Lima to São Paulo: The Longest Bus Journey in the World

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It’s pitted as the longest continuous bus journey in the world. Spanning the length of over 6,000km, the journey traverses the little known rural areas of two vast South American countries and takes you through Amazonian rainforests, Andean mountains, farmland and over huge rivers from the Pacific Ocean right to the edge of the Atlantic. By plane the journey would take around six hours and would cost you over $400 more, but by road, it would take five days of continuous driving from Peru to Brazil and cost under $200 USD.

The bus is run by the Ormeno and so far it is the only bus company that offers the service, with tickets available for purchase through a number of major bus stations across the continent. For this leg of the adventure, three drivers are on board and constantly rotate throughout the night meaning that the vehicle is constantly on the move, except for our rural border crossing and two quick food stops a day. The journey itself departs twice a week from Lima and will take the transpacific highway, cross seven Peruvian departments, five Brazilian states and is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

It was actually at the first stop high up in the mountains of Cusco that I loaded my backpack and became a passenger on this trip. It was your standard South American double decker coach - one toilet would serve the full cohort for the next five days, the semi-cama seats would guarantee minimal sleeping and loud, badly-dubbed films blasted from the speakers (even though the main TV was broken). Despite the long journey and unlike services such as Colombia’s Boliviarno or Crucero Del Norte in Argentina, the passengers were also devoid of USB charging ports or blankets meaning it had already become one of the more basic busses that I had so far experienced. Departing four hours later than expected and under the cover of darkness, the first night was spent gripping onto handrails as the bus swerved around tight mountainous bends.

By morning we had reached flat land but the torrential rainy season continued to batter the coach and it wasn’t long before the front windows had begun to leak and our belongings had succumb to a layer of cold dampness. With puddles collecting at the front of the vehicle, the grey landscape had levelled out however as we neared Puerto Maldonado, known as the gateway to the southern Amazonian jungle, before pushing through a variety of warm-looking villages. By late morning the bus begun to near the border town of Inapari and the jigsaw pieces of landscape that make up the frontier where Brasil, Peru and Bolivia all meet.

Having gained our exit stamps for Peru, the passengers were then taken to join another long line to gain entry to Brazil. It was at this little-known border crossing in the heart of South America, shared only with a local few truck drivers that the intimidating immigration police took their time to inspect every single passport. The weather was humid and it took almost four hours for everyone to pass the security checks and clamber back onto the bus.

The landscape around the bus had began to change drastically. Upon entering Brazil we weaved in and out of dense Amazonian jungle and as the bus sped at considerably down the single dusty track, the drivers also demonstrated their agility at dodging huge potholes that surely would have sent the vehicle reeling. It was into our second day that the cohort of travellers had also begun to befriend the fellow passengers. With the local Peruvian children, we could occasionally play games and at the roadside stops there was even a chance to practice Portuguese over considerably more expensive than the Peruvian dishes we had left behind, and talk about stories from travelling during the hundred hours we shared together. From there the sun-tropical terrain transformed into luscious forests and eventually wide, barren farmland that was the product of phenomenal former deforestation.

It was on the third night that the passengers were awoken and in hushed tones urged to clamber off the bus into the humid, mosquito-rife air surrounding Porto Velho. Here, the double decker bus as well as a number of other truckers were slowly rolled onto a large river barge as the passengers clambered around the sides in the darkness. Sleepily, we drifted across the strong current of the Madeira river, home to alligators and other large underwater creatures.

For the next two days the bus pushed forward and as the sun cast through the dirty window and a strange Spanish films kept the voyagers entertained amidst broken conversations in Spanish, Portugese and English, the promise of Rio De Janeiro slowly crept upon us and before we knew it we had rolled into the cosmopolitan destination of Sao Paulo. Despite purchasing tickets directly to Rio De Janeiro, it was here that we discovered that the bus terminated and another half a day was spent waiting forreimbursements before embarking on the last six hour stretch north to Rio De Janeiro, and the colourful chaos of Carnaval earlier this year.

It had taken over five days, some phenomenal sunsets, wide open roads and three time zones for the bus to traverse the expanse of Latin America. Although the only foreigners on the bus, the route itself remains popular with Peruvians and Brazilians as a result of the service’s competitive prices. The experience left the imprint of fascinating conversations and even more interesting images of the little known interior of these two countries road network however it is a route that remains not for the faint hearted.

The verdict: The two daily breaks gave the weary passengers something to look forward to and usually a good Brazilian buffet to enjoy. Our phones had no power, we were sleep deprived but the landscapes around us and the bumpy dirt road below never failed to keep us entertained. I’ve spent five days non stop on a bus through South America, no other journey can phase me going forward.

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