Getting to Puno

October 25th, 2006

Ormeño – bus company from hell

It often surprises me that at bus stations across Peru and beyond I see hundreds foreign tourists travelling with Ormeño, widely known here to be one of the worst bus companies on the continent. Unfortunately it’s a bus company featured in many of guidebooks written by people who seem to have never stepped foot in Peru.

Ormeño is terrible – dirty, slow and has old buses, poor time keeping and unfriendly staff – ask anyone and the advice is the same, steer clear. Ormeño only survives today off the back of its much more glorious past as one of the best… that and the fact that the soon to be angry and disappointed gringos will leave the country and fresh ones will arrive who do not know any better, trustingly handing over their money as their guidebooks tell them.

Well, stupidly, ignoring my advice, I bought two tickets with Ormeño to Puno, from Arequipa. Why? Well, Annett and I had been travelling to the Colca Canyon area, and with little sleep we were looking for a bus that would leave at a specific time, one late enough to give us a lay in, yet leave early enough to llow us to arrive in Puno before dark. Ormeño was the only bus company that met our specific requirements. So that was that – ticket bought and a late rise the next day and a calm taxi ride to the bus station. Surely all the stories about Ormeño were exaggerated. Thousands of travellers can’t have it too wrong can they?

Turning up to the bus station the next day, after having a nice restful nights sleep, we were ushered in to Ormeños outdated waiting area. When taking the taxi here, the driver ask where we were going and what bus line we were taking. He shock his head as we told him, and wish us the best of luck.

We had timed the journey perfectly, arriving 30 minutes before the scheduled departure. Sure enough, Annett was the only Peruvian travelling with Ormeño that day.

An hour passed, but we didn’t really notice. We were happy to be waiting in a single location rather than being on the move – travelling gets tiring after a while. We had our Lentejas (Smarties) and were happy. But shouldn’t someone be informing us of the problem? Annett wandered up to the man who was standing being what was supposedly the “VIP Bar” and asked him what the problem was. “Uhm… the bus will be leaving an hour later, it left Lima later than scheduled”, was the reply. Well, OK, we can accept that. It wouldn’t happen with Cruz del Sur, but an hour is no problem, it’s just 30 minutes more.

Another hour passed and we were starting to get annoyed. The gringos were reading their guide books as though nothing happened. No one had been told what the problem was except for us and we soon found out that the late-leaving tale was a lie.

We left the waiting area to ask at the Ormeño desk out front what the problem was. The two employees there were still calling out to passers-by, trying to sell tickets and fill all the seats on the almost 2 hour late bus that hadn’t even arrived yet.

The conversation went something like this;
Me: Why is the bus so late?
Woman (smiling): Oh it has mechanical problems, it’s going slowly.
Annett (angry): Why haven’t you told us anything?
Woman (smiling): It’s not my job.

Taken aback by the poor service, we had to decide what we would do. On asking for the money back we would face and argument to get it – not that we cared, we were angry and wanted to take another bus to arrive at our destination before nightfall. In the few minutes that we were talking about what to do, an Ormeño manger turned up. He told us that in fact the bus would not be going anywhere after all and that he would try to fit us on the night bus, and perhaps give us something to eat while we waited for it.

With that I picked up the bags and began to walk back to the Ormeño desk, laughing as I heard one tourists ask politely, “What time does that bus leave”, and “Can we please get our money back?”.

On demanding our money back at the front desk, we were met by a blank stare. The same woman as before looked confused, and said we had to wait for her supervisor. On demanding again she said there is no money at the desk to give back, and the manager, the same one who just gave the apologetic speech, would have to… go to the bank and withdraw it. But this is not even the end of this sorry tale.

As the others filtered out and reached the desk, also asking for their money back, the manager went to the bank to withdraw the necessary funds. When asking for their money back, the tourists also asked how else they could get to Puno. With a smile, the woman at the desk called out to her friend who worked at a cheap local bus company, whose tickets cost just S/.10. Her friend gleefully rushed over to sell all the lucky tourists S/.15 tickets for a bus that would leave in 30 minutes. She managed to rip-off most of them, until she ran out of over-priced seats on her smaller bus. Annett and I waited a few minutes more, grabbed our money from the hands of the Ormeño manager and left for the other bus station.

We ended up taking another local bus with Flores for S./ 10. We arrived in Puno in the dark of night on this bus, which had first passed through Juliaca, an incredibly run down and poor little smuggler’s (from Bolivia) town that looks like a 3rd-world warzone. (They have maybe 2 paved streets, with the rest dust and garbage-strewn rubble. All buildings bare-brick and barely standing.)

Arriving in Puno we were the only two tourists leaving the station and were practically attacked by hotel touts. The reason I don’t like to arrive anywhere, especially somewhere new at night is not only the added danger with crazy people and criminals, but also that you just plain can’t see what’s going on and where you are. Added to that the fact that the darkness after a journey leaves you tired – you don’t want to be tired with these types around you.

We did a good job at ignoring the touts, but due to the lack of tourists needing to be picked up, there were no taxis as we left the bus station. Dangerously, a tout somehow summoned a taxi out of thin air and ushered us in. War this the guys friend waiting around the corning to drive us off and rob us?

Eager to get away and to somewhere safer we got in, we were comforted by the fact that the driver seemed to by quite old. If it were daylight, I would know whether or not to get in, but thanks to Ormeño we could only hope to survive the journey.

Luckily we made it to the Plaza de Armas in Puno and found a place to sleep. I wonder how many others from that Ormeño bus survived the journey.

If you need to travel by road in Peru, remember the following…

From Lima to anywhere on the coast or Arequipa, take Oltursa.

To Andean destinations take Cruz del Sur.

If you need a third option, Cial is fairly trustworthy.

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