Car Washes & The Mars Desert

Lima, Perù

First off, let me just thank everyone who has sent me birthday money or just well wishes in the past few days…you guys rock!

I am currently in Lima after sitting around in kind of a funk for the past week. More on that in a moment. Last we sopke, I was in Loja, Ecuador. I spent the evening looking at a neat castle.

The castle has been recently converted into a hotel which I could never afford

I left that morning relatively early, and managed to hitch a ride just outside of Loja in the back of a truck with a nice fellow named Josè. We talked a bit, and I learned that he is a student that professes the desire to travel around South America on a bicycle after his graduation, much like Che Guevara. Good on him, hope I run into him again someday. We’re Facebook friends now.

Josè and I a few hours south of Loja

After leaving Josè, I hopped into another truck that I was able to quickly flag down.

We drove for about half an hour and I was dropped off in a very small pueblito. I saw many farm animals on the road; they sometimes blocked the entire way.

Four nice asses and some goats

A few more rides and a few more hours later, I made it to the border of Perù.

Ecuador-Perù border crossing. Encountered no problems whatsoever

I crossed without incident, and began walking. Soon, the back of a pickup took me a few more kilkometers away from the border, and after getting out, I continued my trek south.

As I was walking along, a few girls on a motorcycle waved me over and started talking to me. Eventually, they figured out that I was poor and hungry, and soon I had a place to stay for the evening.

We went to their house and I dined on some famous peruvian cusine, which seemed to be a lot of fish and yucca. This is good because I like fish and yucca. After watching a soccer game, I went to bed. Or tried to…

First, there were the mosquitoes. Hundreds of them, very persistant, wasted no time reliving me of well over half my blood supply, it seemed. Despite, the heat, I was forced to cover my entire face and body with the blanket. Then, just as I was about to slip into the gentle folds of sleep….


Rooster. They had a rooster in a cage in the very same room that I was sleeping in; he chose this moment (somewhere around midnight) to begin crowing. And it wasn’t just once…every thirty seconds that damn bird would let loose with another ear-splitting crow. I was seriously about to go over there and tear the fucking thing’s head off. I slept intermittedly, dreaming of mosquito holocosts and running over roosters with steamrollers.

The infernal rooster. I hate this bird so, so much

The next morning I left, after dining on more fish. Soon, a police man asked me if I needed a ride. I did, so I hopped in the back and rode for about thirty kilometers. The town I was dropped off in seemed to be composed entirely of mototaxis (motorcycles modified to be taxis.) There were, seriously, no other kinds of cars anywhere. Not even normal motorcycles! So I walked for several hours down a long road, with nothing but the damned mototaxis and buses passing me by. Finally, I got a pickup to stop, and, after verifying that he was not a taxi, I accepted a lift into the next town.

The people in the truck were nice, and bought me some lunch (more fish.) I also drank a strange local wine called chicha that is poured into a bowl, passed around, and sipped. It was quite good.

The chicha was only slightly alcoholic

My gracious Peruvian lunch partners

The people I ate lunch with insisted that I take a bus a little closer to Lima, so I did since they were paying. I rode for a few hours and arrived to Piura around four o’clock.

I wandered aimlessly around for a few hours until eventually a nice guy in a mototaxi took me to the Panamericana Sur for free. As soon as I was back on the highway, I managed to flag down an eighteen wheeler. Inside were three guys, one old and the other two about my age. Apparently we were going to Chiclayo, a few hours down the road. That sounded like a plan to me, until the truck made an unpleasant grinding sound and screeched to a halt.

Upon further examination, it appeared a critical part had fallen off the drive shaft. We were delayed a few hours while a few grease monkeys appeared out of nowhere and tinkered with the guts of the rig for a bit.

Several hours later, well after nightfall, we continued south, arriving in Chiclayo around eleven. It is a very arid place, especially in comparison to eastern Ecuador.

Chiclayo, Perù; very early in the morning

I crashed in the cab of the rig with the other two fellows who were my age, and the next morning we went to one of their houses and got some breakfast. After that, I took a series of small vans until I was more or less out of the city.

I walked for a few minutes, and all of a sudden the town ended and I popped out into the middle of a barren, dry desert. It’s amazing how only a few day’s travel can take you from the dense, impenatrable jungles of southeastern Ecuador to the dusty sand-dune deserts of western Perù.

The first thing I saw after getting out of Chiclayo. Drastic change from the previous week.

Not much here

The first actual desert sand dunes I ever saw

I walked in the desert for awhile; soon, a tuck stopped and drove me ten or so clicks to the next town. Here, I discovered a multitude of large,very fast desert skink lizards that were almost impossible to catch, let alone photograph. I missed several ride oppertunities because I was too busy chasing lizards through the sand.

I managed to get close enough for a photo...they were too fast to catch though.

This tower was in the same town as the lizards. I found it to be rather ominous-looking.

Eventually, a big rig stopped and took me about forty clicks to a few towns over. We chewed on sugarcane and listened to Shakira. In the next town, I saw a distant mountian with the words “Christo ya viene” spelled out in giant, hundred foot letters.

The mountian says, 'Christ is coming.'

Eventually, I made it out of town and hopped into the back of a truck hauling rice. We drove for about fifteen minutes, and then stopped to load up more rice in this huge factory; I helped a little, but the bags were extremely heavy.

My ride waiting for more rice cargo. Notice my pack shoved up near the top

After the refill, we continued driving south for several hours.

I rode for hours on rice. Rather comfortable, actually

We reached Trujillo later that afternoon. I got off just outside the city limits and continued searching for a ride to Lima, which was still a good ten or twelve hours away.

I had no luck, and darkness fell quickly. A guy noticed me hitch hiking and came up to talk to me. I gave him the usual story, and he told me that if I was hungry (I was) and if I needed a place to sleep (I did) then I could go across the street where there was a small carwash buisness. They would let me stay there and feed me, he thought, so long as I washed a few cars. That sounded like a pretty good deal to me, so I went over there and inquired.

I was immedietly accepted, and fed a meal. Afterward, an old guy gave me a bag of green leaves. I didn’t know what they were, and he told me that they were coca leaves, for chewing! Holy shit! I’ve always wanted to try that! So I got a big wad and shoved it into my mouth. It pretty much just tasted like leaves, but after about half an hour, I began to get a little head rush, a feeling not unlike smoking your first cigarette after going three days without one. Interesting…

My first expirience with coca leaves

The next day, I washed a few eighteen wheelers and entertained several incredibly dirty and totally naked three-to-five-year-olds by showing them the easiest way to kill flies.

There were a LOT of flies there. A LOT. The “room” I slept in, which was just tarp erected around a few dirty mattresses, was filled with, literally, a hundred thousand flies. They were so thick on the top that you couldn’t even see the blue of the tarp. All night, you just heard a constant “bzzzzz” as one or another came and went. Sickening disease-carrying filthy bastards…

So I stayed and washed cars for a few days there, and even washed my clothes, which was good because the last time I washed them I was in Colombia. The next day one of the ladies there told me that her husband was taking the truck to Lima the next day, and that I was welcome to ride along. I thought that sounded good, except for that he bailed at the last minute. So I found my own ride to Lima in a different truck, and all was well.

I rode all day to get to Lima, through the most beautiful and the most desolate desert I’ve ever seen. Sand dunes everywhere, miles long and hundreds of meters high, streched into the distance. Barren mountians completely deviod of vegatation rose up out of the earth like scars. I figured that this is probably as close to Mars as I’ll ever get. Literally, no plants whatsoever. Anywhere. Just rocks and sand. I named it the Mars Desert.

EDIT: I later learned that it is called the Sechura Desert; this is part of the Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world. My calling it the ‘Mars Desert’ wasn’t totally inaccurate, however; here is a quote from Wikipedia:

“Due to its otherworldly appearance, the Atacama has been used as a location for filming Mars scenes, most notably in the television series Space Odessey: Voyage to the Planets .

In 2003, a team of researchers published a report in Science Magazine titled “Mars-like Soils in the Atacama Desert, Chile & Perù, and the Dry Limit of Microbial Life” in which they duplicated the tests used by the Viking 1and Viking 2 Mars landers to detect life, and were unable to detect any signs in Atacama Desert soil. The region may be unique on Earth in this regard and is being used by NASA to test instruments for future Mars missions. The team duplicated the Viking tests in Mars-like Earth environments and found that they missed present signs of life in soil samples from Antarctic dry valleys, the Atacama Desert of Chile and Peru, and other locales.”

These dunes are endless

Zero life

The tracks from ATV's in the foreground remind me of the Mars Rovers

Evidence suggests that the Atacama/Sechura may not have had any significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971.

One of the most otherwordly sights I've ever seen

We arrived to Lima around eight that evening. I left the truck, thanked the driver, and went to find a telephone so I could call my contact in Lima.

I had bad luck there. I wasn’t able to get ahold of him, so I contacted my other friend who knows him better and eventually, after wasting nearly a week in Lima waiting, learned that he had moved to Santiago, Chile, some months ago. Great. That was poor planning on my part, though; I should have tried to contact him earlier when I was in Ecuador or something. Oh well.

So I spent some time in Lima, not really doing much because I didn’t have much money. I did, however, have a bit of birthday cash that I got from my friend Derrick in England (you rock, mate!) and a bit from my Aunt Julie. ( :) ) So I had some fun, and celebrated my birthday accordingly.

I leave Lima today, or maybe tomorrow, since I’m going to find an alpaca jacket for under S/.50 this afternoon. Oh, and a bit of bad news…my camera seems to have stopped working! I can’t get it to turn on at all, even with fresh batteries. You were right, Ma, I should have listened to you and not bought it used. Hmph.

Anyways, I’m either headed to Cuzco or just straight to Chile this afternoon or tomorrow. I’ll post again soon!

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