Dealing with Uncertainty

La Estación Near Alausi

La Estación Near Alausi

If you are unable to deal with uncertainty when traveling in other countries, it is possible that South America is not for you. One of my main destinations this trip was the Nariz Del Diablo railroad journey between Alausi and Sibambe. When I went to the bus terminal in Cuenca, I could not find a bus company that would sell me a ticket to Alausi; so I ponied up a few extra dollars for a ticket to Riobamba from the Patria bus company.

Alas, my Spanish is not good enough to understand what the ticket-sellers were trying to tell me. So I showed up the next morning and boarded my Patria bus, after telling the conductor I wanted to be let off on the Pan-American Highway near Alausi, which was a few kilometers away. I was met with another torrent of Spanish which I did not understand. (In this situation, it never helps to be flustered: I just played stupid and found my seat.)

Five hours later, the bus pulled up for a lunch stop at La Estación (shown above), from which Alausi was visible in the valley below. Not only could I get off there, but the conductor called a cab for me, for which I thanked him. I suspect what everyone was trying to tell me was that the bus did not actually go into the town, but I knew that to begin with.

My Bus Back to Cuenca

My Bus Back to Cuenca

Getting back was even more complicated. I took a cab from my hostería back to La Estación, where I waited two and a half hours for a bus back to Cuenca. I was going under the mistaken assumption that all buses stopped there. Apparently, they didn’t. (You can see my two blue bags in the first photo above.)

Just when I gave up hope, I walked to the edge of the highway prepared to flag down any bus. No sooner did I do that than—from a side street a couple hundred feet ahead of me—a second class bus from Alausi’s own line pulled onto the highway and stopped for me. I saw the Cuenca sign in the window and boarded.

We drove like a bat out of hell and covered the distance to Cuenca’s Terminal Terrestre in an hour less than the Patria bus took. The driver hit speed bumps and rumble strips at high speed, and my head bounced off the ceiling a couple of times. But I made it to Cuenca in good time and was happy.

 

 

Hill Street Blues

I Am Talking About the Real Hill Street—Not the One from the TV Series

I Am Talking About the Real Hill Street—Not the One from the TV Series

Basically, I should have stayed in bed. I have one of those nagging, persistent summer colds characterized by a raw throat and coughing. Still, I decided to go downtown to the Central Library, have lunch at the Grand Cenral Market, and even stop in at the Last Bookstore at 5th and Spring.

It all started as our train approached the second last stop before getting to the 7th Street Metro Station. We were all let out some 15 blocks south of our final destination because a train from either the Blue or Expo Line was stuck in the tunnel. By the time I got to the Pico Boulevard station, I noticed that the trains were running again; so I boarded and made it all the way to the 7th Street Metro Station.

So far, not too bad. Then, after stopping at the bookstore, I took the Dash bus to Union Station. Instead of boarding the Santa Monica #10 Freeway Bus, I decided at the last minute to take the Red Line subway to 7th Street Metro and transfer to the Expo Line. But that was not to be. As the Red Line approached the Pershing Square Station, an announcement was made that because of “police activity,” the Red Line would not be stopping at 7th Street Metro.

I jumped off at Pershing Square and trudged several blocks south on Hill Street, even as I felt my sore throat becoming rawer and more insistent. When I got to 7th Street Metro, I saw that the whole area was cordoned off by the LAPD and that included the Metro Rail station.

That precipitated the second part of my afternoon trek. I knew that the Santa Monica #10 bus would have to make a detour around the police cordon, so I walked down to Grand Avenue and 9th Street, where I waited … and waited … and waited. Finally, a bus came and I got on, actually getting a seat, and made it home about an hour and a half later than when I planned—and in rush hour traffic.

When I searched the Internet for the nature of the police action, I discovered that someone had left an unattended package in the station, probably some homeless person jettisoning a part of his junk load. It figures.

Adjustments

Fountain in the East Court at the Getty Villa

Fountain in the East Court at the Getty Villa

Now that I am working only two days a week, I decided to take advantage of the extra time to see parts of Los Angeles with which I am relatively unfamiliar. Today, I discussed with my friends Michael and Julie the idea of taking the new Expo Line downtown to visit the Grand Central Market and the Bradbury Building, both of which I have never seen.

Beginning on Friday, May 20, there will be a light rail line connecting Santa Monica and West Los Angeles with downtown—for the first time in sixty years, when the old Red Line Cars were abandoned, as Roger Rabbit claimed, so that L.A. could become the traffic nightmare it is today. Connections could be made to lines that stretch to Long Beach, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena and Azusa, and even El Segundo.

On Wednesday, I plan to visit the airport early in the morning and sign up for the TSA’s Pre Check program. For a fee of $85.00, I can fly for five years without removing my belt and shoes. No longer will I have to hold up my pants with my right hand while waddling shoeless to reclaim my personal belongings.

Afterwards, I plan to drive to a Metro information center and get cards enabling me and Martine to take a combination of light rail and bus lines virtually anywhere in the area. I’ll also pick up a day pass so that I can take an all-day light rail safari to downtown, Long Beach, and possibly Pasadena.

 

Mexican Bus Ride

Model of an ADO Bus With 1980s Logo

Model of an ADO Bus With 1980s Logo

It was in the 1970s and 1980s that I first fell in love with Latin America. Unfortunately, at that time, many of the countries that I wished to visit such as Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Peru, and Uruguay were ruled by dictators and—in the case of Peru—marked by a violent Maoist insurgency (the Sendero Luminoso). But Mexico was okay at the time. Now there are parts of Mexico I would fear to visit because of violent narcotraficante gangs. And Central and South America are generally safer.

I remember traveling thousands of miles by bus—all on buses built in Mexico by such companies as Masa, Sultana, and Dina. I remember one Cristóbal Colón bus between Mazatlán and Durango that crossed the Sierra Madre Occidental and forded several (then) unbridged rivers on roads that would have left a GM bus in pieces.

In central Mexico, I fell in love with the Flecha Amarilla (Yellow Arrow) line of clean second class buses one could board within minutes to destinations such as Guanajuato, San Miguel Allende, Querétaro, Pátzcuaro, and Mexico City. Along the Gulf, there were the buses of ADO (Autobuses de Oriente) that went clear to Yucatán. Only in Yucatán itself were the intercity buses broken-down wrecks, especially the ones operated by Union de Camioneros de Yucatán. (This may no longer be the case, but it was when I traveled there.)

All through my travels, I kept thinking of a Luis Buñuel film entitled (in the U.S.) Mexican Bus Ride (1952), although the original title is Subida al Cielo (“Ascent to Heaven”). Most of the story takes place during a long bus ride from a coastal fishing village over the mountains to the interior. During the film, there is a death, a birth, a seduction—in other words, just about all of life. It is probably one of Buñuel’s best films, and certainly his best production made in Mexico.

 

 

Take the Bus to Callao?

 

Which Bus? Going Where and When? And Taking Which Route?

Which Bus? Going Where and When? And Taking Which Route?

I enjoy taking public transportation in other countries, even in Argentina, which manages to make sense out of several hundred bus lines. But in Lima, you pretty much have to know in advance which bus to take. There is no handy-dandy website as in France or Iceland which makes you feel confident that you’ll get where you want to go.

The street above—Avenida Jose Pardo—is probably Lima’s most European-looking thoroughfare. Both of the above buses are going to Callao (pronounced Cah-YOW), Lima’s somewhat grungy seaport, and the location of its classy airport, but I could not find any body of information that helped me decide to take the bus.

Instead, I took cabs everywhere. Even an hour-long ride from the Plaza Major to Miraflores, where I was staying, in heinous rush hour traffic cost me only about 40 soles, or about $14-16. Although one has to be careful about taking an unregistered cab, one quickly becomes used to telling the difference. When approached by a tout, who wants to take you for a roundabout walk to his ramshackle vehicle, it is best to just say no and run like hell.

Most cabbies, however, were competent and friendly and drove newish cars. No one who takes pride in his vehicle is likely to “express kidnap” you and take you a series of ATMs, where you will be forced at gunpoint to drain your bank account(s). This practice is sometimes known as the “millionaires’ tour.” Trust me, this is one tour you don’t want to take.

In addition to taking cabs, I walked for miles in Lima, Cusco, Puno, and Arequipa. By evening, I was so tired that I had no trouble sleeping for nine or even ten hours.

 

Beats Greyhound Hands Down

Cruz Del Sur (Southern Cross) Is One of Peru’s Premier Bus Lines

Cruz Del Sur (Southern Cross) Is One of Peru’s Premier Bus Lines

For some reason I cannot quite fathom, Martine likes to go to Sacramento via Greyhound. (Perhaps it’s because the airport is many miles north of the city.) Today I was doing some research on returning to Lima from Cusco. Originally, I planned to fly; but then I realized that I would not only have to pony up for the flight, but also I’d have to book a hotel for the night. Then I looked at Cruz Del Sur’s website, and my eyes popped out.

I had some good feelings about South American buses from my experiences in Argentina, but some of the the long-distance Peruvian lines look really good. Probably the best of the bunch are Cruz Del Sur, Ormeño (which has a 6,002 mile route—the longest in the world—between Caracas, Venezuela and Buenos Aires, Argentina), and Oltursa. Many have what are called Executivo or Cama services, which include seats that recline from 160-180º, plus a lot of other extras. The Crucero Suite service includes these, plus meals (included in the price), stewards/stewardesses, entertainment with personal headphones and screens, two restrooms per bus, air conditioning and heating, reading lamps, a kit including blanket and pillow, and bingo. Check out this Cruz Del Sur website in English and compare it to the increasingly trashy public transportation services on offer in the United States.

Of course, nothing is perfect in this world. In the summer of 2013, a Cruz Del Sur bus full of American, European, and Asian tourists was held up outside of Ayacucho by eight armed bandits in the middle of the night. They pulled the bus off the road and proceeded to rob the passengers of over $50,000 in cash and personal goods. You can read the story in Peru This Week. Ayacucho is a dangerous place that served as the center of the Sendero Luminoso (“Shining Path”) guerrilla insurgency in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Peru is a deceptively large country: From Cusco to Lima is a 21-22 hour bus ride with a single stop on the way. I kind of hope it isn’t Ayacucho.

 

You’ll Get There Strætoway

The Central Bus Terminal at Hlemmur

The Central Bus Terminal at Hlemmur

I’ve always thought that one of the most fun things about visiting a foreign country is using the local bus system, especially when it’s so well organized (as it usually is in Europe). It’s an altogether different proposition in Latin America and Asia, where it’s not easy to find out beforehand where a particular bus goes and how often.

Reykjavík’s Stræto (pronounced STRY-toe), on the other hand, is pretty easy to use. Their yellow buses go all over the capital, and schedules are readily available on the Internet—in English. There are a number of regional terminals, such as Mjódd, from which the Stræto long-distance buses depart for the south and west of Iceland. These are usually a better deal than using the Reykjavík Excursions buses with their preponderance of backpackers. Then there is Háholt in Mosfellsbær and Fjörður in Hafnarfjörður in the southern part of the “metroplex.” (The quotes are there because Reykjavík has only about 150,000 residents.)

Stræto Buses at Hlemmur

Stræto Buses at Hlemmur

The bus fare for Stræto local buses is over $3.00, but there are several ways one can save. For more tourists, I recommend getting the Reykjavík Welcome Card, which allows you unlimited free bus travel for 1, 2, or 3 days. Also included is free admission to museums and swimming pools in the area. One could also buy panes of bus tickets. Note that long-distance services charge additional tickets, and these can either be purchased in advance at bus terminals or via credit card from the driver.

One interesting feature of the yellow Stræto buses is a display of what the next stop is, together with the name pronounced in proper Icelandic. It’s a great way to learn how to pronounce what is a real tongue-twister of a language.