arranged for someone from the hostel to pick him up at the airport. After luggage claim, my friend saw a man holding up a piece of paper with his name on it and thought ‘great, there he is’. After a while the driver stopped the car in a quiet alley, turned around and told my friend to hand over money. It turned out that this guy had seen the actual hostel driver holding up the sign, copied the name on another piece of paper and stood closer to the arrival doors so the first sign my friend saw was his and not the hostel driver’s sign. My friend, tired from traveling and now being kidnapped and robbed, started cursing in Spanish – something the driver didn’t expect. My friend ended up giving him what he had in his wallet (about a tenth of what he originally demanded) and the driver took him to the hostel.
Expect lies. People want the business you bring them and they will lie to get it. After strikes and other transportation issues kept me in Arequipa longer than I had anticipated, I bought a ticket for a night bus back to Lima. I paid for a bus with reclining seats (more expensive than a regular bus) because it makes for a less tiring journey (it’s a 15 hour ride) and was assured, several times, that yes, it was indeed going to be a bus with reclining seats. It wasn’t.
Expect crowds. You’re going to be shoved, pushed, squished and pulled. On our bus and train rides in Maharashtra, companies sold more tickets than there were seats.
Expect engine problems. Engines can be a source of trouble. In India, our bus from Mumbai to Murud broke down in the middle of nowhere. We waited a few hours for another one to come along. In Bolivia, the engine died during a snow storm in Uyuni. Our awesome driver managed to repair it and keep the tour going.
Expect delays and allow for more travel time. Get into slow travel. My bus from Lima to Trujillo left about three hours after it was supposed to and the boat from Pucallpa to Iquitos two days after the announced departure date (“hoy”).
And, of course, determine the price before you get on (depending on where you are, obviously).