A 96 hours bus trip from São Paulo at the Atlantic to Lima at the Pacific. The longest bus route in South America of 5,917 km crossing the Amazon and the Andes.
In two articles I will spend some words on the Transpacific Highway, which have to merge ones with the Estrada Interoceânica, which will connect Brazil, with Chile, Bolivia, Peru and via Lima with the rest of the South American countries like Columbia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
The first article is a travel report from Pablo Pereira, reporter with the journal Estado de S. Paulo. All photos are made by Epitacio Pessoa, photo-journalist with Estado de S. Paulo.
The second article (in a few days) will relate more technical and practical facts and figures about the bus trip.
The original travel report (in Portuguese) you can find at “Olhar sobre o Mundo”.
The longest bus route in South America is 5,917 km and connects the bus terminal Tietê in São Paulo, with the district of San Isidro in Lima, Peru. The overland journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a centennial dream of integration of the two countries, exists of a complex of roads that crosses five Brazilian states and seven departments in Peru during a voyage of four days.
Some weeks ago, reporters of the journal Estado de São Paulo followed the adventures of 18 passengers who faced the 96-hour trip aboard a bus of the Peruvian company Expreso Ormeño. The “double decker” bus, which has room for 44 passengers, stops only for refuelling, food and hygiene – each time with a maximum of 40 minutes.
The departure for the capital of Peru happens in box 31 at Tietê, at 8 hours, once every 15 days. The ticket costs BRL 468 (USD 260). The São Paulo-Lima line is operated since November 2010 by Ormeño, an international road transport company with bus routes from Peru to Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and Venezuela.
The first stop after a 6 hours ride, at 14.00hrs is in Maracaí, along the Raposo Tavares highway, near Ourinhos, for refuelling and lunch. At this point the first inconveniences of the long journey begin to appear. The next stop to stretch your legs will only happen in Cáceres (Mato Grosso) the morning of the second day. It’s time to take the first – and comforting – bath.
For BRL 3.00 (USD 1,65) passengers can enjoy seven minutes in a hot water bath controlled by an employee of the gas station. With shouting, he coordinates the water flow of the showers, in series, on both the male and female side. “Number one you are on. But you have to wait one minute for the water to get there. Number two, can I connect you?” shouts the boy at the door of the shower stalls.
Then again hours of pastures, cattle and forest range in the distance, following the bus to stop in Pontes e Lacerda for lunch at 14h. On the menu, rice, fried chicken, spaghetti and salad. Soon after, the warning: the next stop only the next day, at around 07.00hrs in a roadside bar in Nova California, at the border of Rondônia with Acre.
But first, in the middle of the night, a surprise: the crossing of the Rio Madeira, in the BR 364, near Abunã, must be made by boat. Everyone has to descend the bus to let it pass empty, with the people seated next to the vehicle. Later, after an hour on the Rio Branco Highway, the last frontier: Assis Brasil (Brazilian side) and Iñapari (Peru).
A forced stop. Without ID, the passenger Christopher Hernan Pacheco, 15, is barred by the Brazilian Federal Police, and causes an enforced break of three hours on the trip. After a call to São Paulo, where his family lives, the federal agents are convinced that everything is alright. Peruvian with Brazilian citizenship, the boy returns to his country after four years. He is eager to see his homeland. After a few meters through customs, he kills his longing for an Inca Kola, a popular soda drink in Peru.
At this point begins the Interoceanic Highway (Estrada or Rodoviário Interoceânica(o)), a newly paved stretch that connects Assis Brasil in Acre, with Puerto Maldonado, the state capital of Madre de Dios in Peru. There, around 21.00hrs, the passengers have to descend the bus a second time.
The Intercontinental Bridge, about 500 meters, inaugurated last year by Peru President Alan Garcia and Brazilian President Lula, cannot be used. The supporting cables showed irregularities and the work should only be ready in September, almost one year after the political festivities. The only way is, again, appeal to the ferry – for the bus that is – and a makeshift wooden boat for the passengers. The price per person: one sol (Peruvian currency) – about BRL 0.60 (USD 0.33) – to cross the river “full of piranhas,” according to the boatman.
“Cuidado. Esto es peligroso,” alerts Gonzalo Alayo Perez, 81, a passenger travelling from São Paulo to Lima, on entering the boat. “Exiting the bus at night and having to cross the river in a small boat like this is absurd”, says the Brazilian Creusa Amazonas, who embarked in São Paulo for a ten days sightseeing in Cuzco and Lima. Go to the other side of the river in a small boat is also one of the most delicate moments of the trip for Elza Menendez Carlos from Peru, 37, who lives in Mooca, in São Paulo, and travelled with her daughters Lilian, 12, and Suellen of 2 years.
With the youngest daughter sitting in her lap, Elza warns the teenager to be careful while the boatman lifts up the nose of the wooden vessel into the dark river, lit only by a flashlight. From the boat you can see the lights of the brand new bridge. About 200 meters up the river, the ferry takes the empty bus to the other side.
But the most shocking part of the trip hasn’t even started yet. For over two nights with one half day in the middle, the bus travels through the most critical area and the most beautiful as well: the Peruvian Amazon and the Andes mountain range. The “autobús” (coach, in Spanish) is winding up and down slopes of peaks, rises and falls, and turns following successive U-curves.
Anibal Castillo, 55, with 30 years in the profession as coach driver, takes the steering wheel for the spurt into the forests of Madre de Dios. Castillo likes to drive at night. “It’s cooler”, he says. In his hands, the passengers see a piece of the Peruvian Amazon. In the middle of nowhere, late at night on the third day, towards Cuzco, there are the lights of the gold miners. Tractors take advantage of the darkness in the jungle for washing gravel in search of gold.
Suddenly, a stop. It is time for the youngest driver. Franklin McCubbin, 53, takes command over one of the most stressful stretches in the direction of historic Cuzco.
“This is the hardest part”, the three drivers agree. “There are stretches in Mato Grosso and Rondônia (BR 364) which also slow the trip”, says McCubbin. “But this here is not so much work. What it takes is to get the powerful coach to an altitude of 4,725 meters, at an average speed of 30 km/h on the Highways 26 and 3S, and then descending to the bottom of the valley until you reach Cuzco”.
The vision of the break of dawn near the mysterious city in the region of the Inca sanctuary of Machu Picchu, helps to cope with the nausea of the sharp curves. During the stop of about 40 minutes, still in the morning, the second bath of the voyage. A hot shower for 3 soles (BRL 2,00 = USD 1.10) in a house behind the city’s bus station. And then back on the road. With asphalt floors without holes, well signalised, the road is good. And there are only two tracks.
“No problem,” says Jacinto Napan, 55, in the solitude of his driver’s seat during his turn on the third night of the trip. Napan shifts gears, reduces or increases the engine’s power of the modern bus listening to Andean music. In off hours, he rests in the compartment behind the cabin or takes advantage of empty seats upstairs to watch movies that entertain the travellers.
Nazca. On Saturday night, finally, begins the descent to the coast. In front of us: the plain of Nazca. Upstairs, passengers are asleep, intoxicated by the vibration of the coach and the thin air at this altitude. The moon lights up the plain which houses curious stone structures that form giant drawings of animals. The driver Napan announces the distant lights of Nazca. He explains that the highway has “viewpoints” where, during the day, you can see some of the top structures that intrigue the world.
For almost 90 hours on board, already counting the curves of the access road to Lima, the patient driver can no longer hide his rush. On the straight stretches to Nazca, he doesn’t delay to step up the speed. It is Sunday morning.
The last driver change occurs near Ica, with Lima nearby. Franklin Mc Cubbin returns to the steering wheel on Highway 1. You see the lights of the Peruvian capital. In the coach, a stirring upstairs reveals the anxiety of the passengers. A line of people forms on the stairs. Arriving in San Isidro takes place at 0600hrs local time. It’s the end of the line.
Browse two countries for four days and four nights sitting in a bus is a challenge that requires patience and a taste for adventure. There are long stretches up to 18 hours non-stop without hygiene or food. The next article will give the technical facts of the trip and tips for a comfortable journey. The trip certainly is worth a try. A never-to-forget experience.