Combi Quest

You can take a direct bus from Huaraz to Lima, Peru. It takes about 7 hours, costs 20 bucks, and they’ll serve you snacks. Or you can throw your backpack in the back of a mid 90’s sedan and squeeze in between a mother with her baby and a sack of potatos. You won’t know how long it will take, how much it will cost, or what you’ll be eating. Combi Quest: if you choose to accept, it will be an adventure into spontaneous traveling.

wagon

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of traveling in Latin America with little to no money, a Combi is a common mode of transportation in rural areas. The hillbilly cousin to a colectivo in the city, a combi is usually some guy with a car who will drive from town to town loading up as many passengers and cargo as his beat up station wagon will allow. They usually cost whatever you can barter and leave whenever they are full. I knew there was regular service south, because combi’s were the only way to get to Hatun Machay.

My plan was to take this combi until it wouldn’t go any further. Then I would get on another headed south, and then another and another until I got to Lima. Guiding me was google maps, pretty good Spanish skills, and luck.

the road from La Union to Hunaco (internet vs. reality)
the road from La Union to Hunaco (internet vs. reality)

The trip got off to a good start when I found myself on the circuito de los dinosaurios just south east of Caraz. I’m not sure what the signs announcing this meant, but outside my window I saw jagged mountains rising out of the clouds, kids herding cattle, and miners coming out of vast complexes built into the side of hills. Our combi squeezed through canyons and down valleys until it deposited me in La Union. A tiny town with awesome churros.

I spent a good night in my sleeping bag (I bargained down my hotel room to $3.00 by agreeing to not use the bed but rather sleep on my thermarest). After asking around, I found a car headed to Huanaco- a mere 3 inches away on my map! The 8 hour journey stretched over and around mountains, rivers, and sheer cliffs until we came to a big city that claims to have the best climate on earth. The sun and warm breeze  did not disagree.

My five hours in Huanaco consisted of hanging out in plazas, walking around, looking at the help-wanted-walls, drawing pictures, going to markets, talking with locals, buying fresh bread, and putting my pictures up on the help-wanted-walls.

At some point I decided that combi quest had come to an end. On one hand, I hadn’t found any dungeons, unlocked any puzzles, or battled any skeletons. But on the other hand, I found a really cheep bus to Lima and I had friends to meet. Besides, I couldn’t be disappointed with how Combi Quest went because I had no idea how it was supposed to go. “The journey was the destination” in the most authentic and the most cliched sense of the phrase. And Journey rules.

in the La Union plaza. I asked someone what it was about and they said "It's a black persons head"
in the La Union plaza. I asked someone what it was about and their response was “It’s a black persons head”
view from the hostel roof
view from the hotel roof

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