When asked a question, a Peruvian will never respond that they don’t know the answer. Instead they will always offer an answer, any answer, its accuracy and veracity: unimportant. Ask the next passing Peruvian the same question, you will get a wholly contradictory, yet equally passionate response. Put the two responders together and ask the question, and you will be either greatly amused or infinitely frustrated by the ensuing debate, depending on the importance and urgency of the question.
This becomes an issue when you are asking for the location of, say, the buses to Sicuani. I first asked a teacher at the Spanish school. “Avenida Cultura,” she confidently responded, “al lado del grifo” – next to the gas station.
“So there is only one gas station on Cultura?” I asked in Spanish, knowing that there are numerous gas stations on this street, hoping the sarcasm would translate. “No, of course not!” she smiled, amused by my bilingual wit. But returning to her serious face, she again insisted, “It is next to the gas station.” “¿Esta cerca? ¿Puedo caminar?” I asked – Is it close, can I walk to it. “Si, si, claro,” – of course.
I asked a few other people over the next week, but never got a similar, or clear response. A couple days later, I posed the question to the woman at the reception desk at my hostal. Surprisingly, she confirmed the earlier response. “Avenida Cultura. Close. Yes, you can walk to it.” “How often do the buses depart?” I asked. “Cada diez minutos,” – Every ten minutes. Based on her previously consistent record regarding similar questions, I was now certain of two things: it wasn’t close, and I’d consider myself lucky if the buses left more often than every ten days.
So I set out on a reconnaissance mission a few days before my journey. I started walking down Avenida Cultura, past one gas station – no sign of a bus terminal. Ten minutes later, another gas station. No sign of a terminal, so I asked a passing woman. “¿Sicuani?” she repeated as she looked pensively at her girl in tow. “¿Sicuani?” the little girl echoed. The woman then recalled, “Keep walking, it’s across from the hospital. When you get to the hospital, ask someone.”
About ten minutes later I stopped in a Radio Shack and happily discovered that blank CDs were 25% cheaper than in the center of town. After I bought a couple packs, I asked the woman where the paradero for the Sicuani buses is. “Two blocks, no mas. Maybe one and a half.” After three blocks I came across a bus terminal.
“Is this the paradero for the Sicuani buses?” I asked the first knowledgeable looking person I came across. “No, one block further.” And so finally, after two more blocks, just past the fourth gas station, I found my stop. Now, if I am only able to direct the taxi driver there on Friday morning.