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Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.

Thoughts on a Journey to the Incan Capital

Having taken a few night buses already, I didn´t think much of our night bus from Copacabana, Bolivia to Cusco, Peru.  That said, the torrential downpour of rain and hail that pelted the double-decker bus made that specific nightbus experience undeniably unique.  The sheer amount of water pouring onto the bus created damp patches in the worn ceiling, and drops of water began falling onto drowsy, unsuspecting passengers (such as myself).  Rather than getting totally worked up about the situation, I tried my best to embrace the notion of ¨Rugged Travel¨ and refocused my attention toward the book I was reading: The Motorcycle Diaries–Che Guevara´s personal notes on his Latin American journey.  Just days before our bus ride, Brian mentioned that he had read a passage from his book that really fit his situation and sentiments at the time.  In the same manner, I found that my readings from Motorcycle Diaries fitted eerily well with my situation on the bus.

As I sat on the bus travelling 80 kilometers per hour toward Cusco, 23 year old Che was also traveling from Lake Titicaca to Cusco, but in the year 1952.  The more I read about the details of young Che´s experience, the more humbled I felt as water continually dripped onto my forehead and paperback novel.  Not having the option of traveling via passenger bus, Che and his friend Alberto hitched a ride on a truck traveling overnight toward Cusco:

¨We were granted the privilege of some planks to sit on…The wind lashed liberally against our bodies…and within minutes we were literally frozen.  The truck continued to climb and with every minute the cold became more intense.  To stop ourselves from falling off we had to keep our hands outside the more or less protective blankets; it was difficult to switch positions even slightly without coming close to head-first flight into the back of the truck.  Close to dawn, some carburetor problem which afflicts engines at this altitude caused the truck to stop; we were nearing the highest point of the road, almost 5,000 meters.¨

While my predicament was by no means luxurious, I felt a lot more comfortable in my damp jeans once I imagined the hard floor boards and biting wind that whipped across their faces.  After traveling for more than three exhausting days, Che even manages to give a thoughtful reflection on the city, which gave me and my fellow students some perspective on the ¨violated ruins, sacked palaces, and faces of a brutalized race¨ that we were about to experience.

With Che´s journey and thoughts on the city in mind, I gave a lot more thought to my perception of rugged travel and what the city of Cusco signifies to its many inhabitants.