Written between Ayacucho and back to Lima.
Taking the sierra route to Cusco, I maneuvered to get some time away from tourists. Having spent a bit more time than I would have liked in a Hostel in Barranco. Partly due to a 3 day stint with some bad food poisoning. I blame the 2 sole ceviche I had. Still doesn't break my love for the stuff- I could eat leche del Tigre for breakfast everyday...But not from la sierra.
The bus ride out from Lima to Huancayo is like a space shuttle launch into another galaxy. You're entering a new terrain. And you must voyage through the clouds to get there. But first the coastal desert that edges into the Andean sierra- factory towns that appear to me, if any place I've been, to be the best representation of what it would look like if an alien race came to conquer earth, extract its resources, and exploit it's people. Not a far fetched idea in Sudamérica.
Dusty brick and clay homes congest on top, aside and through each other- the appearance of underdevelopment and decades of neoliberalism and neocolonialism is not hard to see. A sun faded and tattered poster appears in many forms on every store front- a white skinned woman or blonde haired man, smile with perfect teeth, outstretched hands hold up a coke bottle. Only 1.20 soles- but with a non existent health care, let alone dental- you don't see too many pearly whites on the smiling faces de la gente. Not when Coke, and Nestle have been pushing their products from child formula to Inka cola for decades.
What appears to be some sort of mill rises out of the bohió covered hills, like the black steel giants of south Chicago or Gary- except this one lies in the shadow of a large crucifix planted in the peak of small mountain above it. The mountain's face has been turned to a drooping slant, excavation has hollowed out stone. Not far along the road another smaller mill with accompanied company housing: color coated 10 story cement boxes. But all that is sold on local stores are imported goods and cheap processed foods. You can find Peruvian goods- but not here, when the people are too poor to buy their own goods. What do you call that?
One night I was told by a fellow sociologist (I seem to meet one wherever I go), nephew to my hosts in Miraflores, as Chauné, him, and I constructed a beer can castle- that any labor rights in Peru are essentially non-existent. No social benefits, TPP was widely supported- "we need jobs, no right to union- I could give a damn." The mentality is to survive; to flourish, to be free- those are ideas of Marxist terrorists far in the hills of the sierra, long ago decimated by counterinsurgency programs. Leaving at least by some counts 70,000 missing or killed.
And the bus goes up, up, up. The world becomes pained with new set of paints: Grey, deep green, and brown replace the plastic, steel, and dust of below. The economic conditions change as well. This is the Camino del Indio, de los cholos- the way of the mountain people, exploited and brutalized since the time of Pizzaro. Subdisarolllo is an understatement- bellow these mountains is what Sukarno, Nehru, Nasser, Un, and the other Bangdung '54 leaders called the third world; this? In the sierra, esta es el cuatro Mundo- the fourth world.
The elevation and my recovery have me drifting in and out of sleep on the ascent. The window lets in colder air. I wake near dusk, I believe at a plateau in the specific range, bald light brown peaks surround a deep teal blue lake. No more 150 meters or so in length. We whizz by. I drift back to sleep.
Huancayo greets me with a chill 15 degree night. The city is still large by my standards- I think about half a million souls. My first impression is a reminder of Kathmandu, or Sbata. But it is dark and you see a different city at night than at day. Pia Pata is the neighborhood's name, part of the section of town called Tambo. It's made up of working class informal homes. Which doesn't mean slum. And many of the houses are quite impressive when you look close. Here, as much of the world, families moving from the country to the city, will buy or occupy a plot of land. Over time, say a decade or so, they build up, more family is born, more family comes. And there you have a multistory, multifamily home. As I would see in the subsequent two days spent wandering the area, much of the same or similar material is used as that on South Asia. The glass panes for windows, the drainage pipes, the water tankers. Fences and gates differed. And the vegetation reminds me strongly of the southwest.
The Wanka skies poured a few times everyday. Muddy roads, quite streets, low mountain skylines, and a surrounding hills that looks like they could make up the Scottish country side, gave an almost surreal feel. Particularly as I made my way to the central market, as big as the one I recall in Tangier, and including the outside portions- possibly bigger than the market in Budapest. Rows of carcasses, carved cabesas de Vacas, fish next to cuy, rows of ribs, veggies and fruits. I settle for wonton soup at the in house Chifa joint (Peruvian Chinese).
A few days later I catch an early morning bus bound for Ayacucho. On our departure we scrape past narrow curves no wider than 12 feet, plunging into valleys lush with papaya, maiz, palm groves, Avacados, and other rows of produce plotted in colectivo style- only rising for be greeted by red, grey, tan mountains, reminiscent of the hills of the South Dakota badlands, and brilliant blue sky's of the south west. Alpine mountains, jungle like valleys, and desert plateaus- all in the matter of 9 hours.
I make it to Ayacucho for the evening- deciding to catch the night bus to Cusco, a 15 hour journey that only one company braves. The route can be quite treacherous, but damn beautiful. I'll be joining a few friends I made in Lima.
As I write this- now about a week from my arrival from Cusco- (I started to type this on the above described bus ride) I sit along a glass wall at the Lima airport,
My and a mate thought we would go bus bound from Cusco all the way up to Pucallpa, a 3-4 day journey. We made it half way, only to find the second half impassable due to heavy rain, landslides, and eroding roads. Damn. We reorganized and decided to hop back to Lima, via Huancayo- spending a night in Ayacucho- and grab a plane to Pucallpa. Next is the river boat to Iquitos.
All this with the flashes of Trump's inauguration in Spanish on staticky tvs, the remnants of American democracy play themselves out to the north, the reminders of the insurrection of 'The shining path' are glimpsed barley in the small pueblos of the sierra, police checkpoints, and concrete filled bullet holes.
The 17 cabinet post of the new White House have more accumulated wealth than one third of American households...(http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/310566-trumps-cabinet-picks-have-more-money-than-third-of-american) I can only imagine what the ratio of disparity is then for these hills, or for that matter this whole continent.
I spoke with an old man in the plaza de la cruz in Barranco one evening. His name was George, his father had graduated from the University of Michigan and was Peru's first Forestry engineer- what a coincidence, and he told me this before I told him I too had graduated from UofM. We talked for some time. He had been to the US back in the '80s, he said "the thing I like about the US is it's democracy, or at least its idea of democracy, its attempt at democracy." We discussed the lack, the tragic lack of democracy in Sudamerica and the the possibility of a pan American republic, the idea that thousands have shed blood and died for in these parts, often by bullets sold by the US. I told him, not know exactly where I was going with what I was saying- that democracy in the US had been taken for granted, if not forgotten or ignored, but that Trump and the grotesque victory of the far right was a wake up call to those who believe in a democratic society, and indeed a call to action. Señor George smiled, fixing his hands, slightly covered by a black suit jacket, over his black and silver guitar. His wire like mustache smiled over his crooked teeth. "I know what you are thinking, I know what you will do" picking at the strings a few times. "Liberdad es una lucha, una lucha dura y continual..." he was almost muttering to himself, like what he murmured was something someone had said to him that he remembered. He switched to English. "Well people who travel, like you, like me, we see things, we learn things, the world opens us" my mind races over the dozens of cities in the past 4 1/2 months "and then we are presented with moments to act..." I almost had tunnel vision, the sun was setting over the pacific and the cross erected at the small plaza- children, mothers, teen couples, all gather chatting, laughing, but at this moment my attention was solely on George's words- "I missed mine..."
Of all the chats, deep discussions, and painful observations, joyous moments- this meeting stands out. An old man in all black singing a mournful song of "what we were" caught my attention. We talked for a few hours more. I had to grab my laundry, I was leaving for Huancayo the next day. "Well come back, I'm here every evening strumming this old piece of junk" knowing I may not ever be in Lima again, as I usually do I create real life poetry "I will, well chat again, I need to practice mi Español"
The route up to pucallpa, then to Iquitos by boat is one taken by thousands, usually Peruvians on their way back home, or by freighters supplying the numerous towns accessible only by boat. In 1952 a pair of young medical students took this route up to a leper colony in the Peruvian amazon. In part, this leg of my journey is to see what they saw more then half a century later. Those students where Alberto Granado and Ernesto Guevara. My intention is not to follow any path, but to view a path that was taken, one that is part of the compound inspirations for my early desire for travel. The others being the 2008 issue of National Geographic that showed pictures of Bolivia, lake titicaca, the salt flats and the small Bolivian towns; also the book titled "The Long Walk", the author escapes me, but it is the story of a political prisoner escaping a Siberian gulag and walking all the way down to India.
My journey is nowhere near as grand as either, but one can hope.