The woman in the enormous white stovepipe hat wedged herself between me and the three men in the back seat of the collectivo bound for Urubamba, angling her considerable hips and shoulders to gain purchase on the well-worn cloth seat.
Her entry into the crowded van brought the headcount to 17 – pretty standard for the 30-minute run these inexpensive transport vehicles make from town to town throughout Peru’s Sacred Valley. Later on, I saw a collectivo packed with kids and their parents, the top loaded with wares for the market, and more than 22 people poured out when the vehicle rolled to a stop.
Our group was nearly all locals. Elderly people in down parkas, working men in rough jackets, children in colorful traditional garb and a scattering of older women sporting aprons and tall hats completed the roster for our run from Ollantaytambo to Urubamba. Oh, and two slightly bemused gringos who sat in fascination as the van blasted along, its interior redolent of acrid smoke, cooked food and body odor.
It’s a bit rough, not terribly comfortable, and at two nuevo sol each (about 75 cents) absurdly inexpensive.
Which would explain why people use the collectivos to get to school, to work, to market, to visit family and friends, bypassing the hopelessly expensive option to own a car. Another option is to flag down one of the many super modified tuk tuks – they look like crosses between mini-long haul trucks and race cars – to spirit their way around town for $2 or less. Then there are the commercial buses; antiquated, fume-belching monsters that lurch from town to town, often comingling animalia with homo sapiens.