Ayacucho, the best place from which to visit the site of the decisive battle for Peruvian independence from Spain, is a picturesque city known for colonial-era churches, colourful handicrafts and fist-sized chunks of fried pork. Unfortunately, while many travel guides mention Ayacucho, they give little information about how best to get there from Lima. The following Q & A is meant to help fill that void.
Q: Should I travel alone or should I take my wife, my mother-in-law, three of my brothers-in-law (José, Javier and Fernando) and my eldest brother-in-law's girlfriend (Giovanna)?
A: You won't have a choice.
Q: Should I take the comfortable forty-five-minute flight direct from Lima, or should I drive an old van through the second-highest mountain range in the world without packing altitude-sickness pills, flares, flashlights, tools or rope?
A: You have to ask?
Q: When we reach an approximate elevation of 14,000 feet (still 2,000 feet below the pass), and we pull over because JosÈ needs to relieve himself and I decide to accompany him, should I turn off the engine to save gas, or should I leave the engine running because it's been making funny noises and if I turn it off it might not start again?
A: It doesn't matter. If you don't turn it off, your mother-in-law will.
Q: Given that none of us know anything about repairing cars, that the temperature is below zero and dropping, that Giovanna has altitude sickness and will spend the next nine hours throwing up and that, due to the 20 percent gradient, the few cars that come along will all scream right by, should I nonetheless spend the next five hours jumping out and waving my arms every time a car approaches?
A: Yes, because that's what your mother-in-law wants, and there's no sense in contradicting her.
Q: If, having lost the feeling in my hands and feet, I decide to try one last time to flag down a vehicle andómiracle of miraclesómanage to do so, though unfortunately it's a fully loaded rig, which is therefore unable to tow us, plus the driver has his wife and three kids in the cab already but he wants to help so he parks on the road with his flashers on, promising to stay until someone stops to give us a lift, will the very next vehicle to come along be a bus driven by, of all people, the trucker's younger brother?
A: Surprisingly, yes.
Q: Will we then have the following conversation?
older brother: Take these folks to Ayacucho.
younger brother: I can't. All the seats are full and so is the aisle.
older brother: You have to. Don't you remember? This is where they killed those people last month.
Younger Brother: How many are there?
younger brother: Seven? Impossible! Perhaps two of you could ride here in the cab, butó
mother-in-law: Don't be ridiculous, there's plenty of room. Roy, Fernando, go get the suitcases.
younger brother: Suitcases? No, there's absolutely no way tható
mother-in-law: Thank you so much, we've been here for hours and we're freezing and we'll pay absolutely anything to get to Ayacucho. How much is the fare?
younger brother: From here? Well ... fifteen soles apiece.
mother-in-law: That's outrageous! Ten soles apiece is as much as we can pay.
younger brother: Butó
mother-in-law: Okay, eleven. Everybody aboard!
younger brother: I can't go any lower than fourteen.
younger brother: Thirteen-fifty.
mother-in-law: Pirate! Thief! Twelve.
younger brother [exhausted]: Deal.
me[talking through suitcases]: Hrmpharphm.
A: Word for word. How did you know?
Q: Having ridden on the bus for four hours with Fernando and Giovanna (who continues to vomit incessantly) smushed against the partly open door and my mother-in-law half-sitting on the dash and my wife sitting on the red-hot engine cover and JosÈ sitting on my wife and Javier sitting on JosÈ and me one-footing it between my wife, JosÈ, Javier and Giovanna, will we, just outside of Ayacucho, get stopped at a police checkpoint?
A: Of course you will.
Q: What will happen then?
A: The policeman will smile, knowing he's going to get a fat bribe because the bus is so overloaded, and the driver will look beggingly at your mother-in-law, who will invent a great deal of information about friends in high places and suggest that if the bus is not allowed to continue on immediately, the policeman will be working his next beat in (here she will hesitate, trying to think of somewhere more desolate than right there where you are) Cerro de Pasco (which is, in fact, more desolate, but only just), and the bus will be allowed to proceed as soon as the forty people who got off to use the bathroom while your mother-in-law was browbeating the policeman get back on.
Q: Next time, I'm going alone.
A: Me too.