5/1/2007 - THE COAST OF PERU - BOLIVIAN BORDER
| THE COAST OF PERU
the past few days have been a blur... we traded the andes mountains for the coastal desert and the panam-uno. sixty miles west is the difference between lush forested mountains, and arid desert plains. the panam flows like a dream, a glass smooth highway that rolls along the coast through mammoth dunes, the only thing disrupting the serenity are the towns that are about every fifty to one hundred miles apart. most smell like rancid fish and diesel, and are congested to the point of only being able to drive through at ten miles per hour, which is unfortunate for anyone who has to pass through. telecommunications were definitely an afterthought for most of these towns, there are always hundreds of phone poles placed in random locations, webs of tangled, sagging telephone wires hang in the sky above. the single story houses and businesses all meld together, and sometimes stretch the entire length of the town, as one complex with hundreds of front doors. rounding one of the corners into one of the towns, we happened upon a spectacular tractor trailer accident. the semi looked as if it had been making some good time, up until the point where the road turned a little to the right. the truck was likely going too fast, and could not maintain it's upright position going through the corner. there were about two hundred spectators gathered around the truck, which was laying on it's side on the outside of the corner. for a minute, we thought it was a market or a parade, but no. apart from the traffic accidents, i guess there's not much else going on in these towns.
the ecuadorians will tell you that there is nothing more boring than the peruvian desert, but we thought it was an absolute wonder. a few kilometers outside of ica, we turned off the panam-uno, straight into the heart of the desert. we were kind of going off the tracks of other cars that had passed through, but there were no real roads to speak of. every now and again, we'd pass a little oasis, but not much else. after about an hour of passing through some of the biggest sand dunes we'd ever seen, we came up to a prohibited area. in the short amount of time it took for us to turn around, the vigilancias arrived in a brand new toyota truck, with intentions of chasing us off. as we were already leaving the somewhat suspicious scene, their job was relatively easy that day. the remoteness and security measures of the location were a pretty good indication that we had come a little close to one of the many coca processing plants in the area. peru has a weird double standard about the coca... it's legal to grow it, and it's grown pretty much everywhere, even little coca plants sprout up off the side of the highways. it's legal to buy products made from coca, including tea, cough drops, energy drinks and syrups, which are sold in the grocery stores. it's even legal to buy the leaves, which are sold in the town squares and mercados, but it's illegal to buy coca in it's processed form, cocaine. despite the arrests and drug busts on the peruvian nightly news, there seems to be a pretty heavy concentration of cocaine on the streets. we were at a tienda one night, in search of skittles and snickers bars, when one of the employees asked if we were in town for the cocaine. our response was, "no, we're here for the candy."
the difference between the andes and the coastal highway was distinct in more than one way. the customary andean uniform of wooly capes and yellow ten to twenty gallon hats changed to soccer jerseys and poly-blend slacks. hole in the wall restaurants had turned into kfc's and pizza huts, and we drove an hour out of our way to dine on some fine american cuisine. the good folks of peru have had their first taste of mass consumerism, and they're going wild for it. the malls of lima, even at eleven o'clock at night, are twice as busy as cherry creek at christmas. it's a no holds barred advertising wonderland, billboards reach up to twenty stories in height, and there's thousands of them cluttering up the roadside. we were a little surprised to find that the only hotels off the side of the main drag were the hourly types, not quite what we were looking for. hoping for something a little less ron jeremy and a little more howard johnson, we drove toward the historic center of lima. most gringos hang out in historic centers, so we figured that was our best bet for finding some non-scary ammenities. every bit as beautiful as most historic centers are, lima did not fail us. we eventually found a fifties style suite that must have been pretty fancy back in it's day. thirty five bucks was a little steep, but it was late, and there was no way we were going to settle for the creepy, hourly casa del amor.
we'd seen documentaries about nazca on the discovery channel, and both of us were pretty excited about going there. the lines on the desert floor have been there for hundreds of years, maybe more, nobody really knows for sure. it's also a bit of a mystery as to why they're there, there's speculation that they have something to do with astronomy, but none of the theories have been proven. at any rate, it seemed like an interesting enough place to visit, that is, until we'd actually arrived there. yeah, we saw some lines and squiggly drawings of monkeys from the lookout tower over the desert, but maybe we weren't getting the full effect because we were too low. thinking the cessna would be a better means of experiencing nazca, we drove into town, where we were bullied by mini vans posing as buses. not really in a mood to fly after a full day of transit, we settled on making an appointment with one of the local airlines for the next morning. there is little to do in some of these places at night, so we have been frequenting the markets for bootlegged copies of new release movies. for about one u.s. dollar, you can buy just about any movie, some of them haven't even hit the theatres yet. we cooked some dinner in the hotel parking lot, and watched a couple movies, anticipating our big day at nazca. because there are no clocks in peru, we slept in past our airline departure. that, and the hotel would not open the gate for us until we produced some towels that they accused us of stealing. we couldn't come up with the towels because there were no towels to be stolen, it was just a scam to get a few more soles out of us, which we refused to pay. we just waited in the truck until they had to open the gate for someone else, then we tore out of the parking lot. down at the "airport", the man who booked our flight was none too pleased, but still willing to take our money for a later flight. we'd have to wait for a third person to happen by if we didn't want to pay for the third seat, and that didn't seem like it was going to happen, so we bought a seat for dremel. the pilot arrived, big for a peruvian, and absolutely out of his mind. we piled in the plane for the worst flight that any of us had ever been on. the low flying plane would bounce around in the wind, and the pilot had based his flight plan off a bowl of noodles, he just kept circling and squiggling all over the place. there was so much turbulence and the pilot's flying was so erratic, that we really couldn't focus on anything else. eventually, brian lost his breakfast all over his shirt. it was all i could do to maintain my nausea and keep from vomiting. dremel was indifferent, and i think he just thought he was on a bumpy bus ride. by the time we landed, brian had sicked up a few more times, i was dizzy and on the verge of getting sick, and we couldn't get out of that plane fast enough. meanwhile, the pilot was having a great time, zipping here and there in his airplane from hell, making sure we saw all of nazca. at that point, i could have cared less about the nazca lines, or why they were there. as far as i was concerned, the only great mystery in nazca was where the hell did these pilots get their licenses from, and why is this place such a big deal?
with queasy stomachs, we wanted nothing more than a bed, but the hotel we'd stayed in the night before would not likely welcome our return. we should have paid them for the towels that we didn't steal, it would have made the day a little easier on us. with no choice but to continue on, we had one last destination to make in peru. macchu picchu was about a three day drive back into the andes, so we headed back into the mountains. not that we wanted any part of the mountains again, but if we wanted to get to macchu picchu, we'd have to deal with it. it wasn't all that bad, though. the southern parts of peru are a little more set up for travellers, and the roads are paved, so it's a lot easier to manage. we'd drive all day, up and over terraced mountainsides, past hundreds of wild llamas grazing in high plains pastures, and through clay and thatch hut villages. every night, we'd pull into a little town, check into the first hostel we could find, and pass out. i think we were both getting over a little flu or cold or something, we were having to nap pretty heavily in addition to our full night's sleep. three days later, we finally made it to urubamba, a mellow little town that offered us our choice of accommodation. we ended up in a little cabin surrounded by gardens, and our hosts could not have been any nicer. one of our hosts took the time to educate us in the various, yet equally difficult ways to get to macchu picchu. they even maintained their pleasant demeanor when we sheepishly told them that we lost the key to our cabin. we tried to pay for the key, but they would not accept our money, which was a good thing because our host's son found the key in the driveway about five minutes later. even five star accomodation does not mean that the hotel is heated, and it gets real cold at thirteen thousand feet. we've been learning the beauty of peruvian wool, the hotels pile on the stacks of heavy wool blankets onto the beds. they've been our saving grace, but we've had several occasions where the weighty blankets will either keep you pinned in your sleeping position, or drag you off the bed, legs first. our cabin was loaded with the heavy woolies, and despite the cold room, we kept nice and warm in our tiny peruvian bed.
it was only sixty miles by train to macchu picchu, but we had the dog and the truck to consider. dremel wouldn't be allowed on the train, and the truck would have to stay in urubamba for at least a day, as the train schedule was subject to change at any moment for any reason. there was the other option of walking for three days with a bunch of french hippies, which didn't sound like much of an option either. legend had it that there was a little town by the name of santa teresa, and the mayor of santa teresa had recently built a bridge that would get you within a half a day's hike to m-picchu. there had been a bit of a fuss about whether or not the government would allow the town to open their bridge to the public. the railway has a monopoly over the access to m-picchu, and they work hand in hand with the government, and it seemed like they weren't going to allow alternative routes into the archeological site. the folks of santa teresa built the bridge anyway, with the hopes of being able to boost their economy by taking part in the tourism industry. we chose the santa teresa route to see if the rumors were true, and also because it was our only option. to get there, it takes a full day of driving on more of the donkey roads that peru is well known for. on the way, we helped out a guy who broke the crank on his bicycle. after that, we met a woman from boulder colorado, who was able to ride her bicycle faster than the road would allow us to drive. then, there were the israeli guys on the rental motorcycles who had run out of gas. we filled them up, and we all met up later in santa teresa and shared all our crazy stories about the drive up there. the israelis invited us to the hotsprings down the road, and we gladly accepted, there's nothing better after a long day on the donkey roads. at the hot springs, the israelis told us about their homeland, and how they were ex-military. i guess after they serve their terms in the military, they're pretty stoked to be alive, and they take extended vacations to places like peru to take it easy for a while. the woman from boulder was already there, she was very diligent and very quick on her bike. everyone had a different method in mind for getting up to m-picchu, and each method sounded as difficult as the next. we all wished each other well in our various attempts to make it up to m-picchu, then parted ways.
we needed to find a place to sleep, and that's where the three amigos came in. these eight year olds had more business sense than donald trump, and more charisma than david lee roth. they jumped onto the rocker bars and guided us to their auntie's house, where they arranged for us to camp for the night. after that, they made sure to bring us by their mother's restaurant for dinner, which because of them, was the busiest place in town. we went back up to auntie's house and fell asleep in the tent. the next morning, the boys were waiting for us to wake up. they'd offered to take us up to the m-picchu trail for a small fee, so we packed up and loaded the amigos into the truck. down the road a little way, we crossed the new bridge, but it was only to find that there had been a massive landslide. massive. i cannot even convey how big it was. it looked like the whole side of the mountain let go. the entire road was covered in huge boulders, making it impossible for cars to pass. it was almost impossible for foot traffic to pass... almost. we'd made it this far, so we weren't going to give up without a fight. the three amigos lead the way, while brian lifted dremel over the boulders, and i pulled up the rear. there was a good possibility of the boulders shifting again, so we hurried through as best we could. somewhere in the middle of it all, brian lost his footing while carrying dremel and slammed his knee against one of the rocks. eventually, we all made it through, but there was the half day hike still left to consider. we kept going for a while, but brian's knee was getting bigger and bigger, and dremel was wearing out from all the climbing and hiking. there was at least five more hours of hiking in, and i didn't see the sense in causing any more injury to both the men in my life. macchu picchu was something that i really wanted to see, but the amount of effort and difficulty in getting there soured us all. i was kind of relieved to be finished with the whole thing because in all honesty, it was exhausting. what's the big deal with visiting ruins anyway, they're ruined.
the three amigos accompanied us for a much deserved pancake breakfast at their mom's restaurant, and then we headed out of santa teresa via the same road we came in on. as it got dark, it also began to rain. when it rains in peru, it really rains, and nothing good ever comes of it, that is, if you happen to be caught out in it. halfway up the donkey road, a couple pebbles fell from the sky. seconds later, a few rocks pelted the truck. the mountain was letting go right above us, and the road was as such that you couldn't just pull off or you'd drive off a cliff. the only options were to drop a gear and go forward as fast as possible, or put it in reverse, which is always a little slower. we went with option number one, and as brian accellerated, boulders ranging in size from basketballs to pilates balls began to fall all around us, one of them hitting the truck just above the windshield. it was raining rocks, and all i could think was "this is it". i am certain that there was no better driver for the situation, brian bombed through the barrage of rocks with more determination than i have ever seen from him. there was no choice but to plow over a couple of the boulders to get through, which could have been bad for the oil pan, but if we hadn't, the consequences would have been way worse. the seconds seemed like minutes, and i have no idea how, but we made it through unscathed. the truck also fared surprisingly well, with only a small dent on the skid plate and a scratch on the roof. neither of us could understand how a giant rock could smash down onto the truck and leave only a scratch, because both of us felt the impact, it was bone rattling. hands shaking and adrenaline pumping, we had pull over in a safe spot for a few minutes to unwind. we were only halfway up the mountain, and there was no choice but to continue to the top. the rest of the drive was a nervous one, but wonderfully uneventful.
on the way back into urubamba, we pulled over to do a little late night souvenir shopping. it's not often that we find ourselves in tourist areas, and i'd been meaning to pick up some gifts for my family. peru is the home for those really cool llama wool sock hats, the ones with those little ear flaps. i thought i'd pick up a few for my mom, dad and brother, they've been stuck in the snow for months now, and there's nothing better than llama wool for the cold colorado weather. the man who was selling me the hats was also trying to sell me various coca products. this is the same man who owns a pitbull named puma, and cannot manage to keep his killer dog from terrorizing the town square. the hippies were out in force, playing hacky sack and smoking the reefer, hardly noticing the underdog that was being persued by the pitbull. the dogs were mowing through the square, and knitted goods were flying every which way. after much commotion, i was eventually able to buy the hats, but after i left, i realized that one of them had a big hole in the side of it. i guess that one is mine.
both brian and i thought peru would be the best place to buy new sweaters, but i guess ecuador proved to be superior for sweater shopping. i kind of lucked out and bought mine the first chance i got, but brian was holding out for peruvian wool. it would be about a thousand or so miles before we saw another sweater for sale, and brian was worried that he had missed his chance, but on the way into cuzco, there were some ladies selling the ecuadorian sweaters by the side of the road. they cost double in peru, but buying one is easily justified in the harsh andean climate. brian bought one, and has used his as much as i have used mine. the ladies were trying to sell us their other wares, vases and such. i had to explain to them that i live in a nissan, there's no vase in the world that would match the decor of my home.
i had this preconceived notion of what peru would be like, and i was almost certain, based off of what i had read on the internet, that i would want to live in cuzco. while it wasn't all that bad of a place, there'd be no way that i'd ever consider making cuzco my home. not quite lunchtime, and not quite bedtime, there was no real reason to stop, so we kept driving. an hour outside of cuzco, we happened across some incan ruins. we were wandering about the giant wall that sat in a giant field, didn't seem like there was any way for any of us to get into trouble, but dremel managed to some. one minute, he was frolicking about, and the next minute, he was nowhere to be found. i'm not sure if he fell in, or jumped in, but the dog was swimming around in a deep incan well. brian reached down and pulled him up by his collar. the well was filled with stagnant, moldy water, causing our dear old dog to smell somewhat similar to a sewer treatment facility. the odor would eminate throughout the truck for the rest of the day.
there's a city about twenty miles before reaching puno, and i think the reason the name of this city escapes me is because there would be absolutely no reason for us to ever go back there. in the course of a half an hour, we were stopped twice by the police. both tried to shake us down for a few soles, but experience has made us better negotiators than they are. in the middle of one of our negotiations, the cop asked where we were going. brian replied with one simple word, one of the only words that have the potential to get you arrested in a matter of seconds... "puta". this is a derogatory term in espanol, and upon hearing what he'd just said to the cop, i quickly corrected, "puno! puno!" if the peruvian cops actually had bullets in their guns, we'd have dodged one just then. a hotel was highly in order, traffic was bad, and only getting worse, the city not worthy of a name was more than we felt like dealing with. there were two hotels in the city, and one wouldn't even open the door for me, the concierge waved a sicle in a somewhat threatening motion from the other side of the glass door. whatever. we moved on to the next hotel, which had an adamant anti-dog policy. it was back to the crowded, polluted, chaotic street, where for some reason, everyone was more consumed with honking their horns than driving. is it possible in peru that red, yellow and green traffic lights all mean "go" ? i think so. decidedly, this was not the town for us.
the dim lights on the truck are brighter than everyone else's bright lights, so part of the way to puno, we were getting bright-lighted by the opposing traffic. even after brian adjusted the lights, they kept blinding us with their brights. the only solution was to drive behind a slow moving box truck for the rest of the transit into town. within the first five minutes of driving through puno, we were pulled over by the cops again. peruvian cops are no match for us, we were sent on our way without having to pay a centavo. this would be our last night in peru, land of the death-defying donkey road, exceedingly macho teenage boys, llama ridden highways, rocks that fall from the sky, and cold weather without the hope for a heater. peru had it's good points, some of the most beautiful places in the world are in peru, but getting through it is truly a test of will.
just as we were contemplating driving into bolivia the next morning, the local evening news came on the t.v. it was then that we learned of one of bolivia's favorite ways to celebrate. they bury a duck up to his neck in the sand, and turn loose blindfolded children with sticks to bonk the duck on the head. duck bonking is a popular sport with the bolivianos, one that outsiders must not question. i think it was ghandi who said something to the effect of "you can tell a lot about a society by the way they treat their animals." with that in mind, we had no choice but to go to bolivia to bear witness to a society that prefers ducks to pinatas.
THE PERUVIAN - BOLIVIAN BORDER
border crossing has become a sport, us against them, and we're getting better at it every time. leaving peru was easy in many ways. one, we were pretty much over the place, it was neither safe nor sane. two, the border guards were real sweethearts, a quick glance at our papers earned us a couple new stamps in our passports and the gates were opened. on the bolivian side, everyone was out to lunch, so there was a bit of waiting involved. we watched as scores of bolivians wheeled goods through the border while it was unattended. if we thought there'd be no consequences for exiting the country further down the road, we might have just rolled on through like everyone else. one by one, the guards began to show up at a leisurely pace. they could not be bothered with minute details such as vehicle inspections, and they completely looked past the fact that we were bringing an animal into the country. at the time, we figured that they knew what they were doing, and if it were to pose a problem down t
|e road, they'd certainly let us know. now, with the clarity of hindsight, we have come to understand that if a circumstance may possibly require more attention, demand that attention be given in the appropriate manner. the outcome of this story in particular has not yet presented itself, but bear in mind that it has been somewhat problematic. i'll get back to you on that later. at any rate, crossing into bolivia was a snap, we drove away in disbelief, stunned about how easy it was.|
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