Monday, October 25, 2010

Point of Departure

Airports, train stations and bus depots have always conjured up exotic images for me. Growing up in Milwaukee’s blue-collar south side was pretty much a stay at home experience. Travel was normally limited to family summer vacations to a destination not more than five or six hours away in the family car (the concept of a two-car family was still far in the future). Anytime anyone in the neighborhood ‘crossed the border’ into another state it became a topic of conversation over backyard fences for several weeks. We traveled vicariously. Maybe once per week we’d drive to the airport to watch planes take off and land. Many families did that. We’d bring popcorn or other snacks and Kool-Aid. It was tradition for us kids to shout “have a good trip” as the departing planes faded into the distance. One day the newspaper announced that for the first time a jet was going to land in Milwaukee. You couldn’t find a place to park within a half mile of the airport that day. I don’t remember if we saw the jet or not. Probably many people didn’t, but you had to say you did to have any status in the neighborhood.

The vast majority of Chiclayanos haven’t flown and never will. Older folks wouldn’t set foot into anything that leaves mother earth, and younger travelers who might take the risk can’t afford it. Which is why I sometimes find myself at Chiclayo’s Ormeño bus terminal located just off the Pan American highway. Sunday is normally the busiest night of the week, usually because Chiclayanos are returning to their lives/jobs in Lima or because they intend to buy or sell products there. The atmosphere outside is best described as semi-controlled bedlam. There is the blare of moto and taxi horns as vehicles and shouting people with luggage compete for space. Adding to the clamber is the shouts of vendors illegally offering their snacks and souvenirs. There are also men who are eager to help you with your luggage and packages as they unapologetically direct you to the bus line they represent. The big guy in the photo has a reputation for filling his company’s busses quickly.

Once inside the traveler is greeted with more bus line representatives, each of them looking for that inexperienced traveler while shouting, “lowest cost!” and “leaving immediately!” Show the slightest hesitancy and you will find yourself and your luggage being forcefully escorted to the ticket counter of Crisolito, Titanic, Valturs, Continental/Ormeño, Murga Serrano, ETTI, La Perla del Alto Mayo, Mori, Latino, or any of a half-dozen other companies. All it takes is a ‘look’ from a savvy traveler to get them to back off. Then all you have to contend with is the noise and crush of bodies.

Busses are generally scheduled to leave every hour on the hour but they won’t go until all available seating is sold, so there are usually busses leaving the terminal every 10 minutes or so. Rates range from a normal $7 - $11 to $18 - $36 on holidays. These busses make many scheduled and unscheduled stops en route to Lima, even stopping on a desolate section of the highway to pick up or drop off a solitary passenger. Total time from Chiclayo to Lima is normally 12 – 14 hours.

Watching people ‘seeing off’ friends and family is generally what you would expect. There is everything from playful slaps on the back accompanied with a smiling “Hasta pronto!” to tearful hugs and a whispered “Vaya con Dios.” I usually hark back to the days at the airport and think to myself, “Have a good trip.”



  1. Wow, it's amazing how living in two different countries, living different realities, as children, we both, had a very similar experience. I used to go with my father and my sister to Lima's Jorge Chavez airport every so often to watch planes depart. I used to imagine exotic destinations, far away countries, and looking at crew members, all dressed and looking different from the people I was used to see, made my mind fly away... Every so often we will find paper tags in 'funny' languages or writings. My father would tell us stories about those countries. And when planes would take off, we used to shout: Buen viaje!

  2. We used to LOVE spending an afternoon at Orlando Int'l Airport (back when it was just McCoy Airport - I can't believe I'm old enough to say that something was "back when..."). We'd stretch a quilt across the roof of Dad's station wagon, or sit on the tailgate, and watch the planes take off straight over our heads.

    Now, when I fly over, I look down, and see people right in that same little spot where we used to go.

    So good to see you back. :)

  3. I came across your blog today as I was searching for info on education in Chiclayo. I'm a South African, and I moved to Peru 3 weeks ago. And my gosh! It is super refreshing to read a blog in English of someone that's close-by. I live in Mocupe, and I haven't met anyone who speaks English. I'm still learning to speak Spanish, so conversation is not always very effective. :-)
    Thank you, I'll probably be back often, just to get that portion of English to get me going for another while! I read your posting on the Karl Weiz anniversary....I saw that school yesterday in Chiclayo!

  4. Hi Corlene,

    Welcome to Peru and our blog. Feel free to contact us next time you’re in Chiclayo. We enjoy meeting people. And by the way, visiting Old Mocupe has been on my ‘to visit’ list for a long time. There are some interesting legends/beliefs regarding animal behavior just prior to the 1972 flood that virtually destroyed the town. I’d like to visit and investigate. Perhaps you could be our guide. After all, you’ve been in the area a whole three weeks now. :)


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