The city bus jams to a stop in front of my friends Sherry, Tanya, Luann, my five-year-old niece Keigin, and me.
“Quantos?” Tanya asks the driver how much.
“Un sole per persona.” We start digging into our money belts trying to decipher the correct Peruvian coins.
Cars swerve around the bus and honk. The driver waves his arms, indicating for us to get on. Luann stuffs a pile of coins into the driver’s hand. We load into the crowded bus and scatter to the four remaining seats as he lurches forward.
I swoop up Keigin and tumble into a seat, plunking her on my lap. Her legs drape over the arm rest. I wedge my backpack between her and the reclined seat in front of us. A mother and child are slumped together, sleeping. As the bus bounces along, I cradle Keigin’s head against my shoulder hoping to act as a buffer.
A local man with thick, black hair sits in the window seat looking out. He adjusts his ear buds and I wonder what he’s listening to. I gaze past him to the tin shack homes lining the dirt road as we ride from the archeological ruins on the edge of Cusco back to the city center.
Tanya sits across the aisle and up one row. She reaches back, grabs my hand and smiles.
“I feel like I could cry,” she laughs. A brightly-colored knit cap is pulled over her thick curls. “Here we are, the four of us women, traveling like this. I want to do more of this.”
I squeeze her hand. “This is what I love,” I tell her. “jumping a crowded bus, lurching and bouncing along with the locals through the winding city streets, not knowing exactly where we are headed.”
We squeeze hands again and then turn back to the windows. I don’t recognize this part of the city.
The driver pulls into a parking lot and we unload. Diesel fumes puff out from all the buses. We swat the thick air as we walk toward the one taxi.
Tanya leans toward the driver’s window.
“Lucrepata. Quantos?” She asks, this time trying to get us to the street where the hostel is located.
“Cinco soles,” he tells us.
“No. Una nina,” I point to Keigin, knowing that children usually don’t have to pay.
“Quatro.” I tell him more than ask him.
“Si. Quatro,” he agrees.
Sherry, Luann and I cram into the back seat as I pull Keigin onto my lap again. Tanya takes the front as she speaks the most Spanish out of us, which isn’t a lot more than the little I know.
Our knees are pushing into the front seats and we laugh as he pulls into traffic.
“Gordo.” The driver says and laughs into the mirror at us in the back seat.
Tanya turns around to see us squeezed in.
I interject, “I know. I know. We’re big. Well, tall, that is.” Sherry, Luann and I average 5’9″ and are relatively athletic and slender.
None of us bother with seatbelts as there isn’t an inch of room between us. As my mother used to say, “You aren’t going anywhere if we do get in an accident.”
Tanya strings together a few sentences, asking the driver about his family and if he has children. I translate that he has three daughters and one son. One is a professor at the university.
I attempt to lean forward with Keigin on my lap.
“Yo soy maestra, tambien.” I try to explain that I am a teacher, also. I don’t attempt the past tense. Continuing in fragments of Spanish, I basically say, “Students. Children. First. USA.”
He looks at me in the rear view mirror, smiles, and nods.
I lean back and promise myself I will continue my Rosetta Stone lessons after the trip. Meanwhile, I will cobble together what I can while I’m here.