Slowing Down, Looking Up
I woke up to the sound of loud music on the radio in the hostel's office, no more than two meters from my room. The desk guy, the same one that checked me into my room the night before, was singing and whistling along. It wasn't even 6:00 AM yet.
I climbed my way out of Lima, surprised that any town could generate this much traffic at this hour, especially on the outskirts of town. Heavy traffic, lots of buildings, heavy traffic, lots of buildings, and then I took my last turn out of town, and it was suddenly gone, all at once. An empty road in the desert. Weird!
Less than 100 km today, only because there was a good WarmShowers host in Mala. Mostly flat day, and the wind wasn't so bad.
Mala was a long way off the main road, and by the time I got to the center of town, it was as busy and chaotic as any. My host had given me her address, but it was still hard to find because the numbers don't go in order.
Chauca owned a small hotel and was letting me stay for free. She guided me to a small room upstairs, with a window overlooking the busiest intersection in town. I already made plans to move into the windowless room next to it later that night.
Chauca and I talked for a while, as best as we could in Spanish. She had to vote earlier that day, as voting is compulsory in Peru. I asked what happens if you don't, but didn't understand her answer. Chauca had run a handful of marathons before, and did a bike tour in Germany!
I intellectually knew that not many people live in Mala, but it still amused me when Chauca described Mala as just a small town. I was just in Lima the day before, in fact was still leaving it that same morning. If you showed me a picture of an intersection in Mala, and another one in Lima, I wouldn't know which was which. The small towns and big cities are exactly the same here, the cities only extend farther.
I had expected something to happen that night when the election results came in. I guess spending all day on the highway, looking at billboards, made me think this was the most important thing in Peru. But nothing happened, and Chauca betrayed no reaction at all.
I had another WarmShowers host in Ica, 220 km away. Somehow I got it in my head that I could make it in one day, since it's supposed to be flat, and I was supposed to have tailwind. But after only a couple hours, I got the idea that it wasn't happening. Even if I could barely make it, I wouldn't have any time to spend enjoying a good host. I managed to make it about 2/3 the way there, giving me a short day to follow.
That night, I had the best gosh-darn beer I've had in South America, and possibly the best of this entire ride, which would include some stiff competition! If you're ever in Peru, Cusqueña Roja is where it's at. The normal Cusqueña (golden lager) is also great, and anything else by the same brewery is pretty good.
When I did Texas 4,000, one of my teammates kept a list of every beer he drank the whole time, complete with a description and rating. I dunno if I'll go that far, but making a list of the ones I liked doesn't sound like a bad idea.
My short day to Ica felt a little long somehow, and I'm not sure why. I went ahead and took a late start, maybe that was it. Ica had a pretty plaza in the center of town, which would've been a nice area if not for you-know-what. In recent memory, Ica is the worst offender for both noise level and disregard for traffic etiquette. To get to my host, I had to ride through the whole thing.
Berly not only posted an accurate address on WarmShowers, but made a noticeable effort to make sure his marker on the map was in the right place - it was perfect. The usefulness of these two things can hardly be overstated.
I wound up arriving at Berly's place just as he did - he was just out running some errands. Like Chauca in Mala, Burley owned a small hotel and let me stay for free, in a modest but enormous room!
The kitchen and bathroom at this place were both locked, and Berly needed to get the keys from somewhere, later. I changed pants and we walked to a Chinese place together.
Chinese food, called "chifa" here, is popular in Peru! Reading the menu was tricky, because all the words were either Spanish or Chinese. I have a hard enough time remembering what “mee pad kao” means when I have a few English words to help me out! Luckily, the menu had pictures, so I ordered based on that. My verdict: Peruvian Chinese food is similar to what you get in Texas.
I wound up cooking some rice and tuna later, if only because I had access to a kitchen, and I usually don't. I miss having a hot meal when I go too long without, and no ability to cook limits my options at the store.
Probably the biggest news lately is a turnaround in attitude. Once again, I'm finally having moments when I'm truly happy to be here, and sometimes I even wave back at a truck if I can tell it's a friendly, encouraging honk. OK, sure, I still want to stab every dog that chases me, the people here still honk excessively, play music unnecessarily loud, and in general act inconsiderate sometimes. But as I've always known, it's not malice; they appear to be oblivious. And I guess I'm bothered a little less, enjoying the ride a little more. Maybe the shorter days lately have something to do with it.
It wasn't until I was halfway to Nasca that I was reminded of the Nasca Lines, enormous figures drawn in the desert hundreds of years ago by the natives. But since I was at ground level, not in a plane, I wouldn't be able to see them.
I was on the same highway as always, still the Pan-American, but there was a lot less traffic today. Don't know why.
I wound up meeting a guy from Tennessee on the highway. Eric had been riding his motorcycle all over the Americas for two years, having started in Alaska like me, and with the same eventual goal of making it to Ushuaia. He zig-zags a lot and takes more time off, especially when he's somewhere he likes.
But what stuck out was this: he never uses paved roads! He had detailed maps showing where small dirt roads were, and just for the adventure, was sticking to them exclusively. The only reason he was on the highway at the moment was his camera had broken, and he wanted to hurry to a town for a new one.
Eric had done some significant bike touring before, as well as a crapload of backpacking (the real kind), and now, motorcycle touring. Sounds like my kind of guy! He had a king's ransom in tips for this kind of trip, having done it many times in many different ways before. He promised to send some links with some resources that I might be able to use later on. Sounds good man!
Less than an hour later, I stopped to pee. Since this was the middle of the desert and there was nothing to go behind, I laid Valeria down in the shoulder and walked off the road a little bit.
Just when I turned around to walk back, a scooter with two people on it stopped.
"Are you OK?"
"Yeah, just had to pee!"
"Oh, we saw the bike down and thought you were hurt. The drivers are so bad here!"
The two of them were, like me and Eric, doing the whole Pan-American thing, on a scooter! I was surprised they didn't mind both fitting on that tiny thing for months at a time!
Late in the day, I had roughly 30 km to go, though I wasn't sure exactly how much. I spied a local and asked, though I'm not sure why I bothered anymore. Maybe for entertainment.
"How many kilometers from here to Nasca?"
"To Nasca? Uh," she said something to her husband. He said something back. "A hundred."
"100? To the city of Nasca?"
"Yes, 100. More or less."
Well, that's a first! Now they're grossly overestimating! Nice to switch it up every now and then.
Only a little later, I noticed a giant tower in the middle of the desert. There was a canopy tent next to it, and a turnout. Knowing we were in the area of the Nasca Lines, I correctly guessed that you can pay money to climb the tower and see one of the figures from there.
It normally bothers me when people charge for something like that. No one owns the Nasca Lines; they belong to everyone. And it doesn't cost the operator anything to let me climb the tower. I've thought the same thing about other places, like Stonehenge, no one should be able to fence it off and say "It's mine!" But since they were charging about 70 cents, I didn’t mind and paid up.
Before I went up in the tower, I struck up a conversation with a German couple that was there, and gave them a wristband. When I climbed back down, they were still there.
"Where are you staying tonight?"
"In Nasca, but I don't know where."
"Would you like to have dinner with us? I imagine you would like to have someone to talk to at dinner sometimes."
"That sounds great!"
We arranged a time to meet at a certain location, and like good Germans, they arrived within 60 seconds of the exact time. I think that is the first time I've witnessed such a thing in months. To Germans, 6:00 means 6:00, without fail. To me, 6:00 means try for 5:50 just in case, because you don't want to be late. In Latin America, 6:00 means 7:00, or maybe 7:30, I don't know, sometime in the evening, whenever I feel like it. If I get around to it at all.
Ulrike and Kay had a son-in-law (I can’t remember exactly?) who had done the same Pan-American route, about 30 years ago, before cell phones and GPS. It must have been a lot harder then. Good food, good beer, good dessert even (all of which was their treat!), and good company. Just what I needed before heading into the Andes again the next day.
Thanks again, Ulrike and Kay!