I will never forget the first time I travelled to my new home in Peru. It was a 7-hour rocky ride on a small path of dirt with an abysmal drop on the right side. Every 2 seconds the combi curved to the left or to the right. The combi was about the size of a 15-passenger van, but we were over 20 people and a few animals. Like a puzzle, there was not a free inch of space. Even the roof was stacked high with luggage and furniture.
The combi passed slowly through the most beautiful valleys and we climbed mountains that were 100 shades of green.
There were small lakes dotting the mountainside and at one point we passed through a rock forrest.
We passed by humble homes in the middle of nowhere with mothers sitting, crochet needle in hand, waiting for their husbands to return from the farm. Children ran through the fields without shoes and played with grass and sticks.
I was sitting, squished, on the very back row with three other people. Well, actually 6 because two of the women had large toddlers on their laps. The women’s colorful skirts smelled of musk and their wide brimmed hats bounced up and down on their jet-black braids.
My toes were buried underneath a crate of vegetables and my knees were smashed against a basket of crying guinea pigs. The smell of the guinea pigs mixed with the musk of the clothing filled the car because we could not open the windows without someone complaining about the cold. (Most Peruvians are afraid of cold things because there is a strong belief that they bring sickness.)
Thirty minutes into the 7-hour ride one of the mothers to my right yelled, “Bolsa! Bolsa!” and a small plastic bag came flying back towards us. Unfortunately it was too late and we were covered in toddler vomit. He continued to vomit the entire ride and was joined by four other people along the journey. Filling one little plastic bag after another, then throwing them out the window to topple into the deathly drop below.
More than once the combi stopped to remove large stones from the path. We stopped to deliver medicine to one of the campo houses. We stopped so a señora could pick some fresh berries from one of the wild bushes along the path. We stopped for a bathroom break and the men lined up along to round while the women walked to find a boulder big enough to afford them some privacy.
The radio blared the same five Huayno songs over and over again. Pine trees and wild pastel colored peony turned to banana trees and small brooks. I began to daze off, head rolling from side to side with the movement of the combi. Suddenly we stopped! I woke up to see cows crossing the road, followed by a man egging them on with a stick. I added cows to the list of donkeys, horses, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and dogs… all animals we had stopped for along the way.
Halfway through our journey we stopped to pick up another passenger and his goat. The goat, tied at the feet, was placed under our seats next to our suitcases. The sound of the baby goat bleating was added to the chaos, and for those of you who have never heard a goat bleat let me tell you it sounds eerily human.
As we climbed above the cloud level the weather quickly became frigid and I bundled up tighter.
Then and hour later sweat dripped down my forehead as we headed down the mountain to dryer, hotter scenery.
I said a little prayer as we slowly drove by a part of the road where a landslide had demolished half of our one lane dirt path, and another when we had a to cross a river.
Drowsy and excited, we finally reached the entrance to town and I said a prayer of thanks that I had made it alive! Then I found out that is exactly how my travel would be for the next two years… beautifully chaotic.