As a student studying Spanish in Cusco I noticed that taking local buses in Peru is not like taking a bus at home. In my home country buses are expected to leave on time, to not take too many people on board and to stop at the designated stops. Here in Peru it works slightly different. There is no bus schedule telling you at what time the bus leaves, busses are often really, REALLY full and, except for in big cities such as Lima, you can basically jump on and off whenever you like. You just flag down a bus and jump on. Travelling from the Spanish school to my home in Cusco I need to take buses all the time. To me it`s a mystery how people know what bus to take. Looking up buses on the internet is not possible, there are no ticket offices and nowhere is indicated where you’re heading to.
Still the system works. Local people in Cusco seem to always know what bus to take. And the fact that there are no schedules has never caused stress to anyone. You never have to wait long for a bus to show up. Here in Cusco it is incredible how many mini vans come and go every minute. The ayudante, the driver’s assistant, will be hanging half way out of the driving bus, crying out the destinations. A sign for people waiting outside to jump on as soon as they hear the name of their stop. Entering the bus you will hear the ayudante shouting: “Sube, sube, sube” which means: “get on, get on, get on.”
I am never really sure if they say that because they want people to hurry up, or just to let the driver know that there are people coming on board so he can’t start to drive yet. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Approaching your stop, tell the driver “Baja”. Others will say “bajo” plus the name of the stop. “Bajo Puente Rosario”. The ayudante will then shout at the driver “Baja, baja, baja”. The driver stops and the ayudante opens the door for you so you can get out and continue your journey to your Spanish class, your host family in Peru, your volunteer project in Cusco or whatever awaits you. Your first bus ride in Peru will be quite an experience. I have to say it’s a way more charming experience than an automatic voice calling out the bus stops and doors that open automatically. Have fun!