april 12, 2007


today we found out why we needed the winch. we were driving through the andes, on a very secondary backroad. there was a turn off that lead to some ruins, so we decided to add some distraction to our distraction. after an hour of ascending up the mountainside on the usual steep and narrow donkey roads, we decided it was too much effort to see some of peru's less notable ruins. we turned around, and on the way down, we stopped to use the bano, which is basically the nearest tree. the tree that dremel favored was a little off to the side of the road, and i don't think he accounted for the mountain to be as steep as it was. brian and i saw him go over the edge of the road, and then we didn't see him at all. the mountain was at least a seventy degree incline, and i think once he went over the edge with intentions of stopping by his tree, he couldn't stop. we stood by the edge, calling out his name, and eventually, we saw some weeds far below us moving around. dremel's a good dog, and for him not to come when he is called means that something is wrong. brian went bombing down the mountain with the winch cable tied around his waist. he found dremel clinging to the mountainside for dear life. there was only a small shrub that kept him from falling off a sheer wall of fifty feet down to the road below. there was only about four feet left on the one hundred and seventy five foot cable, so they were pretty far down. after a few minutes of rigging his belt around the dog to make a harness, brian called out instructions while i slowly winched them up. it was a slow process, brian was having to lift dremel over bushes and rocks, while trying to keep his balance on the slick surface. when the two emerged at the edge of the road, they were both out of breath and covered in red. i was trying to figure out which one was bleeding, and upon closer inspection, realized that they had wild raspberries smeared all over them. brian had a few scratches and itchy spots from tromping around in the bushes, my hands were a little raw from the cable, and dremel was a little shaken up, but we were all alright. by the time we made it to the bottom of the canyon, we were all starved and exhausted. we pulled over and cooked a quick lunch. as we ate, we lectured, then hugged, then lectured dremel about the intricacies of peeing on trees in the andes. if you ever get bored on a road trip, just let your dog run all willy nilly down the andes, that should keep you pretty well occupied for a while.

further down the road, we spotted some prime peruvian real estate, the most unique property ever. it was a big casa that was surrounded by roaring rivers, and the casa itself sat directly on top of a river that shot with full force out of the side of the mountain. the guy who built the house and the pools and canals around it must have been a hydro engineer, there were irrigation systems, fountains, and a hydro powered mill inside the casa. curious about the price of the property, we asked the neighbor, who directed us to the man who owned the telephone in the next town. the man who owned the telephone wasn't there, but we could use the phone to call his cousin in chachapoyas. the cousin didn't know the price either, so we decided it wasn't meant to be. since nobody was living there, we decided we could at least camp there for the night. i think brian has this weird fantasy about bugging out in the wilderness and building solar and hydro power devices, kind of like harrison ford in the mosquito coast. the casa on the river would have been ideal for all his mad science experiments, and the neighbors probably wouldn't have minded one bit, they were pretty nice. they said it was probably about eight to ten grand u.s. not a bad deal, but location is key, and peru is a little far from anything. we spent the night and the next morning wandering about the property, admiring the builder's ingenious hydro inventions. there was even a little canal that would have been perfect for a log ride, but a home in peru just wouldn't feel like home.


in most cases, the thick red lines on maps usually represent primary roads, but not in peru. down here, the thick red line represents something that used to be a trail commonly used by the local farmers to deliver coffee, coca, cacao, corn and livestock to the town markets. as the population grew, the demand for these products grew, and so did the trail. the trail eventually became a road, and the only one that would get you in and out of the andes. because it takes about eight hours of driving to travel sixty to one hundred miles, you could go days without seeing a single town or gas station. a million near misses await whomever should decide to drive these roads... landslides from the mountainside above, washouts and soft, narrow roadways that threaten to give way underneath you, falling rocks, etc., etc., etc... that was the situation we found ourselves in during a four day transit through the andes.

two transit days stuck us right in the middle of it all, we just kind of kept on going, eating dehydrated food when we could, drinking warm soda, and driving really slow. we'd gotten in the habit of giving rides to stangers. i know the guide books advise against this kind of nice behavior, but the guide books don't give any insight to the lives these people live in places like this. the first group was a couple of farmer types, and a little boy. all three of them had colds, and were likely walking in the rain for hours, there was nothing around. after an hour, we dropped them off at a concrete shack at about thirteen thousand feet. not living up to the terrible expectations of the guide books, they tried to pay us. there was no way we could accept. our next group of passengers were more memorable... two girls, surrounded by babies stood on the side of the road, one with tears in her eyes. when i looked down, i realized that her foot was covered in blood, and blood crusted dirt. her name was marianela, and she was thirteen years old. she had been washing in one of the waterfalls that flow onto the side of the road when she was pummelled by rocks in a landslide. the rocks crushed her foot, and hit her head, and she had already walked pretty far down the road by the time we found her. it looked so bad, like it had happened days ago, i think because she had walked so far on it. in a mad panic, brian and i tore apart the truck, grabbing whatever first aid items we could find. we thought that if we could at least clean and bandage her foot, we could get her to a doctor to get it taken care of. our first aid kit was a little slim, we'd already used a lot of it on dremel's bug bites, and surgical tape works wonders for i-pods, so our options were limited. water was also limited, so we weren't able to do of good a job as we wanted to. after a quick cleaning, we took her and her baby sister down the road to her casa.

down at the casa, there were more babies, they were everywhere. they surrounded us as we tried to figure out our options. the nearest doctor was four hours away. mariela could not leave her little brothers and sisters by themselves, her parents had gone into town to get supplies, and it was unclear when they would return. she was certain the reprocussions of dealing with her father would be greater than dealing with her bad foot, and was scared to leave. we were also a little wary of having it turn into some kind of an international kidnapping fiasco, peruvians are very wary of strangers for this very reason. it seemed like if there was only one doctor in the area, he would be unwilling to leave his post for so long, ao it didn't seem viable to bring one back. our only option was to fix mariela's foot as best we could. the tiny children were super competent, and helped us whenever they could. while brian worked on mariela's foot, a two year old girl lead me up the mountain to the well, where we were able to get more water. brian and i took turns scrubbing the foot, scared of causing her more pain, but she was incredibly brave about it. we re-bandaged her foot and made her a care package of extra bandages and medications. considering that both of us are squeamish about these things, i think we did alright. her foot looked way better after we finally got it clean, she'd just have to stay off of it for a few days.

she was all patched up and ready to go home, which was a nearly impossible climb for an american, an easy stroll for a peruvian. brian carried her up the mountain, and i trailed behind with the water and supplies. the siblings that were able to walk themselves up the mountain followed, but one was still waiting at the bottom. i went to pick the little baby girl up to carry her home, when i got a whiff of her. we were both covered in poo, so after a few minutes of cleaning up, brian carried the bare bottomed baby up the slope. brian has very little experience in dealing with kids, so it was funny for me to watch him carry all these kids around, not really knowing what to do with them. they sure seemed to like him, though, they kept bringing us these fruits that they had picked from the trees.

the casa that mariela lived in is no different from the majority of the casas all throughout peru. old, mud walls surrounding dirt floors. no electricity, no plumbing, no furniture, no heat. sometimes it's easier to ignore the truth than it is to accept it. it was a hard reality for the both of us to feel as helpless as mariela did. after we left, we were both silent. i couldn't stop thinking about mariela. even if she wanted to change her situation, it would be damn near impossible. i think we both thought about the whole thing until we were emotionally exhausted. we were also tired of the bumpy, slow rolling, endlessly winding road, but we still had a long way to go, and there was no place to pull off to take a break. the road would go on for another eight hours before we found a place to stay, and during that time, we could not come up with one single viable solution to be able to make a change in these people's lives... seeing poverty for the first time is absolutely heartbreaking, and all you want to do is help. you feel useless and selfish when you can't, and all the money in the world doesn't make a difference when there is nothing available to use it on. so far, a good majority of the guide books have warned us about the dangers of fraternizing with strangers on the side of the road, but they also tell you that ecuadorian food is delicious, so i think it's high time we pitched the guide books out the pathfinder window. these are hard working people with families, who have been given no reason to be nice, but somehow, they still are.

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