January 17, 2009

Dangerous Chimbote 11/01/09
We woke up at 04:00, in our tent, pitched on a roof, on top of a small house, overlooking the small village of Vinzos, the last 'safe' village, before Chimbote, coming from Cañon del Pato.
Everybody warned us of Chimbote, the most dangerous city in Peru. "You must enter before 12:00, noontime; after that it's dangerous!"
Vinzos, 34km away, 20km before hitting the Pan-Am, was a good choice to spend the night, even though the lack of toilets. At around 22:00, the previous night, the whole family went together up the road and to the fields, for a last toilet, before going to sleep.
P.S. - it was a shit-hole.

Sunrise, from the roof. Vinzos.

As we set off, around 06:00, we felt the Pacific wind, slowing us. How can we pass quickly this dangerous area with the terrible head wind?
We finally reached the Pan-Am, filled with heavy traffic, boring businesses (typical to highways: mechanics, etc.) and poverty. We could smell Chimbote from a distance, thanks to its famous fishing industry.

The dark tunnel, leading to 'dark' Chimbote.

"Welcome to Chimbote"

We reached maybe the poorest city in Peru; Population of 400,000 , roads unpaved and running water for not more than 5 hours a day. Everything is dusty, from the Pacific wind, bringing the garbage with it.
We arrived to Todd, a Warm-Shower member, who does missionary and social work. Todd and Courtney (another volunteer) made us feel at home and gave us a safe, sane corner, away from Peru.
After 2.5 months in Peru, we had more than enough of the local culture. We jumped on the opportunity and poured all the shit we’ve been accumulating in Peru. We apologize for being insensitive to their connection with the place.
2 good things in Chimbote are the Ceviche and the good apple pie, which Rami spotted by luck, peeking into a private house (which turned out to be a bakery). After tasting 1 piece, he bought the whole cake.
That night Gal persuaded Rami, again, to sleep on the roof, inside the inner tent, enjoying the fresh air and the lack of mosquitoes. Obviously, it rained…
When we asked Todd if Chimbote is dangerous, he told us apathetically that he was only mugged 3 times during the year and a half he’s been here…only!

Chimbote - Avenida Peru.

Back to Trujillo 12/01/09
We took the bus to Trujillo, with the bikes and a bag with stuff for the night, to fix Rami’s headset, which was loose, after the rough mountain roads. Lucho, obviously, took fantastic care of our bikes and us.

El Cóndor Pasa, at Luchos.

In the afternoon Lucho sent Rami to a camera mechanic – one of the most thrilling experiences in Ramis life! For maybe 2-3 weeks the zoom of our camera was making unhealthy noises. It was time to clean the camera. Turns out that the zoom mechanism is the deepest part of the camera, with a million tiny parts and screws on the way.
After an hour of watching the mechanic, the camera was clean… and working! Even working better!

Our camera...

The Dilemma 14/01/09
For a long time, even since the days of Mexico, it was obvious that we’ll not have the time to cycle all the way till south Patagonia. Add to that all the detours we made to avoid the Pan-Am highway, always in the mountains – “We are behind schedule”, as Rami used to say.
Arriving at winter is bad; not only the weather (which is terrible all year long), but also the lack of facilities (hotels, restaurants, ferries) make traveling even more complicated.
We emailed cyclists and motorcyclists whom we’ve met, asking for recommendations. The majority told us to take buses south, through Chile, till Puerto Montt, then ferries south, then, a tough week later, start cycling north – NORTH? It’s the wrong direction! It sounded detached, even artificial… it would break the journey!
But, the idea was logical: make it to Patagonia/Carretera austral, a classic cycling route, and later climb to Bolivia, again, during the season, catching the Salar de Uyuni, another classic.
But, as we said, it would be a tough week. The 5 day ferry to Patagonia needs reservation, at least a week ahead – meaning a deadline! We hate deadlines! Oh, and the price is $500 per person!
The option of climbing now to the Bolivian Altiplano was bad; the Salar might be flooded and its’ salt water will kill the bikes.

The one thing we knew was that it was time to get out of Peru.
While Gal was doing homework at the internet café, she read a blog of 2 cyclists, who’ve cycled from Alaska to Patagonia, and were in similar circumstances. They were towards the end of their trip. They couldn’t enjoy Patagonia, tired of fighting the shitty weather and the terrible roads. Traveling there was lonely, no culture, only tourists and facilities… gloomy.
Reading these lines made us understand that we wanted a livelier end to Latin America, surrounded by people, music, wine and Asado… we’ll take a bus to the Chilean border and cycle south between Chile and Argentina, till we’ll turn east, to Buenos Aires.

So, we took a 7 hour bus from Chimbote to Lima, and quickly (luckily) found another bus, this time 21 hours, to Tacna, on the costal border with Chile. The ride was beautiful, along the coast… but long! And dotted with shit-holes (we are writing these lines while I India, so, believe us, we know to spot shit-holes!).
There is also the problem that bicycles cannot fit in the luggage cabin of the luxurious ‘sleeper’ bus, so, we ‘enjoyed’ the packed simple bus.

Tacna was the most developed city we saw in Peru, probably because it was occupied by Chile for about 50 years. We rested there for a day, even though the town didn’t have the noisy Peruvian atmosphere which we loved.
We took advantage of the last, cheap hotel room (with a private bathroom) in Latin America.

The road to the border, the best in Peru.

A village?

Goodbye Peru
Coming from Colombia and Ecuador, where people are extremely warm and welcoming, we hated the Peruvians. They always made us feel as “the rich Gringo” instead of a welcomed guest. Their “Gringo” and “Gringa” shouts accompanied us all through the country, with remarks about our white skin – racism everywhere; among themselves and towards us. Above all, we hated their hypocrisy: they smile and hug you, but then, turn around and gossip about the white Gringo and his money, jealousy.
It’s not the first poor country we’ve traveled in, but, since Kyrgyzstan we haven’t seen such bitterness. They blame the whole world for their fate, obviously the Americans, but also Chile, who conquered the south, rich with minerals (not that they lack any natural resources), when they should blame only their laziness and their corrupted government.

Peru was probably the most dangerous country we’ve traveled through. Everybody warned us all the time about camping or passing through big cities. Everybody knew someone who was mugged. Busses are attacked all the time. We felt much safer in notorious Colombia.
The incident of the kids throwing rocks at us, was evidence for lack of basic education and reminded us of the 2 Swiss cyclists we met on our 3rd day in Peru. They told us that kids threw stones at them as well. They concluded that maybe 80% of the Peruvians are good people and that it’s not enough while cycle-touring.

But, still, we were 2.5 months in Peru, so, probably, not all was bad. The mountain scenery was one of the best we had in Latin-America, food was fantastic, the market alive and the towns not deserted after sunset.
And the 2 most important things: Peeled garlic sold in the markets and the perfect 5% slopes in the mountain roads, amazing serpentines!
Yes, there were good things in Peru, but, sad to say, these 2.5 months just made us miss the contact with the locals and made us appreciate it even more.
We were happy to leave Peru.

No comments: