The Best Wonders of Backpacking South America: En route to Lima

I have been backpacking South America for almost a month now and enjoying the hell out of it. I am making my way to Lima for the Karikuy volunteer program, rather quickly as I have already postponed my arrival date twice. I spent my last couple days in Argentina in the quiet mountain town of Purmamarca, a tiny village set in the montañas coloradas in the northern state of Jujuy. The sun hits these brazen peaks and reflects rich purples, pungent oranges, rusty reds and chilly greens; the colors clash and topple upon one another and I click hundreds of photos in hopes to do it all justice.

Backpacking South America

The bus to northern Chile leaves only three times a week, and I wait for it early Sunday morning in the biting cold next to a barren highway. At least I am not alone; A German couple puts their backpacks along side mine, and we share our appreciation for the colorful surroundings, our dislike of the temperature, and a mutual gratitude that the other being there confirms we are in the right place to pick up the bus. Besides the roosters awakening, it is quiet. I breathed in this peaceful scene knowing that the next couple days would be spent inside a cramped bus, crossing geographical extremes, eating forgettable sandwiches and attempting to get some sleep.

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backpacking south america - cars at the border
Border Crossings can be time consuming Backpacking South America

Here I am at the Chilean/Peruvian Border. It is 6am local time and my taxi parks in line behind a dozen others. The offices are not open yet, so we wait. The border seems a desert wasteland, temperate but dry and unyielding. I try to remember if I brushed my teeth last night; it sure doesn’t feel like it. The hours pass over me in my blurry state. I share a four door sedan with four ladies and a restless baby, and an overweight driver who is itching to get us through.

The actual crossing seems hazy at best, lots of filling out of documents and stamping of passports, an x-ray machine, the careless lifting and dropping of luggage. Someone offered me an Oreo and I didn’t even hesitate to shove it in my mouth. I am quite hungry, thirsty and really never thought I’d be this anxious to jump on another bus so that maybe I could catch some shuteye.

The bus for Lima leaves at 2pm, “No later,” the ticket lady warned.
“No problem,” I responded, as I knew any more than six hours in a bus station may end in the ultimate breaking of my fragile state. I found breakfast: Fried unidentified fish with a potato and rice, and a cup of watery Nescafé. I am either going to have to give up the coffee addiction or get used to powdered instant for the next month, and who am I to be a snob? The meal left me unsatisfied and hungry, so I left the station to find chocolate.

Backpacking South America Takes Me to Lima

Finally en route to Lima! My bus company is Excluciva (talk about feeling like a snob) and I am elated: The seats are overstuffed leather Lazyboys that recline to beds, the meals are hot and rather delicious, and the movies are non-stop. After the third flick, I doze off to a wonderful slumber knowing that when I awake, I will finally be there.

2am: We are stopped. There is a commotion in the bus. People seem upset and voices are raised. My brain is too tired to translate what is going on, and I fall back asleep.

6am: We are still stopped and the sun is rising. Yet more commotion and some seats are empty. I exited the bus only to notice we were drowning in a sea of more buses, trucks, tankers and autos. There are people everywhere, many of them on cell phones, and no one looks happy.

The collective word is that the road is blocked due to a miner’s strike. A law just passed exempting artisan miners from selling their products, and in protest they blocked the roads with stones and fires. The police were handling it, but estimated 72 hours until we could hit the road again. Three days?!? No puede ser.

I found the bathroom, which was flooding with brown water and smelled like a barn. Instead I set off to look for a phone to tell Karikuy of my *predicament*. Five blocks down I found a phone outside a hotel who let me use their clean, stocked bathroom. It’s times like these that makes one realize their true creature comforts. I ran into an English couple on my way back and we decided to find some food. All this killed a mere 2 hours…70 to go.

Over that day I watched two more movies, napped, chatted with busmates, ate street meat, and joined the cheers and jeers when the roads were finally cleared at 5pm. All in all it wasn’t so bad; I caught up on eight movies I haven’t seen, made some Peruvian friends, ate the local fare (hopefully not in regret), and in Lima I was picked up by Julio and Josh of Karikuy, and taken back to my new home-away-from-home just in time for bed… 63 hours later.

Jenny Sherman is a Volunteer in Peru with Karikuy Tours. Want to travel affordably and blog about Peru? Check out the Karikuy Peru Volunteer Program!

About the Author
Jenny Sherman
Jenny Sherman

Jenny Sherman grew up in the never-tiring San Francisco Bay Area on the California Coast. She graduated with a BA degree in Journalism with a Spanish Minor, but if there were a Traveling major, it would have been more appropriate. Since graduating from the University of Oregon in 2004, she took to the road to live and work in various places and at various trades. She continues to do that to this day, which is how she found herself volunteering at Karikuy in Lima, Peru. Most consistently, Jenny is a writer/photographer and has lived in Spain, Mexico, Texas, Maine, Brasil, Peru, on a school bus, in a tent and always finds time to go back to San Francisco.

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