PERU - Caraz to Trujillo

"Caraz to Chimbote, if you're lucky" was what I called it. My third cartoon inspiration soon came to a realisation in my hotel room in Trujillo. This was surely to be the second entry into my book of memories titled "Buszerk", which would tell of the numerous classic rides that I was to encounter in the coming year.

It was already ten past nine and I had just walked past at least a half hour's worth of goods to be loaded. Boxes and packages, chickens with legs bound by twine, bales of wood for fires were intermingled with the respective owners. Squatting and silent. When the minutes began to tick away methodically past ten o'clock I knew it was time to sit, relax on the bench seat nearby and participate, if not enjoy, what we had now labelled "PT" or "Peruvian Time". It was a time which would certainly happen, but only in time. Time was a new concept to be reckoned with ...... "why even wear a watch?" one old man reminded me, "when we have the world's biggest, most accurate clock just up there" he said, pointing toward the sun. And so it was, at 'some time', that the bus pulled up, packed the roof with peoples' belongings, and left for Chimbote.

The bus travelled along the sides of the multi-coloured range, following the contours of the deep barren valley that lay somewhere below the edge of the road.

The road was littered with rock debris and extremely rough. The nervous chatter of a thousand would-be escapee nuts and bolts. Mostly the road was only one and a half bus width's wide. A few hours into the ride and my questions were answered. For two buses to pass, one must reverse until a place could be found wide enough for the two to squeeze side by side.

We travelled a short way before the driver found his designated width. I was glad that it was the other bus that would pass on the outside. But, alas, the inconsistent level of the road caused the other bus, which was trying to creep past with just centimetres between us, to suddenly lean too far inward and wedge firmly against us. I'm not the only person who has decided that its time to leave the bus, and so begins the task of maneuvering the two apart. I sat on a rock and pondered. Time again loses its importance. It is these abstract happenings that make up time, that take over. The central essence is the moment.

And so it is that animation and vocal scatterings, the roar of engines, the oblivious nature of some passengers who simply head off for a stroll, the unnerving screeching as the buses scrape against each other, all help to pass away the wait. A landscape foresaken, dusty and hot, the hungry belly of the vast valley below laying in hope. For the drivers, it seemed almost to be their excitement and glory for what must normally be quite resolute chauffeuring. We board and continue. Hours later we stop at a roadside restaurant nestled amongst the first trees we've seen for hours.

The taste of our "agua mineral" or mineral water is very refreshing. Even though we're very hungry, we decide to forego the meat and rice dish that's being served. We also discover here that urinating is not necessarily done in strict privacy. Brad and I arise to the situation with our "four P's", saying, "Public Peeing in Peru is Possible".

Everybody is back in the bus and ready to get going. The rusty groans and whine of the starter motor tell us that something is amiss. We are asked to come outside and help push start the bus. Why not!! Gurgle, splat and away. The hours pass.

Feeling very supple from the endless hours of shaking, we get off our bus to the overpowering stench of fish-meal, Chimbote's chief reason for being. We were back on the Peruvian coastline. Half an hour later we are on another bus heading northward, fleeing the all penetrating smell of en-masse fish processing.

Once you've tasted the freedom and boundless beauty of the Andes, then the cities never seemed to me anything other than that. Cities. Trujillo, the second largest city of Peru, didn't break the rules in this regard. It was clear that any fun to be had here would have to be self-made.

We picked a hotel name from our South American Handbook and headed there. Such a book was a valuable asset, because it saved you having to pass through the countless places offering accommodation. Most of the time you could pick a place from the book which read "clean, friendly and 'F'", and rely on the information. The 'F' was the price coding system and was the cheapest level you could get.

Our two dollar per night room was huge. We had our own ensuite complete with cockroaches and dirty toilet, and as we would find out later, no water connected to it. We were on the second storey and had a door which opened out onto one of those typically Spanish balconies.

We have seen some posters which are advertising that bands will play at the local bullfighting ring, (Coliseo de Toros) starting at nine thirty the following morning. Once again, we make the big mistake of getting there five minutes before the advertised starting time. Still, there is quite a crowd gathered outside the closed stadium doors, so we wait. Nearly an hour passes and still nothing happening, except the multiplying of the crowd. We decide to take a walk back into town to pick up some photos which we were having developed.

Arriving back just after eleven, the gates are open and a steady stream of fans flow inside. Once we're inside we find a suitable vantage point, allowing us to look down on the non-existent action in the centre of the bullfighting ring. Gradually the boxes of instruments and all those large pieces of amplification equipment, which seem common to all bands, start to arrive. Another hour passes very slowly and again our direct recognition of the existence of "PT" or Peruvian Time.

The music begins and it's good, the sounds are rhythmic and distinctly Latin American. We're feeling good. I feel like dancing but nobody else in the packed stadium is dancing. Then they start playing samba and that's too good to be sitting down to. Up and at it, bro!

So here I am the live "gringo" beacon standing up and moving to the beat. I get the usual cat-calls of "gringo" and eventually there are quite a few people grouped around clapping. Next thing I know I have the whole stadium as my audience and I'm loving it. Brad loves it and he's up and showing off some of his "black" blood too. Next thing the whole place is erupting with explosions of screams and clapping, shouting ...... and dancing. Another one of those travel stories that surely loses all in translation. A wild time on site. Lights, camera .... action plus.

We have done our share of walking here too, and have visited the crumbling adobe ruins of Chan-Chan. Massive nine metre high mud brick walls surround a whole city. Testament to creativity, craftsmanship and use of local materials, there are large areas of delicately carved mud walls, decorative patterns, a narrative of times gone by. We piece together our own picture of what went on whilst exploring all allowable corners of this once great fortress. It's very hot and knowing that a large desolate desert surrounds us, seems to accentuate that heat. We finish our observations and walk the kilometre back to the main road where we hope to hitch a ride back into town. Almost out of nowhere we spot a man with a surfboard. Has to be a mirage, and immediately Brad and I are envisaging people surfing the Amazon, or maybe taking to an Andean slope.

It's a gringo, in fact, as he catches us, and an Australian at that. The first one we've met. He tells us how there's "heaps" of great surfing to be had off the coast of Peru. He also tells us of the place where you get the world's longest ridable waves. Longest, that is, in the amount of time you could stay on your board. He said that a two minute ride wasn't out of the question. He also tells us, quite proudly, how he survived in his travels. That was, by teaming together with other travellers, mostly "stupid bloody Euro's", he said, and eventually stealing money or something in order to pay his coming way. We were glad to get rid of him. It was also good for us to gain another perspective on travelling without making the costly mistakes associated. Sure, we were always under threat from thievery here, but we now confirmed that thievery wasn't something endemic to Peru. I learnt an important lesson about non-nationalism.

Brad practised the "art of siesta" while I went to photocopy a letter-cartoon that I'd drawn some days' previously. I bought some "bad taste" postcards for particular friends and returned via the fruit and vegetable markets. Garlic, onions, avocado, tomatoes and two bottles of mineral water would be added to either rice or noodles to provide that evening's nutrition.

Just half a block short of the hotel I was approached by an older lady. She greeted me and asked where I was from. A lengthy and animated "ooooh!" greeted me. "Austriaco, Europa, Siiii!" Yes, that's it, I'm an Austrian, European. And what was I doing way out here, away from Lima, the metropolis?

And did I like her daughter? Standing at her side was a young girl, toted as being sixteen by her mother, but I guessed a year either way of fourteen. More likely under that age. Did I have any photos of my country or family; because her daughter would love to see them. I could just take her and show them to her.

The banter was pathetic, but I was interested to know more. It was now obvious that this lady, the supposed mother, was selling her "daughter". They both looked desperate, the daughter braved a false air of relaxation, of ease, but I could sense her life, her helplessness. I was shocked at the cost of her body, and especially so when I guessed that there had been a tourist surcharge placed above and beyond the local price tag.

I managed to play the line, between making it obvious that I knew what the lady was concerned with and playing the innocent. I eventually left, returning to my hotel room. Locking the door on the ebb of life outside. I almost needed to shut off for a few hours. Gone To Lunch.

Although the hotel has been cheap, I still felt some rectitude for the principle of paying for a room with a shower (we could have had a room without a shower, cheaper!) and only getting occasional dribbles that would hardly have been enough to wash little more than a dirty elbow, not to mention our somewhat smelly bodies. Days as a user of underarm deodorant seemed an eternity away. So, armed with my limited vocabulary and my bright yellow pocket size dictionary, I confronted the manager. I felt strong, we were leaving that morning, we had nothing to lose and a "principle" to discuss. The loose discussion soon became the classic Latin style confrontation, arms thrown to the ceiling, pointing in this direction as well as that, signs of outrage. We held conference for nearly half an hour before he finally decided to call the police. "Blessed are the police-makers ..." etc!

"The classic bluff", I thought to myself. Within five minutes I found myself with less bravado than I had set out with, as the police strode into the entrance way of the hotel. We paid and left. They could keep their water and place it up their shower rose!