Every week, some Latin American paper runs another story about how somewhere in some South American country, some bus falls off a cliff. The bus I was on yesterday came really close to rolling backwards off a cliff and it was scary as hell. And the strangest part of the whole story happened right before I left to go to town, as I said good-bye to Matt.
¨I´ll see you later,¨ he said.
And from out of nowhere, the thought came, ¨What if I were to die today?¨ I shook the thought away, kissed my love good-bye and got on the bus to Cusco.
It happened on my way home. As the bus crossed the high mountain pass just east of Cusco, heading back toward Pisac, the Peruvian police randomly stopped us and asked the driver for his credentials. I think it was just a routine check, nothing serious. Then the driver and the bus conductor (the guy who takes the money) both got off the bus to talk to the police. After a minute or two, the bus began to slowly . . . slowly, then a little faster . . . roll backwards!
Everyone on the bus noticed at the same time. Everyone looked up and kind of sucked in their breath with a quiet, collective panic at the exact same moment – because we were rolling backwards toward the edge of a sheer cliff with no driver in the driver´s seat!!
Forty sets of eyes instantly shifted to the person closest to the driver´s seat – a traditionally dressed Quechua woman who was loaded down with a manta full of something strapped to her back. She couldn´t move very easily.
She moved like lightning, despite her heavy load, toward the driver´s seat with her hands in front of her, as though she were going to dive under the dash and try to find the brakes with her hands. Her body language told me that she didn´t know how to drive a car. My stomach began to sink. Everyone was quiet. No one had thought to scream just yet.
Then, from out of nowhere, the driver came running and jumped onto the bus and set the parking brake. It happened just that fast. One minute everyone on that bus was fucked and the very next second everything was suddenly OK again. Life´s like that sometimes.
Luckily for us, there was a separate driver´s door on the left side of the bus, so he could just hop in and not be blocked by the crush of riders standing in the front of the bus. Luckily for us, the bus hadn´t gathered so much momentum that the driver couldn´t still jump on. Luckily for us, Peruvian bus drivers are accustomed to jumping on and off a moving bus. Lucky for us.