I’ve been skydiving, bungee jumping and paragliding; however, I’d have to say my most adventurous escapades are from my bus rides through South America. The characters, the questionable facilities, the otherworldly landscapes and the feature film-worthy situations made for incredible stories I can laugh about now (although at the time made me want to scream).
To hopefully give you a laugh, here are some of my most outlandish and humorous stories from riding the bus while backpacking South America.
Pro Tip: While the overnight busses are a great way to get around South America, I would highly, highly, highly recommend bringing some pickpocket-proof garments to secure your valuables while you sleep. Pickpocketing is not exactly uncommon on these busses. I love Clever Travel Companion‘s selection of hidden pocket shirts, undergarments and pants, as well as Speakeasy Travel Supply‘s gorgeous hand-made hidden pocket scarves.
1. Kissing Cheese
The route was an overnight bus from La Paz (Bolivia) to Puno (Peru). It was one of the dirtier buses — while I always checked that every vehicle had a bathroom before boarding, I valued cheap over cleanliness. This often meant I was meeting oddball local characters, such as “the kisser.”
The ride began with me sitting alone near a window, until a local took the seat next to me. I immediately wasn’t a fan. Not only because he smelled like rotting cheese, but because he stared at me like I was a tender steak ready to be eaten. Instead of doing the smart thing — changing seats — I threw my hood up and went to sleep.
At one point, I felt someone touching my fingers. I figured he was asleep and just brushed against me, until he wrapped his fingers around mine, intertwining them like we were love birds, and planted his nasty moldy cheddar lips on mine. I jumped back, smacking my head against the window and yelping. In that moment, I literally wished he would have punched me instead, as I was so utterly repulsed and weirded out. If it had been back in New York I would have reamed him out, but as I wasn’t a local and he hadn’t actually robbed or hurt me I didn’t want to cause a scene.
Instead, I gagged and furiously wiped my lips with my shirt while running to the back of the bus to switch seats, as I should have from the first moment I felt uncomfortable.
2. The Angry Packer
On an overnight bus ride from Rio to Ilha Grande in Brazil, I met the biggest a**hole of the whole 4-month Latin America trip. First of all, know that sometimes the temperature of overnight buses in South America are akin to Antarctica, and even if it’s warm out you should dress for an Arctic expedition.
But I digress. It was the middle of the night and I guess the man behind me — who, I’d just like to throw out there, was kicking my seat for the entire journey like a fidgety toddler — needed to get out. He screamed something in Portuguese at the driver — I’m not sure what but it sounded angry — and then angrily started jostling my reclined seat. It was almost as if I weren’t a human and he couldn’t just tap me ask me to un-recline for a second. But maybe he thought shaking me like he was having a seizure wouldn’t wake me and was just being polite (insert sarcasm).
He finally got his stuff, still screaming at the bus driver, and then proceeded to unzip his duffel bag and re-fold his clothes… using my sleeping body as a table. I sh*t you not. That I was not having. I let him continue folding, pretending to be asleep and, once he had about 10 pieces of clothing nearly set out, I decided to have a ferocious itch. My flailing arms sent the clothing flying all over the bus. An aggravated scream erupted from his throat, but he left me alone after that.
3. The Puke Bus
On the way from Cuzco to Lima in Peru, I rode on what I have since nicknamed “The Puke Bus.” If you’ve never ridden a bus around Peru, try to picture riding a very dirty and in-need-of-repair upside down roller coaster… that doesn’t end for 24 hours. Luckily, my strong stomach kept my lunch inside my belly.
Unfortunately, I still had to suffer.
When getting up to use the bathroom in the back of the bus, one local stood in my way.
The local just stared at me with a look of intense…anger? Hurt? Confusion?
Suddenly, he spewed vomit right at me — although graciously he looked down and got my feet instead of my face. Yippee!
When I sat back down, I realized the women I’d been next to was his mother, and she held a tiny plastic cup in her outstretched hands as her son puked his brains out all over the bus. He got about 1/1000th of it in the cup, but still she held it out.
It’s safe to say I spent almost that entire bus ride with my head hanging out the window.
4. I’m Horny
This incident wasn’t a bus ride, but occurred on my 4×4 tour from San Pedro, Chile, to Uyuni, Bolivia, while crossing the Soleli Desert. At one point, the sun was blasting through the window so intensely I began to sweat, despite the freezing temperatures outside.
“Estoy caliente,” I said to the driver, impressed with my fluency in the local language, although baffled at why he immediately became visibly uncomfortable.
I repeated myself, hoping he’d put on the air conditioning or open a window, but he only retreated farther away from me, literally.
Suddenly, an Argentinian guy in the back of the vehicle spoke up. “Ummm, you just told him you were
5. Passport Control
Heading from Mancora, Peru, across the border to Vilcabamba, I had potentially my most stressful bus ride of all time. Myself and two other Brooklynites whom I randomly met on the beach were taking the overnight bus together, and all, I guess stupidly, fell asleep during the ride. When we awoke at around 2am, I realized we were in Ecuador.
“But, we haven’t left Peru,” I thought to myself.
Apparently we had. My bus driver happily pointed out when I told him I needed to go back to the border to have my passport stamped that “I’d been sleeping — he’d seen me (!!!) — when we crossed the border.”
So why the hell didn’t you wake me up?!
Although clearly pissed off, the bus driver took me and my fellow New Yorkers back to the small wooden building that acted as a checkpoint, where apparently the officer in charge worked and lived…and was now asleep. We ended up kicking his door in — well, the guys did, I hid behind a tree — and he woke up and stamped our passports. I’m not sure if I need to even mention we were now hanging out with two very angry Ecuadorians.
This was also the ride where, at 4am, I was forced to walk 20 minutes in the pitch black to another station to switch buses. I’m getting off track, but basically crossing the border from Peru into Ecuador is a big pain in the butt (but will leave you with tons of stories to laugh at later!).
While backpacking South America, did you encounter any crazy bus situations? Would love to hear in the comments below.