“Sube sube sube!”
Yelled the door assistant of the Imperial as the bus came to a brief halt in front of the paradero in Limacpampa. Former project managers Kyla and Rachel basically carried me onto the vehicle before I had a chance to register what was going on. The doors were still open while the bus sped away and resumed its route. I struggled to balance myself as the bus bumped and swerved, and I was very grateful when Kyla found a seat for me.
This was my very first bus ride in Cusco, and what I consider to be one of my first tastes of daily life here. I was overwhelmed by the crowds, the crazy driving, and the unfamiliar surroundings that I glimpsed through the windows. Given my lack of geographical awareness, I doubted my ability to make sense of these surroundings, let alone have the confidence to shout “baja” on a crowded bus when I was only partly sure that I had arrived at my destination. The bus, I surmised, would be a tough beast to tackle.
My first bus ride without Kyla and Rachel was the same route — taking the Imperial from Limacpampa to Los Nogales. My co-project manager, Danielle, had never been to Los Nogales before, so it was my duty to deliver us safely to the gates of the school. I kept my eyes and ears peeled for the Cebicheria, which is the name of our Nogales stop. I nervously clutched my phone and followed our progress toward the airport on Google Maps, as I vaguely remembered Kyla and Rachel mentioning that the Cebicheria is four stops after the airport. When at last we passed the airport and I heard the door assistant say Cebicheria, I timidly replied “Baja Cebicheria” and breathed a sigh of relief when I recognized the colorful walls of the school around the corner.
Since then, riding the bus has become second nature. I no longer need to strain to hear whether our bus stop has been called. We can doze off during our rides and wake up just in time to hop off. Although we have mastered the art of scouting for seats, we too have mastered the art of balancing a bag of soccer balls, a backpack, and a tote full of yogurt and granola whilst straddling the center aisle.
After being in Cusco for almost two months, I have become intimately acquainted with the buses, and am gradually becoming intimately acquainted with the unique areas of this incredible city. I know the Rápido will take me to the market San Jerónimo, the Wimpillay will take me to the mall Real Plaza, and the C4M will take me pretty much anywhere, albeit via a very long and convoluted route. And most importantly, I know that the Imperial will deliver me almost to my doorstep and save me the climb up Calle Choquechaka.
This modest victory over the public transportation system of Cusco has made me feel more at home here. In some small way I am able to join my life with the many Cusqueñans who ride the bus everyday—adults on their way to work, children coming home from school— or at the very least join my daily routine with theirs. Although my life experiences are vastly different from the majority of my fellow passengers, every time I yell “baja” and pay my fare to the assistant before darting off the bus, I feel the city of Cusco becoming a part of me more and more.