FOREWORD: Though I have all the time in the world, I can’t seem to pool the energy to write a decent post. My desktop is full of half-written stories and notes that never quite turn the corner to become full thoughts. Lately, my energy has been dedicated to exploring Peru’s food, cities, lakes, and mountains. As you can see from the photos in my Flickr account, Peru’s sights are worth seeing. Please do not despair. My thoughts and adventures will appear on this blog soon enough. I have several ideas/stories/poems in the works which I will soon post. In the meantime, I’ve been using personal correspondence to keep this blog alive. The following update was a collective mail sent to my family—even they are the victims of my multi-tasking, recycling, and reusing of letters.
Monday morning I’m going to take a train to a mountain town called Huancavelica, which I’ve read seems more like a Swiss village in the Alps than a pueblo in the Andes. The five-hour journey is a scenic climb on a three-foot gauge track through remote valleys and rounded mountain peaks, loaded almost entirely with local artisans (read: elderly women with colorful textiles) that commute from city to city to pitch their wares on market days. The city itself is famous for indigenous handmade crafts and clothes made from alpaca fur. I plan to buy knee-high socks, gloves, and a scarf for my upcoming high altitude ride. From Huancavelica I’ll bike 150 kilometers on the longest highest road in the world, all above 12,000 feet (4,000 meters), with llamas abound, steep cliffs, trodden paths on adjacent mountains where pastors maintain their ways in peaceful isolation, and lazy, long curves that will eventually descend to a sane height of existence. I’ll be forced to take in the scenery at a sane speed as well since the 250 some kilometers to the next sizeable town of Ayacucho is completely unpaved, un-groomed, a dirt path that knows not the touch of Cat machinery and winds through the wilderness proud of its sizeable potholes and ruts. Road conditions seem to change very little at Ayacucho. Based on map topography there appear to be many climbs up to 12,000+ feet, downhills to 6,000 feet, climbs to 12,000+, downhills to 6,000, repeat. It’s looking to be the most physically difficult section to-date and probably of the entire trip, especially the last thin-air upmountain crawl to Cusco.
I’ve been staying with a Couchsurfer named Merecedes in Huancayo, Peru for several days now. Stays with people like ‘Mecha’—as her father calls her—are why I travel. From the instant she rounded the corner where we had arranged to meet we were family. When the doors opened to her four-story apartment building where brothers, sisters, uncles, parents, and one future heart-throb named Nicolos (presently age one) live in communal harmony, we were the surprised recipients of all that is wholesome. There was an all-present genuine care for our well-being, for our happiness. Food was gifted, prime couch positions were conceded, TV channel veto powers were bestowed, and for the first time in weeks we slept in real, actual beds, bathing in a real, actual shower that rained down a thing called hot water. We’ve gone out with Merecedes’ friends, eaten home-cooked meals with her family, visited her father’s rural hometown. Tonight we will celebrate Max’s one year anniversary since leaving home, or as we jokingly say, his one year as a bum. Tomorrow we will go to the countryside to meet Mercedes friend’s grandmother. This sweet woman who I have never met and never given any good reason to cook me a traditional spread of Peruvian foods, including relatively expensive guinea pig, will be waiting our arrival. We will kiss on the cheek, sit down at a table, and be family.
Peruvian food is renowned by those in the know as one of the best gastronomical experiences on the planet, right up there with the French, Italian, Japanese, you-name-it food. And its cheap. The following meal would cost less than a dollar: soup, a decent portion of meat, vegetables, rice, side serving, fruit drink (with a refill if you smile and ask nicely), and sometimes desert. There are so many dishes, most with indigenous names, that I will never learn them all. Everyday I eat something new. Everyday.
My French travel partner Max told me two days ago he will return to France after traveling for over a year. He is tired and wants to get involved in a project that adds something to his life, instead of just wandering. I can understand his perspective. I’ve thought long and hard about his perspective as anyone on my open-ended type journey naturally does. As of now, I don’t feel like I’m just wandering because I learn something new everyday, confront my purpose constantly, and have the challenge of learning Portuguese on the horizon. It’s a goal, a destination, something I feel will serve me in the future. Without it, I may feel stung with simple wanderlust like Max. Max already booked a flight and will fly out of Lima the end of this month. Beginning next Monday, after my five-hour train ride, I’ll be a lone biker again. It’s not a bad thing. The big sky terrain I’m about to bike calls for silence; I’m ready to listen instead of talk. I’ll likely meet another cyclist anyway with whom to travel Bolivia en route to Brazil after our vacations in Chile.
Most all vacation arrangements have been made for your arrival to Santiago. Alejandra, the woman who helped with our domestic flights to Patagonia, is a very good friend. I’m glad you will meet her. She wants to cook Dad and I dinner before our late night flight. Mom, you too will meet her at some point. She’s a doll, speaks perfect English, and has a British fiance who Andy hosted in Denver through Couchsurfing. I have yet to meet him, but he sounds like fun too. Alejandra recently opened a language school in Santiago. When I arrive to the city perhaps a week before Dad arrives I’ll stay with Ale and her fiance while visiting her English classes to talk with Chileans, letting them hear my Midwest American accent and whatever else Ale has in mind. Maybe I’ll even make some Chilean friends this way, they’ll be around my age after all.