I knew I had signed myself up for more of the mysterious aching knee syndrome which has punctuated my many bus journeys when I hatched a plan to make it from Chachapoyas, Peru, to Loja, Ecuador, in under 24 hours. Three buses would be required and I started my journey just a couple of hours after returning to Chachapoyas from Keulap. After two months and some fantastic Peruvian experiences and people I felt ready for a new country and, if the buses kept to schedule, I could complete my journey without the need for a stopover.
I boarded the 7.30pm bus for Chiclayo and was in for a bit of a surprise. My first inkling at what lay ahead should have pinged into my brain when the hostess handed out plastic bags to every passenger. Naively, I thought these were for rubbish. But no, the clear bags were sick bags and it turned out they were going to be in demand. As was becoming the norm I was the only foreigner on the bus and you might think I would be favourite to be undone by the twisty descent through the Andes. But no, it would be the four Peruvians sitting to my right who would succumb first. To be fair, they kept their stomach-evacuating retches to a minimum and the only hint at their plight was a regular plopping sound as the bags slowly filled with multicoloured liquids and floating remnants of, well, whatever they last ate. One woman bemoaned a dodgy dinner of tamales before tying her bag and depositing it on the floor. It would spend the rest of the journey rolling around the aisle just waiting for someone to come a cropper in the dark.
In the midst of what was my personal version of Stand By Me’s pie-eating contest - except this was not a bedtime story to amuse boys on the cusp of adolescence - dinner was served. I kept my constitution in check and managed to eat the lot. I actually felt twinges of guilt at being so unaffected by travel sickness. I even managed to fall asleep and woke some time in the small hours with a toddler clutching at my T-shirt as she slept on her mother’s lap. They must have boarded along the way and by now we had reached the flat coastal desert so I was safe from the threat of vomit. The small girl was incredibly cute and as her head lolled onto my ribs I made her an impromptu pillow with my fleece.