La Punta, Perù
Ahhh…at last, I am out of Lima, the armpit of Perù. It has been a rather fast-paced few days…
I left Lima on the ninteenth of March, planning on blazing it as fast as I could out of there. I had S/.3 on me, which I used to take a few buses to get a little farther outside of el Centro where the rides were a little more proliferant. I walked for about half an hour until I passed a peaje (toll booth) and decided to hang out there and see what I could find.
After about fifteen minutes, a cop came up to me and asked where I was going. I told him Chile, and he seemed eager to help. So between the two of us, we probably signalled at a hundred big rigs. None of them, it seemed, were going as far as Chile, but eventually we did find one that was willing to take me to the southern city limits of Lima, which was fine because once you’re out of town, it’s pretty much all downhill from there.
So soon I was out of Lima. The Pan-American highway stretched endlessly south, winding lazily between hundred-meter high sand dunes. I grinned and sucked in a lungful of dry desert air. This was my element; a long highway that will only get more remote before it reaches the next patch of civilization. Time to go.
Since the traffic was relatively heavy and there wasn’t a patch of shade to be found, I used the “Walk Backwards Facing Traffic With Your Right Thumb Out” technique. Soon I got a bite; a small black SUV darted perilously across four lanes of traffic and came screeching to a halt about ten meters ahead of me. This was going to be a good one, I could tell…
I yanked open the back door and tossed in my bag, then got into the front seat. The driver was acting very excited, moving around a lot and taking frequent sips from a beer bottle. He was wearing dark sunglasses, but I could see his eyes darting frantically about through the tint. This was going to be a wild ride.
Before I could even close the door properly, we zoomed off, narrowly missing a mototaxi and a red pickup. The driver seemed in a good mood, and cheerfully introduced himself as Carlos Juan Ordoñez, mucho gusto, gringo! I shook his hand and buckled my seatbelt as we nearly took the rearview mirror off an old Suzuki Samuri. Carlos Juan Ordoñez finished his beer with a mighty chug and tossed the bottle carelessly out the window. He then instructed me to grab a few more beers out of the ice chest in the backseat, which I did because I wanted him to keep his eyes on the road. I grabbed two, and he popped them open with his teeth and handed me a bottle. Never one to turn down free booze, I accepted and hoped the alcohol would make this ride a bit less terrifying.
We flew down the freeway at nearly 160 kph for the next fifteen minutes, Carlos Juan Ordoñez polishing off two more beers and chainsmoking Marlboros. After hitting a speed bump at about fifty miles an hour, he slowed down just a little bit and began digging around in his pockets. Eventually, after checking all four pockets and nearly plowing into a sand dune, he drew out a folded white piece of paper. Steering with his knees, he unfolded the paper and I saw a small amount of white powder sprinkle down on to his jeans as we hit a pothole. Ah! So thats why he’s acting so uppity…this guy’s more coked out than Robert Dowery Jr. in 1996!
Carlos Juan Ordoñez took a few bumps off his pinky fingernail, then offered me a bit. Well, why not…judging from his behaviour, it was some pretty good shit. He sprinkled a good sized bump on the back of my hand, and I snarked it up all in one go.
Hm. This was some decent stuff. I felt it instantly, and the drain tasted good. At least this guy didn’t buy shit cut with baking soda or anything like that…it was some top-notch blow. We rode for about ten more minutes, Carlos Juan Ordoñez offering another beer to me, which I accepted. Suddenly, we came screeching to a halt in front of a tiny sand road that led to the beach. Apparently, this was where I got off. I took out my bag and my beer, thanked my coked out driver for the ride and the stimulants, and continued walking south, the black SUV kicking up huge plumes of dust as it tore off towords the sea. God speed, Carlos Juan Ordoñez. I hope you have enough sense to take a nap or some Valium before you decide to drive back to Lima…
I continued my backwards walk south, sipping my beer and still feeling the effects of the cocaine. I wanted to hitch hike forever! No breaks! I was going to travel until I couldn’t walk another step! Woo!
Soon, a Mitsubishi pickup truck pulled over, and I hopped in. The guy was a quiet, soft-spoken fellow, and drove me for about four hours to the town of Ica. We stopped for a bit of lunch on the way (classic Peruvian soup with a side of fish) and discussed the future of the world. We both share similar ideas…fall of capitalism, rise of stateless communism, and a world without borders. One day, my friends…one day.
Once I left my ride somewhere near the Centro of Ica, it was nearly dark. I had taken a little nap in the Mitsubishi after the coke had worn off, and felt energized with the rest. So I began walking. I walked through the entire town of Ica, rode on a motorcycle to the city limits, walked for another hour of so, and then rode on another motorcycle to the town of Santiago. Upon arrival to Santiago, I just kept walking. I was in a walking mood, I guess. Around ten o’clock, I took a break under a lone street light and set down my pack. A car soon pulled up and the driver got out and started tinkering around under the hood. Eventually, we struck up a conversation which ended with the guy buying me a burger and a Coca-Cola, and giving me ten Soles for breakfast the next day. I love it how everything always works out. I must be the luckiest guy alive; all evening, every person I passed by was absolutely positive that if I continued walking in the direction I was going that I would be robbed blind. Not only did I not get robbed, but someone actually gave me money. Again, I guess I’m just lucky.
So I walked for more time as I digested my free burger, and soon hitched onto a small red car with an old guy and his wife inside. They drove me about forty kilometers, and dropped me off at a truck stop in the middle of the desert. I went and looked inside all of the trucks parked there, but the drivers were all asleep. Looked like I was going to be doing some more walking!
An hour later, the lights of the truck stop were swallowed up in the distance, and I was enveloped in total darkness. The desert wind blew constantly, pelting my exposed skin with a million grains of weathered sand. So here I was, in the middle of a barren desert devoid even of plant life somewhere along the coast of western Perù at one in the morning. I had no water, no food, ten Soles, a sleeping bag, and a pack full of dirty clothes. The nearest town to the south was nearly 200 kilometers away. My nose was beginning to clog up from breathing in the dry, dusty wind, and my boots had reached such an advanced stage of wear and tear that sand would get inside from the numerous holes and breaches in the soles. I had no socks…my last one dissapered somewhere in Lima, and I had been wearing the same shirt and pants for the past five days.
And I couldn’t have been happier.
Eventually, a large semi pulled over and mercifully drove me a few hours the the next truck stop. I managed to grab a few hours of sleep on the way there, and when I got out, I just kept going. I was going to hitch ’til I dropped.
Soon, another medium-sized truck pulled over and I rode with them for about three more hours. I watched a beautiful sunrise of a thousand colors bleed slowly into the dune-spotted eastern sky before I fell asleep for another hour.
When I awoke, the landscape had suddenly changed. Instead of sand dunes, we were surrounded by rolling hills covered with short, green grasses and large boulders, scattered randomly about as if by a careless giant. The road ran directly next to the coast, and there was a sheer drop of more than eight hundred feet. At the bottom were wicked looking rocks causing huge sprays of white seawater to fly ten meters into the air as the tides of the mighty Pacific collided with the sharp cliffs.
Around eight, we stopped, got some breakfast (fish, of course) and then I was dropped off in the town of Chala. There I bought a much needed pack of smokes and walked out of town. I flagged a car in about ten minutes, and rode for about twenty more minutes away from anything resembling civilization. The sand dune desert had returned, and on the horizon stark, rocky mountians jutted into the sky like rusty shovels. My legs had began to itch with a vengance, and I decided to go and take a dip in the ocean. As soon as we passed another strech of beach, I told my ride to stop here. I walked down the dunes and soon was on a large, completely deserted beach. To the north was what looked like large sea caves that had been carved into the rock face by a million years of high tides. I decided to go check it out.
It took about half an hour to reach the caves; they were cut deep into the face of the rock cliffs, and one even went in for a good fifty yards. I stashed my pack here, stripped off all of my clothes except for my hat and my sunglasses, lathered up a bit of sunscreen, and went out to enjoy my remote, deserted beach.
It was a fantastic place. There were thousands of little red crabs scutteling about on the beach. I saw a huge congragation of about five hundred of them feeding on the carcass of a dead sea lion that had been washed up on some of the rocks, along with three or four bedraggled looking buzzards. I went a little farther down to where the beach ended and the sharp rocks began. I found a large tall one that protuded several meters out into the sea. Walking to the end, I noticed the water was very deep here, so in one mighty leap I flew into to salty sea air and splashed into the rather chilly waters of the southeastern Pacific Ocean.
I swam around for a good thirty minutes. I went underwater and explored the bottom of the rock. The water was quite clear, so I opened my eyes and saw vast schools of yellow striped fish darting about under the mammoth rock, several large and colourful crabs, a grouper or two, and even a puffer fish!
Later, I got out, after having to swim nearly fifty yards out to sea in order to get back to the beach. I air dried in the sun and walked south to where the cliffs ended and the dunes began. The dunes were so massive and beautiful, I decided to go climb them. The first few attempts were unsucessful; the sand was so hot it was like walking on the surface of a stove! So I went back to my sea cave and got some flip flops and tried again.
Ten minutes later, I was at the top of one of the dunes closest to the sea. I stood there, totally naked, and stared out west. The mighty Pacific was calm today, and I can see now why Ferdinand Magellan decided to call it the Pacific (meaning “tranquil sea”) when he first sighted it in 1513. The flat waters streched indefinently over the entire horizon, and I thought for a moment what the early humans must have thought upon reaching this very spot more than twenty thousand years ago. It was enough to make anybody worship such an indomitable part of our incredible planet.
All of a sudden, on impulse, I ran as fast as I could down the steep surface of the sandy dune, shouting at the top of my lungs in pure, unadultrated joy. Then one of my feet slipped and I rolled the rest of the way down the mighty heap of sand, coming to a stop in a soft patch of beach at the bottom. I lay there for a moment staring up at the clear blue sky, the sounds of the wind blowing and the waves breaking in the background. I don’t think I’ve ever loved my planet more than I did in that moment. Such a jewel of a place, planet Earth, hurling around a ball of gas somewhere on the outer edge of a remote galaxy in the vast and infinate reaches of outer space. Us humans are a lucky race to have such a beautiful and diverse place to live.
Soon I had to get up, as the hot sand was burning my back. I ran as fast as I could to the water and dove into the wonderfully cool and inviting depths of the sea. I swam around and just enjoyed the remoteness of this wonderful spot so far away from anything for the next five hours.
Eventually, around four o’clock, I decided it was time to go. I reluctantly dressed, put on my pack, and walked the half hour back to the highway. I was feeling wonderful, having just expirienced what was ceartinly one of the best days of my trip so far. I made a mental note to spend more days being naked in remote places.
Soon, I flagged down a Jeep containing two young men and an overly excited golden retriver. They drove me to the town of Punta de Lobos, where I stopped and got a spot of lunch. I had begun to notice in the past hour or so that there was an increasingly bad pain in the tops of my legs. I finished my lunch, walked out to the road, and soon flagged down another semi. During the ride, the pain in my legs got steadily worse, and I soon realized that before the night was over, I was going to be in the very worst stages of a really bad sunburn.
I had used sunscreen; however, there were sensative areas like the tops and backs of my legs and my butt that had never seen such intense sunlight for such an extended period of time in all of their existance. Consequently, they got toasted. By the time we reached La Punta, the pain was so bad I couldn’t even sit down or stand up; walking was nearly impossible. Once I got out of the truck, I limped over to a food place and asked for some water. One thing led to another, and I was eventually offered a meal and a place to stay for the evening. Excellent. I crawled painfully into the bed, stripped off all my clothes, and fell stiffly asleep.
Let me just make a notation here: I love my adventure; it’s my life, and there’s nothing in this world or any other world that I’d rather be doing. But for anybody out there who thinks its all free food and beautiful scenery, think again. Sometimes, things suck. It sucked when I had to sleep in the park in downtown Panama City; it was infuriating when I was trapped in San Salvador waiting for my new passport; it was absolutely miserable all the nights in the jungle when I had to fall asleep amongst a million persistant mosquitos and a million more bedbugs; it is no fun being starving; and sometimes, like the sunburn, you get hurt and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it except wait for it to heal on it’s own. But that’s just my life, and it’s the one I have chosen. Just thought I’d add that for anybody who thinks every day is just another free ride.
So I awoke this morning and had a bit of breakfast. Then, the lady whose house I was sleeping at insisted that I contact my family and let them know where I am and such, which was fine with me since I needed to post another update anyways. I guess I’ll continue south today, despite my legs which have actually swollen up a little. It’s all right, I’ll be right as rain in three or four days. I noticed a patch of aloe vera plants growing just outside of this Internet place, and I plan on utilizing the sunburn-healing powers of the juce as soon as I get out of here.
Oh, and happy birthday yesterday, Dad! Sorry I couldn’t wish it on the 20th!
The Modern Nomad