II. Lima to Barranca to Trujillo [21-23 April]

a – Lima to Barranca 21 April

      The outskirts of the city are the outskirts of a city: tire shops and outdoor food-stands and grim hovels, then a couple of outlying villages in which bare, square, brown buildings are hardly distinguishable from the brown, barren hillsides they perch on, then the sudden silence of a vast desert with distant peaks poking up from sun-brightened fog from the sea, invisible somewhere nearby to our left. The sudden silence and the sudden absence of movement, clutter, and humanity is startling. Disorienting.

silent landscape not far north of Lima

silent landscape not far north of Lima

 

      When we pause to step out and shoot a couple of quick shots of our surroundings, I suddenly recognize our vulnerability. All over Mexico I’ve driven or walked where I probably shouldn’t, without the wit to think twice about it; but people have said and written a great deal about the dangers of violent theft in Peru. Too, although I know Mexico and have a feeling for it, I’m new here. Everyone thinks we’re crazy. Maybe we are. Maybe someone who has spotted our cameras will waylay us further on. I do not think so; but for once I’m uneasy.

      The fog-hugged, barren landscape is like crossing some other planet. Part of it reminds Ragna of the volcanic moonscapes near Keflavik.

      We are stopped twice at police check-points. They ask where we’re going and where we’re from, laugh amiably at my bad Spanish, and wave us on. It’s always pleasant to be a source of amusement to everyone. (By and large, the police are interested in something other than foreign visitors, and tend to stop trucks more than cars. Speeding doesn’t seem to interest them too much.)

      The Pan American Highway is a narrow, two-lane road. In one small town perhaps 20 km. before Barranca, traffic stops behind a funeral. There’s a hearse, then several dozen mourners walking behind it, then a car with the family in it, then us, as the oncoming lane becomes a battleground between its rightful possessors and impatient vehicles from behind us. Eventually we too muscle into the opposite lane and pass the funeral.

      We arrive in Barranca in darkness. It’s a bee-hive of traffic and pedestrians. The traffic is mostly small vehicles that look like motorcycles onto which someone has grafted a frame and a back-seat, then covered it with plastic to make a sort of taxi. The plastic covers are decorated with bright colors, decals, and the names or slogans of the drivers. At first it doesn’t look like a pleasant town: dusty, noisy, crowded. The hotel looks unappealing, but turns out to be clean and pleasant, and even has a pool. And a restaurant.

      We try the restaurant. It is simple and plain. We are tired and hungry. When we order wine, the cashier climbs onto her stool and locates a small bottle on a shelf above her. There’s something sweet about the fact that the waitress initially pours out a bit of wine for me to taste and approve, before filling our glasses – then returns periodically, pouring carefully with a paper napkin wrapped around the bottle’s neck, always standing on the correct side of the person being served. I notice on a cardboard coaster that this is the Chavin Hotel and Convention Center.

      Up early in the morning, I photograph the moto-taxis and watch street life in Barranca.

      The moto-taxis, mostly blue with a few red ones and the occasional bright yellow, are decorated with a variety of cartoon characters, heroic mottos, and religious sayings or icons. And Che. They are simple and economical: with small engines, and plastic walls and roofs, they move a small number of human beings from one place to another without dragging tons of metal and aluminum along. The squarish shapes of their covers make them look faintly like some form of vehicle from an earlier century. The personalized decorations suggest a jaunty independence.

 

While Disney’s and other cartoon characters are the most frequent faces grinning at us from the plastic sides and rear of the things, the more sober faces of the Virgin Mary and Che Guevara are also visible.   
b – Barranca to Trujillo  [22-23 April]     
      Tuesday we drive on toward Trujillo.      Casma seems a pleasant town. We mosey through it, shooting pictures on the street and vaguely looking for the La Poinsella Hotel. Ragna gets out once to film some kids, then enthralls them by showing them themselves on video.      The hotel is a sudden green and tranquil oasis. Peaceful. Quiet. So nearly deserted that as we wander back toward the pool and pool-side bar we aren’t too sure it’s open. We spend an hour there, eating by the pool and chatting with a woman who runs the place. It’s a worthy alternative to Barranca as a place to break the journey to Trujillo. [add pix?] 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      Later, surrounded by sand, we pause. Hundreds of meters away there’s a small bay with a couple of shacks, a small fishing boat pulled up on the sand, and some nice rocks in the sea.

      I spot a dog. Ant-like at this distance, he is running from the sea across the sand, followed by a second dog, toward the road behind us, and when I glance back down the road there is a car pulling out from the left shoulder and a man walking toward the home, and I realize the dogs are running out to greet him, he has come home. It’s an appealing home, too. I watch. At this distance, the dogs seem to be running in slow motion, and have a long way to go. We are gone before they reach him.

      “That’s a nice place to live,” I remark.

      “There are a lot of nice places to live,” Ragna replies. Her voice is guarded. She is used to my readiness to romanticize all sorts of places. She has heard me tell her we should buy the house below the waterfall on the way to Snaefellsnes, and that I could happily live in the abandoned farmhouse near the end of the road along the fjord at Seydisfjordur, and has watched me discuss vacant land in a ghost town in Mexico.

[insert pix]

      This place isn’t on that level. Just looks like someone lives a very peaceful life there.

      But avoid Chimbote! We’d read that it smelled bad because of fish-rendering plants there. It does. At least today, it smells so foul that you don’t even want to drive slowly through it. You try to hold your breath, but the town’s just big enough and traffic just slow enough to make that impossible.

      Driving in Peru can be arduous. It is not primarily the fault of Peruvian drivers. If the authorities helped them with better traffic engineering – that is, with more and clearer statements of what’s expected of them – that would help.

      I’m reminded of the difference between Boston and New York in my youth, and perhaps still. New York, particularly Manhattan, was laid out primarily in right-angled blocks, and at each four-way intersection each driver’s rights were made clear by a red or green light, a blinking yellow light in one direction and a blinking red light in the other, or a sign saying “Stop”, “Yield”, or “No Left Turn.” In Boston, little villages grew more haphazardly into a metropolis, and often four, five, or six streets fed into a single intersection, at various odd angles, and because there were so many blinking lights it wasn’t clear who, if anyone, had the right of way. Not surprisingly, while New York drivers were certainly aggressive within the rules, and bent them at times, Boston drivers simply bluffed each other as effectively as they could.

      Peru is similar. In Lima, two apparently main roads meet at right angles, with little clear indication of who has the right of way. Often there are no traffic lights and the traffic on the dominant street is so thick that if drivers on the other street didn’t lurch out into the middle of the intersection, they’d never get across. It’s a gigantic multi-player game of chicken.

      Within moments of setting out in the morning you are a Peruvian driver too. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t get anywhere, and you’d be listening to a vast cacophony of horns from behind you. Too, half-measures are dangerous: jump out aggressively and take what you can get, and the other drivers know your intentions and adjust. Drive in what we might consider a more “normal” fashion and you confuse everyone, making it far more possible that two vehicles will try to occupy the same ground.

      Our arrival in Trujillo is frustrating. The narrow streets, many closed off temporarily for some reason, are clogged with cabs and other vehicles. It’s dark, there are few visible street signs, and the frustrated cab-drivers are impatient with anyone dawdling through an intersection trying to spot a sign. When I can spot enough information to locate on the map where we are and where we are going, the one-way streets and closures hamper my ability to get there. In addition, Ragna vetoes the first place I take us to, and the second has no room for us.

Eventually we find a room, but it is tiny. It is also impossible to sleep in, because of the barking dogs and other noise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

che walks again -- or, at least, rides

che walks again -- or, at least, rides

Old enough to recall when Che was alive, and to have admired him, I wonder in passing how much his appearance on a moto-taxi reflects the driver’s political views and how much he’s just another recognizable icon, like Daffy Duck. 

 

 

a – Lima to Barranca 21 April

      The outskirts of the city are the outskirts of a city: tire shops and outdoor food-stands and grim hovels, then a couple of outlying villages in which bare, square, brown buildings are hardly distinguishable from the brown, barren hillsides they perch on, then the sudden silence of a vast desert with distant peaks poking up from sun-brightened fog from the sea, invisible somewhere nearby to our left. The sudden silence and the sudden absence of movement, clutter, and humanity is startling. Disorienting.

silent landscape not far north of Lima

silent landscape not far north of Lima

 

      When we pause to step out and shoot a couple of quick shots of our surroundings, I suddenly recognize our vulnerability. All over Mexico I’ve driven or walked where I probably shouldn’t, without the wit to think twice about it; but people have said and written a great deal about the dangers of violent theft in Peru. Too, although I know Mexico and have a feeling for it, I’m new here. Everyone thinks we’re crazy. Maybe we are. Maybe someone who has spotted our cameras will waylay us further on. I do not think so; but for once I’m uneasy.

      The fog-hugged, barren landscape is like crossing some other planet. Part of it reminds Ragna of the volcanic moonscapes near Keflavik.

      We are stopped twice at police check-points. They ask where we’re going and where we’re from, laugh amiably at my bad Spanish, and wave us on. It’s always pleasant to be a source of amusement to everyone. (By and large, the police are interested in something other than foreign visitors, and tend to stop trucks more than cars. Speeding doesn’t seem to interest them too much.)

      The Pan American Highway is a narrow, two-lane road. In one small town perhaps 20 km. before Barranca, traffic stops behind a funeral. There’s a hearse, then several dozen mourners walking behind it, then a car with the family in it, then us, as the oncoming lane becomes a battleground between its rightful possessors and impatient vehicles from behind us. Eventually we too muscle into the opposite lane and pass the funeral.

      We arrive in Barranca in darkness. It’s a bee-hive of traffic and pedestrians. The traffic is mostly small vehicles that look like motorcycles onto which someone has grafted a frame and a back-seat, then covered it with plastic to make a sort of taxi. The plastic covers are decorated with bright colors, decals, and the names or slogans of the drivers. At first it doesn’t look like a pleasant town: dusty, noisy, crowded. The hotel looks unappealing, but turns out to be clean and pleasant, and even has a pool. And a restaurant.

      We try the restaurant. It is simple and plain. We are tired and hungry. When we order wine, the cashier climbs onto her stool and locates a small bottle on a shelf above her. There’s something sweet about the fact that the waitress initially pours out a bit of wine for me to taste and approve, before filling our glasses – then returns periodically, pouring carefully with a paper napkin wrapped around the bottle’s neck, always standing on the correct side of the person being served. I notice on a cardboard coaster that this is the Chavin Hotel and Convention Center.

      Up early in the morning, I photograph the moto-taxis and watch street life in Barranca.

      The moto-taxis, mostly blue with a few red ones and the occasional bright yellow, are decorated with a variety of cartoon characters, heroic mottos, and religious sayings or icons. And Che. They are simple and economical: with small engines, and plastic walls and roofs, they move a small number of human beings from one place to another without dragging tons of metal and aluminum along. The squarish shapes of their covers make them look faintly like some form of vehicle from an earlier century. The personalized decorations suggest a jaunty independence.

 

While Disney’s and other cartoon characters are the most frequent faces grinning at us from the plastic sides and rear of the things, the more sober faces of the Virgin Mary and Che Guevara are also visible.   
b – Barranca to Trujillo  [22-23 April]     
      Tuesday we drive on toward Trujillo.      Casma seems a pleasant town. We mosey through it, shooting pictures on the street and vaguely looking for the La Poinsella Hotel. Ragna gets out once to film some kids, then enthralls them by showing them themselves on video.      The hotel is a sudden green and tranquil oasis. Peaceful. Quiet. So nearly deserted that as we wander back toward the pool and pool-side bar we aren’t too sure it’s open. We spend an hour there, eating by the pool and chatting with a woman who runs the place. It’s a worthy alternative to Barranca as a place to break the journey to Trujillo. [add pix?] 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      Later, surrounded by sand, we pause. Hundreds of meters away there’s a small bay with a couple of shacks, a small fishing boat pulled up on the sand, and some nice rocks in the sea.

      I spot a dog. Ant-like at this distance, he is running from the sea across the sand, followed by a second dog, toward the road behind us, and when I glance back down the road there is a car pulling out from the left shoulder and a man walking toward the home, and I realize the dogs are running out to greet him, he has come home. It’s an appealing home, too. I watch. At this distance, the dogs seem to be running in slow motion, and have a long way to go. We are gone before they reach him.

      “That’s a nice place to live,” I remark.

      “There are a lot of nice places to live,” Ragna replies. Her voice is guarded. She is used to my readiness to romanticize all sorts of places. She has heard me tell her we should buy the house below the waterfall on the way to Snaefellsnes, and that I could happily live in the abandoned farmhouse near the end of the road along the fjord at Seydisfjordur, and has watched me discuss vacant land in a ghost town in Mexico.

[insert pix]

      This place isn’t on that level. Just looks like someone lives a very peaceful life there.

      But avoid Chimbote! We’d read that it smelled bad because of fish-rendering plants there. It does. At least today, it smells so foul that you don’t even want to drive slowly through it. You try to hold your breath, but the town’s just big enough and traffic just slow enough to make that impossible.

      Driving in Peru can be arduous. It is not primarily the fault of Peruvian drivers. If the authorities helped them with better traffic engineering – that is, with more and clearer statements of what’s expected of them – that would help.

      I’m reminded of the difference between Boston and New York in my youth, and perhaps still. New York, particularly Manhattan, was laid out primarily in right-angled blocks, and at each four-way intersection each driver’s rights were made clear by a red or green light, a blinking yellow light in one direction and a blinking red light in the other, or a sign saying “Stop”, “Yield”, or “No Left Turn.” In Boston, little villages grew more haphazardly into a metropolis, and often four, five, or six streets fed into a single intersection, at various odd angles, and because there were so many blinking lights it wasn’t clear who, if anyone, had the right of way. Not surprisingly, while New York drivers were certainly aggressive within the rules, and bent them at times, Boston drivers simply bluffed each other as effectively as they could.

      Peru is similar. In Lima, two apparently main roads meet at right angles, with little clear indication of who has the right of way. Often there are no traffic lights and the traffic on the dominant street is so thick that if drivers on the other street didn’t lurch out into the middle of the intersection, they’d never get across. It’s a gigantic multi-player game of chicken.

      Within moments of setting out in the morning you are a Peruvian driver too. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t get anywhere, and you’d be listening to a vast cacophony of horns from behind you. Too, half-measures are dangerous: jump out aggressively and take what you can get, and the other drivers know your intentions and adjust. Drive in what we might consider a more “normal” fashion and you confuse everyone, making it far more possible that two vehicles will try to occupy the same ground.

      Our arrival in Trujillo is frustrating. The narrow streets, many closed off temporarily for some reason, are clogged with cabs and other vehicles. It’s dark, there are few visible street signs, and the frustrated cab-drivers are impatient with anyone dawdling through an intersection trying to spot a sign. When I can spot enough information to locate on the map where we are and where we are going, the one-way streets and closures hamper my ability to get there. In addition, Ragna vetoes the first place I take us to, and the second has no room for us.

Eventually we find a room, but it is tiny. It is also impossible to sleep in, because of the barking dogs and other noise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

che walks again -- or, at least, rides

che walks again -- or, at least, rides

Old enough to recall when Che was alive, and to have admired him, I wonder in passing how much his appearance on a moto-taxi reflects the driver’s political views and how much he’s just another recognizable icon, like Daffy Duck. 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

   
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 

   
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

   
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

   
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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