We decided to head to a high mountain town called Paucartambo for no other reason than that we heard the sunrise near there in June and July is amazing. We figured, eh, why not go check it out? It’s the end of April, so that’s close to around June, right?

We sort of knew what we were getting ourselves in for. The amazing sunrise near Paucartambo, in a place called Tres Cruces, is nearly always obscured by clouds. But during the months of June and July, the high clouds disappear, revealing a strange atmospheric phenomenon that makes the horizon appear as though three golden suns are rising above a sea of lower clouds that cover the jungle in the basin below. We held out hope that maybe, just maybe, we’d be lucky and there wouldn’t be any clouds when we visited.

We made several critically wrong assumptions on this leg of our journey. It never occurred to me that the road and bus would be sketchy. With all of the crazy bus rides I’ve had lately, I should have known better. And honestly, there isn’t much going on in that part of Peru, unless of course, it’s June and July, the season for the amazing sunrises. We decided we were in it for the adventure, no matter what did (or didn’t) happen. In the end, we at least had some good laughs.

We caught the last bus of the day to Paucartambo. I was in seat number 49, all the way in the back. I got a glance of the bus before boarding and I immediately had my doubts. The huge front tire was worn down, with gash covering what little tread was still there. The front half of the bus was divided from the back half by a jagged rusty line of corroded metal. The windows seemed loose in their casings and the luggage rack above everyone’s heads was rigged with a combination of plastic strips, wood pieces and extra screws.

Once the bus went into motion, I jiggled around so much that a few times I actually caught some air, getting tossed upward in my seat. The windows rattled, the entire bus creaked with every shimmy and the luggage rack shuddered like it would fall down any second. This bus was like an amusement park ride, made to feel scary with jumps and jolts and sharp turns that pull your stomach in the wrong direction. Except this was not an amusement park ride, safe and comfortable with a false specter of danger.

This bus ride was tense. And it wasn’t just Matt and I who felt that way. Nearly every man on the bus broke a sweat and kept an eye on the road with a worried glance. The guy next to us ate crackers obsessively, nervously finishing one package and immediately opening the next. We left the paved road at the base of the mountain and headed up a dusty, rocky trail barely wide enough for a fifty-passenger bus. Essentially, we were off-roading in a tin can, creeping up the side of a 14,000’ mountain, taking blind curves and oncoming semi-trucks with the honk of a horn and the prayer of everyone on board.

There were several times when Matt and I began talking about those last second scenarios, like in slapstick movies, where the plane has malfunctioned and everyone on board acts crazy during their final moments. Most of the time, we were shaking around so much that truly, it was difficult to even talk to one another. We made the trip with sweaty hands and stiffened muscles. Coca leaves helped with the altitude. The spectacular and often stomach churning views of mountain peaks kept our attention focused on the wide open spaces just beyond the bus windows, instead of focusing our attention on the fact that the road was so small that we couldn’t even see it moving below us . . .