As usually I have problems starting this text. I’m sitting behind a table in a backpackers in Huaraz, listening to music and drinking coffee. Behind me is more than 1.300 km of Peru, a land that is all but boring. Diversity comes on many levels from the countryside to people and events that have all impact on my every day.
One of the first surprises after I left Ecuador in company of Safia and Andres, was the countryside. Generally I try to wander around the World with open eyes, free of stereotypes in my head that subconsciously affect one’s perception of a land, people, events… They build prejudices or some expectations that are inevitably shattered by the reality that inevitably leads to disappointment, a feeling of being robbed of a true, authentic experience that was actually sold to you through photos, movies, book,… That is why I prefer to leave these images outside and venture into uncovering the unknown with an empty head and open eyes (obviously when I’m not sleeping).
But I do not always succeed in this effort. At least not in fullest. Whether I like it or not, over the years an image of Peru was carved into my head. An image of white Andean peaks, high mountain steppes, solitary houses with herds of lamas grazing outside. And then this image collided with reality. Hot river valley with rice paddies of intense green and palms. As if I woke up in Vietnam. A few days later I was amidst clouds where we were being washed by the rain making our way through green pastures and woods over 3.600 meters high pass. And the same day found me in yet another hot oasis by the river, surrounded by mango trees and thousands of small, bloodsucking flies.
And those were not all the landscapes that I have managed to encounter so far in Peru. No, there are also the coastal desert with wind sweeping sand across the road (that evening I got about half a kilo out of my right ear. Apparently the wind was from the side since my left ear was clean). Or the narrow Cañon del Pato where on a winding road, sometimes narrower than some cycling lanes I have rode on, and through 35 tunnels you get lost amidst the infinite majesty of vertical cliffs towering to mindboggling heights. And there is more and more of this, probably somewhere there is also the landscape of the images in my head.
For diversity there are also everyday events that break up the “monotony” of the evening ritual in front of the tent. If this used to be time when all was in order and I was able to indulge myself in solitude and peace, this is also slowly changing here in Peru.
Once I got this brilliant idea to change a little the music I’m listening on my mp3 player. And then the next three evenings I was fixing the mess my little player managed to mix up. After those three evenings have passed, it was about time to wash a load of laundry. To take the advantage of having access to running water on our campsite. The next evening I was patching my air mattress. It’s been a while since I managed to puncture it just by the seam so that, just in case, I had a bit more of a work patching it. And then there are evening I pay more attention to Lou. It’s wise to clean a bit the chain after a day when the road took us through mud. And if there is nothing to do, then I invent something. Since Andres and I were camping on a stadium and there were pieces of wire for a fence I took pliers in my hands and made an improvised adapter for my camping stove. I can now lift my pot a bit above the flames so that I can calmly cook rice without the fear of burning it. There’s always something to do.
And obviously there are also the people that I meet. The part of the story that brings life to the backdrop of the landscape. What I have learned very early on (actually in the first hours of Peru) is that when word comes down to people, here in Peru this is a story of extremes. Practically there is no middle way. They are either incredibly friendly and kind or completely cold. Obviously there is far more of the former, but the latter also have an impact.
When we crossed the bridge from Ecuador into Peru, we had to wait for the Peruvian immigration starts to work. Since we were all hungry we went to the first restaurant. The kind that serves a menu consisting of whatever one dish is on offer that day. Angry looking lady reluctantly came to us and showed us our table. Her short and murmured answers made us quickly realize it is better not to ask too much. So we’ll have soup, rice and chicken. Andres tried asking for a beer, but the lady almost killed him with her look when he desired to be a cold one. He did not get it! Safia had an empty battery on her phone so she ask if she can charge it for a while. Negative! I had no desire for a new dose of negativity so I ate in silence what was put in front of me.
Than we made it across the street to the incredibly kind, relaxed and talkative policeman that did not complicate our lives the way border officials sometimes can. And that evening the municipality in the nearby town provided us with a place to camp with access to toilet and shower.
And then there are moments when I simply don’t get the people here. Let’s leave aside the fact that I will never, and I mean never understand the uncontrollable desire to hunk their horns. I “adore” it when a truck hunks it right behind your ass. Not to greet you or to show that he’s mad at you (at least I think so) it’s just a way to let you know he is there. BUT I know he’s there. There are this little thingies called side mirrors if I completely ignore the fact that I can actually hear him from a distance on an empty road. Obviously this is a moment when you really cannot afford to get scared. If you twist your handlebar just by a little you can end up under the wheels of the same truck. It seems beyond the driver’s capacity to pass you by with ample space. No, he turns just enough not to hit you. Providing you do not divert 15-20 centimetres from a direct line.
The only time the drivers here do not hunk their horns is when there is a sign they should. Like in front of a narrow, one-lane tunnel in Cañon del Pato. Go figure!
There are also moments when you get to a gas station. Camping stove works on gasoline and every now and then you have to fill up your fuel bottle. It’s just that this is not always a straight-forward procedure as we manage to reaffirm yet again the other day. A lady was observing us from a distance as some sort of an attraction but only approached when we went to search for her and ask her to attend to us. Since they are used to filling up motor and car fuel tanks, they seem to have troubles adjusting to the fact that a one litre bottle that I’m carrying with me gets full much, much sooner. So you have to warn them to fill it up slowly and not all the way. This does not always help. That time I manage to stop here just in time to prevent a fuel shower since the lady was incapable of stopping the pump in time. Sometimes you are not as lucky.
Also shopping is not always a simple and stress-free task. If you do manage to be lucky and you are the only customer, meaning that the vendor is only attending you and not four other persons, then you have managed to eliminate a common cause of a stressful situation in shopping. This however does not guarantee you a simple procedure. What can happen is the following:
“What do you want?”
“Good day to you too. Do you have cigarettes?”
You look around and you notice a display with an entire row of cigarette boxes in it.
“What about these ones here in the display?”
“Oh, these. I do have!”
Obviously you have to pay an exact amount as the lady either cannot be bothered to calculate or count the change she has to give back. I come out furious – again Peru!
And as was writing these lines, Andres came to me. He just went outside to buy some rice. He puts a can of fish in front of me. To my confusing look he answers, it was a gift from the shopkeeper where he was buying rice. Still confused I look at him and he explains that he basically went to the store to buy about half a kilo of rice. The shopkeeper asked him where he’s from, what he’s doing here and so on. And after he told him that he’s traveling on a bicycle and that there are two of us, the shopkeeper first put a bit more than just half a kilo of rice in a bag and added the two cans of fish. As a gift! – again Peru!
I would be able to turn this already long post into an even longer if I was to write down all the moments when I experienced the kindness of the local people. From places to sleep when a family accepts us into their modest home and basically vacates a child’s room just so that three cyclists have a warm place with a roof over their head that they can sleep in whilst outside it’s pouring rain. Or when… No, I really cannot write down all the kindness. I am however extremely grateful for it.
I’m finishing this text behind the same desk in the same hostel, still in Huaraz. Still listening to music it’s just that the coffee has been by now replaced by a tea from coca. Apparently it helps you adjusting to the altitude, beats the weariness and so much more. I like it because it’s hot.
With a Smile on my face, until next time!