Posted by: standing_baba | February 22, 2010

I Collect People (Part II)

Guillermo & Ana

Name: Guillermo & Ana
Itinerary: Iquique, Chile to Peruvian border
Drive Time: 6 hours

My ride with Guillermo and his friend Ana was a one of those hitchhiking moments when you realize just how different people, with all their ideas and driving ideologies, can really be. Guillermo was ex-military. He was a young commander when General Pinochet overthrew Chile’s government, bombing the Chilean equivalent to the White House in the process and torturing/murdering dissidents in the months that followed. Guillermo saw first-hand the people brought in at midnight without arrest warrants; he heard the screams from unofficial holding cells. This was just part of the job, thought naive young Guillermo. After paying for my breakfast, he casually answered his own question, “What do you think about president Obama?” with “He seems like a fine enough guy, but I don’t like him as president. Now the blacks feel like they’re equal, or even superior now that they have one of their own in office.” Similar one-sided conversations followed, punctuated by my opinions that were voiced just loud enough to not get me thrown out of the car. In the end, it was a long ride with civilized discussion from two opposite ends of the spectrum. His friend Ana’s only evidence of being a warm-blooded human being came when I mentioned contradictory information about Pinochet that has come to light since his death. She then became a fury of repressed maniacal slogans in defense of the “man who saved Chile,” but just for a moment, before settling again into a glazed-over stare at the passing scenery.

Driver Fernando

Name: Fernando
Itinerary: Arequipa, Peru to Juliaca, Peru
Drive time: 5 hours

There is no hitchhiking culture in Peru. When my friend Marco and I waved our markered cardboard “Cusco” before passing cars many stopped to inform us that we were far from the bus station. I had the exact same dialogue with several courteous drivers who wanted to help us poor, lost foreigners. It went something like this:

Friendly Peruvian speaking through a rolled-down window: “The buses to Cusco don’t stop here.”

Me shading my eyes from the sun with a cardboard sign: “Thank you, but we want a car.”

Friendly Peruvian, speaking louder and slower now so the foreigner will understand: “Taxis don’t go to Cusco from here, you’ll have to go to the bus station.”

Me, calculating my words: “Yes, I understand. We’re hitchhiking. We want a ride with people willing to take us with them.”

Extremely friendly Peruvian perplexed by the foreigner’s stupidity: “But the buses don’t stop here.”

Me, trying not to laugh: “Thank you, sir. Have a good day.”

Frustrated with not getting a ride despite all the unprecedented (albeit misguided) friendliness, I approached Fernando’s purple truck that was parked near an open-air fruit market. In great detail I explained that we wanted to get to Cusco without buses, without taxis, preferably in his truck. Once en route Marco and I mostly talked to each other while quiet Fernando laughed at our jokes. A few Fernando facts I learned: he has three children, his truck’s load was crude milk since his city doesn’t have a processing plant, he would return to Arequipa that same night. The above photo was expensive—my iPod Nano fell to the floor when I grabbed my camera to take it. Fernando is now jamming Brazilian hip hop and English-language Podcasts during his long hauls through the Peruvian countryside.

Friend & Traveler Extraordinaire Marco

Name: Marco Novo
Itinerary: Same as mine
Drive Time: Same as mine

Marco and I met during a Couchsurfing-organized culinary tour in the city of Arequipa, Peru. Over typical Peruvian dishes we ate, we talked, we drank, we ate some more. Somewhere between the third-course and desert it came out that we both planned to leave Sunday morning. When I suggested hitchhiking, he smiled, saying it would depend on how his night went. With dirty Saturday night details muted, we left promptly at 9:00am the next morning. The above photo was taken on the outskirts of Juliaca, Peru near a small rural community that was celebrating Carnaval. We could see dancers twirling in colorful dresses. Drum and brass music thumped its simple repetitiveness into large circles of on-looking men, most too drunk to dance. Our back-up plan was to join them if we couldn’t catch a ride before dark. Marco is French, lives in Brazil, fluently speaks six languages, and has visited over 60 countries as a Pepsi Quality Control Representative and budget backpacker. Check out his blog and wonder where finds the time.

Truck Driver Roberto

Name: Roberto
Itinerary: Juliaca, Peru to Cusco, Peru
Drive Time: 9 hours

As the sun was setting destiny smiled upon us. Not only did Roberto stop but his cab had a large bed and fluffy pillow that invited us to dream. Marco and I took turns sleeping, waking in a daze to converse with the driver as oncoming headlights made the night scenery one extended headache. Lima-native Roberto did not normally drive southern Peru, but overtime and new scenery convinced him to take on this weekend run. The haul: vegetable oil—not sure why it had to be delivered with such haste though. He does not usually pick up hitchhikers—robberies are common, even by women—but he could tell we were foreign travelers (I purposely show my blond hair and do not wear a hat when hitchhiking in South America for this very reason). He liked how I danced with the cardboard sign, practically running aside his eighteen wheeler; Marco’s guitar peaked his interest in why we were in the middle of nowhere surrounded by drunk campesinos. When we finally arrived to Cusco around 11:00pm I was so sleepy that I fell five feet backwards from the cab into a mud puddle, my backpack cushioning the fall. Girls at a local Chicken Broaster restaurant could not contain their laughter.

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