TOUR OF PERU
By Tom Weed
The whole concept and creation of the trip to Peru was an opportunity to try and remove myself from the security of the environment in which I had, up until this time, been living my whole life, without ever really questioning anything. By putting myself in a completely alien situation, I would have both the opportunity to learn and to become knowledgeable about life in a foreign country and to hopefully be able to look back objectively at our country and, of course, at myself.
It all happened so fast that it never became a reality until we touched down at the airport in Lima. In the eight weeks that we were gone, we covered much of southern Peru. Starting from the coast, we traveled up through the mountain regions and then down into the jungle. We stayed in cities of over a half a million to small villages of no more than three people. In the close to 4,000 miles that we traveled, our transportation consisted of trains, buses, cattle trucks, and lots of walking.
This trip to Peru will not soon be forgotten. All that I have learned and experienced cannot be measured by a paper or even related to its fullest extent with words. To those whom it may concern I can only say that this intensive study project has bean a valid and most worthy experience for me. An experience which, I am convinced, could not be equalled in any classroom. For this opportunity, I thank you.
Tuesday, March 21:
Attar throwing all necessary and unnecessary items that I could get into my backpack, I left Chicago in a state of total disbelief. I met the others in the Miami airport. Charlie, a 21-year-old Irishman, has joined up with us. So now there are six of us. While killing the few hours we had in Miami, we met an old Black man who was picketing his teamsters union. He complained about how terrible life was as he threw down one beer after the other and handed out huge cigars.
Wednesday, March 22:
My thoughts on the trip are still very vague. I feel like a newborn baby. I have just left all I have known and am going into a world that I'm totally alien to, knowing nothing. I will gladly admit a little fear along with great anticipation.
After a twelve-hour plane ride, we finally landed in Lima. The first initial contact with the people came very abruptly on the bus ride into town. As we crowded onto the bus, it became quite obvious that we were the eye of attraction. I was completely dazed. I didn't know what to think or feel. However, I soon became very much impressed and at ease as they smiled, helped us with our packs and tried to carry on conversations. After the bus ride, we walked around town trying to find an old hotel that Cam had once stayed in. Again, walking through town I felt totally alienated as everybody stared at us. I was never sure if they were laughing with us or at us.
The grand hotel, Manco Capac, is a little hard to imagine. We each got one room, almost big enough for the bed. There was a bathroom at the end of the hall, but, of course, it didn't work. The next two days were spent running around Lima in a desperate attempt to check with the embassies and get the rest of our shots. Have found that I don't feel so conscious about being an American when we don't have our packs on. They just seem to draw attention to the fact that we are tourists.
Saturday, March 25:
Discovering that we couldn't fly to Cuzco, we now start walking. It wasn't until after dark that we were able to flag down a bus which got us as far as a small nameless town that consisted of no more than about a dozen fruit stands. We made ourselves as comfortable as possible and munched on some good vegetables and waited. After a few hours, we were again lucky enough to get another bus, which was heading for Ica. As it turned out, it was a soccer team on their way to play a game in Ica.the next day. We had a grand old time as Cam kept them occupied by demonstrating his skill on the guitar. We finally rolled into Ica about 3:00 in the morning and found ourselves a nice sand field to sleep in. It's good to get out of the city and into the country. Lima was very interesting, but it was still a typical city with lots of poverty, people, and busy streets.
The following morning we left Ica and continued on, catching rides in the back of trucks. It was a great way to travel, very warm during the day and with beautiful scenery. However, since we are now getting into the mountains, at night it becomes very cold. So there we are bouncing along a mountain road in the back of a cattle truck freezing cold, and the driver would stop to fix himself a drink.
After traveling all day and all night, we stopped in a small mountain town called Puquio. We spent the afternoon poking our heads in and out of stores, playing soccer and catching our breath. As the rain began to fall, we found a bus which would take us the rest of the way to Cusco. Unfortunately, there was a leak directly above my seat, which made for many uncomfortable hours.
Tuesday, March 28:
Continuation of long bus ride to Cusco. As we get up into the mountains, we are also getting up into the rain. It is supposedly the longest rainy season they have ever had. When the rain comes, it creates large mudslides, which wipe out the roads, villages or anything that gets in the way. So the bus ride became more like a stagecoach ride. Very slow and very rough. At certain points it became a little tense as the roads got narrow with cliffs on either side. About 4:00 in the morning we came upon another bus which had slipped off the road. After digging it out, we crept on. I try to sleep as much as possible when I'm not either looking at the scenery or day dreaming. Still raining.
Wednesday, March 29:
Today, after a three-day journey that would have taken one hour by plane, we finally arrived in Cusco. As much as I hated all those long uncomfortable hours in the back of trucks and in buses, I'm now glad we did it that way. We saw a lot of countryside and met a lot of people. By putting myself in their conditions and on their level, I'm sure that I'm becoming more aware of what's going on around me.
Being the capital of the ancient Inca empire, Cusco is a beautiful and intriguing city. We all had a great dinner and crawled into our much-deserved beds.
Thursday, March 30:
Feeling revived, we walked up to some old Inca ruins on the outside of town. Up to this date no one knows exactly how long ago or even how these ruins were constructed. For that matter, no one even seems to know what these old ruins were. The most popular theory seems to say that they were once part of a fortress. Some of the ruins appear to be part of a very amazing and intricate water system. I found myself in a speechless dream, staring at these huge masses of rocks cut and placed to perfection 800 years ago by a civilization that has left no remains of tools to accomplish such a feat. A feeling that cannot be related. The wonders of the world.
Cusco, being one of the prime tourist attractions of Peru, was full of gringos. Met some dudes who had made the same trip we had from Lima. However, it took them seven days, for at one point they had to walk through knee-deep mud. Guess we were fortunate.
The next day was spent catching up on rest, letters and language lessons. As I had hoped, we have found ourselves with many idle hours and have gotten into many discussions about such themes as evolution, games of life, futures, etc. There are many varied opinions in our group, which make things interesting.
Feel good - Good night.
Saturday, April 1:
Crawled out of bed at 6:00 this morning and got on the train heading for Macchu Picchu. We rode on the economy car; the front car was full of tourists who were going up for the day. I wonder how much the tourist really gets out of something like this. It seems that all they see are airports and hotels.
The scenery was beautiful as the train snaked around the bases of 19,000-foot glaciers. From the station where we got off the train, Macchu Picchu was sitting on a pinnacle about 2000 feet straight up. There was a road and a car that could take you up to the hotel there, but, of course, we walked. After pulling ourselves up the last few steps, we spent the remainder of the afternoon kicking around the ruins. The legend has it that when the Spaniards attacked the Inca nobility fled into the mountains and built the fortress of Macchu Picchu. It's very hard to describe the feeling one gets being in the ruins of an ancient civilization.
We spent the next day climbing around some more and hiked down the railroad tracks to a town that had sone natural hot springs.
Monday, April 3:
Caught the early morning train back to Cusco, which was so crowded that we were jammed shoulder to shoulder in a cattle car. After standing up for six hours, I was about to drop by the time we got to Cusco.
Trip is still living up to my expectations, even though I often sink into great depths. Every day something unique and enjoyable occurs. Beginning to understand the life here a bit more and not feeling so alienated, probably because I have lowered myself to their level and am experiencing all their hassels with them.
Wednesday, April 5:
After spending one more day in Cusco, we charged on towards Sina. We got a train that took us as far as Juliaca. Sat on a step on the outside of the train and took in all the beautiful scenery. When we arrived in Juliaca we all decided that we should keep going and found a nice crowded cattle truck heading our way. We rode out of Juliaca in good spirits, singing away as the sun set over the plateau. We rode all night on the worst road I could have ever imagined. Around 4:00 in the morning we arrived in a small town on a rocky plateau called Cojata. I was so sore and cold I thought I was going to die. Right then one of the Indians, who was in the truck with no more than a blanket to keep him warm, bounced out and invited us to stay in an empty room he had.
These people are so amazingly tough, both mentally and physically. They can sit in the back of a truck with only a blanket and some sandals on their feet when it is freezing out and never murmur a word. Never do you hear a baby cry, and it is not unusual to see a boy of ten years to be helping his family full time.
We spent the next two days in Cojata cooking, talking, singing and doing whatever one pleased. Cojata is a town that has all the music and charm of most Peruvian towns, but it is a sad, dying music which comes from Cojata. Surrounded by plains, it was once very enterprising with large llama ranches. But now the plains are dead, the llamas are few and so are the people. The weather was usually nice with occasional rain. The view from Cojata was beautiful. If you got up early, you could watch the clouds move up from the jungle, floating up the mountain range which bordered Peru and Bolivia.
For me Cojata was a very special place. One afternoon Cam sat us down and gave it to us straight, he made it very clear that he felt that we had not yet come out from behind our little barriers of security and that we had not yet really dug beneath the skin of what was going on around us. He was right.
I hadn't really come out from behind my memories of hamburgers and cold beers. Thanks to Cam I now started to open my ayes and feel this new reality.
Around 4:00 Saturday morning we forced ourselves out of our cozy sleeping bags and out to meet the truck heading for Iskay Cruz, the point where the road ends on the way to Sina. We are now professional truck riders. After arranging the packs along with ourselves on top of sacks of bread and flour, we headed off for Iskay Cruz. With the morning sun, the fog burned off, and we found ourselves at the foot of the mountains, covered with glaciers and capped with snow. I was hit by the climbing fever.
Early that morning we arrived at Iskay Cruz (two crosses), which amounts to a large pile of rocks with two crosses stuck in it. There are no people living there; it just happens to be where the road ends. Every Saturday all the villagers walk up from the valley and the people that live along the road come together here and have a market. Such goods as potatoes, sugar, drink, and clothes are sold, and it also seemed to be a good time to socialize.
When we arrived, many people from Sina remembered and greeted Cam. As he handed out photographs from his last trip, everybody went crazy. Seeing themselves, for many it was the first time, in a picture, they, of course, begged us to take more of them. I again started feeling really self-conscious. Of course, I suppose that is to be expected when you are the first Americans many of these people had seen. I guess we must have been a bit of a novelty when we arrived with our bright-colored parkas and strange-looking back packs.
Later in the afternoon we loaded our packs on some horses belonging to some of the men from Sina and headed down the valley. The valley was walled with mountains, and waterfalls charged down the sides into the river, which flowed along. After a couple of hours, we had to abandon the horses and carry the packs the rest of the way. This was the beginning of our walking exercises. Twelve miles later we trudged into Sina. We had finally arrived at our initial destination that we had started off for back in Miami, eighteen days ago. Who could count the miles, trucks, and experiences, each one so worth living for?
When I first entered Sina, I was surrounded by a sincere feeling of tranquility and natural beauty. I came around the corner and there it was, looking like it had been born from the earth. It is a small village, remote and hidden from civilization. All the houses are made of stone and mud with straw roofs. Colorful plants and vegetables grow wild with the river rumbling on below. My first impression of the town was that it seemed so natural--the homes, the people, the potato fields carved up high on the hills, even the animals which roamed around free.
No sooner had we gotten there before we were offered an empty house and food. The homes consisted of no more than one room, with maybe a bed and table. Some homes had separate little buildings used for cooking. Because our one room was a little too cozy, Barker and I slept in another house owned by Pastor, one of Cam’s friends from Sina. He had an extra bed made from bamboo poles and animal skins, which was what Barker and I slept on for the next two weeks.
Cam, having been to Sina twice before, had many good friends there. The last time he was there he baptized the child of Edwin and Laura, which made him a sort of god-father. This time we all gave the baby its first hair cut, which made us all compadres, or god-fathers. The main by-product of Sina was potatoes, so this is what we ate for the majority of our diet. We once slaughtered a lamb and a chicken, which made for good eating.
The majority of our first week in Sina was spent relaxing and talking with the villagers. There was such a contrast of life styles that became so apparent between our cultures.
At one point we all took off on our own. Barker and John went fishing, and Cam and I went to climb Mt. Ananea, whose summit was 19,000 feet. Leaving early in the morning, we hiked all day back up the valley. Late that afternoon we set up our base camp, checked the water draining from the glacier for drinking, and slept well. The following day was, for me, one of the highlights of the trip. I found out very abruptly that climbing with a pack on at that altitude was no easy task. I thought for sure that each step would be my last. The feeling one gets at 18,000 feet is something else. Surrounded by glacier, I could see for miles and was completely alone except for Cam, connected by a rope, our life line.
After climbing all afternoon, we had done what we wanted. We stood on a rounded glacier-covered summit and looked down over the cloud covered Amazon jungle 15,000 feet below us.
Returning to our base camp we packed up the rest of our stuff and headed back to the trail. We found a small stone hut which we moved into.
The peace and easy atmosphere of the country is slowly sinking in. I have come to see how much extra-curricular hustle-bustle there is in the States. Let's hope that some of the important values I have learned are not forgotten immediately. I now feel that it is possible for a foreigner to change his mode of consciousness, to adapt to the environment. However, that awareness of being an American still exists but has retreated to the back of my mind. South America has given me a new world to learn from. It seems to me that most humans, realizing that their own life is so short, concentrate on themselves in such a restricted sense. They build a universe around themselves, not realizing that they are part of the whole.
The remainder of our stay in Sina was spent relaxing, talking with the villagers, and even working in the potato fields. We decided we would head from here down into the Jungle and then make our way back to Lima. Pastor will be coming with us for awhile which will be good because he can help explain to other people just what we are doing. The final night in Sina was spent saying farewell to all our new friends. We all seemed to want to return again. If being in Sina had no other effect, I have at least learned to appreciate the seemingly insignificant things in life.
Friday, April 21:
We got up at about 4:00 in the morning and, of course, didn't get off until about 5:30. Both Barker and John were sick, Cam had such bad cramps from eating too much fresh bread from the village oven that he couldn't even stand up, and the rest of us looked like anybody should at 4:00 in the morning. Except, of course, for Pastor.
Heading down the valley, we followed a path carved in the side of the mountain. It was a beautiful day and nice walking. Late in the afternoon we realized we wouldn't make it to San Lorenzo that day so we stopped off in a farm house. The people there, after Pastor had talked to them, gave us some fresh corn and lima beans to eat and a place to stay for the night.
The next morning we walked the remaining three hours to San Lorenzo. San Lorenzo is on the same river that runs through Sina. It consists of about four or five houses and about the same number of people. As we are getting closer to the jungle, the vegetation is much thicker, and there are lots of orange trees not too far away. It amazes me how the Indians in these small towns react. Here they are hidden away in their own little world and when we come walking in they show us a place to sleep and some food as if they had been expecting us.
We spent two days in San Lorenzo fishing, eating oranges and swimming in the river. Half starved, we decided that we really had to move on.
Monday, April 24:
We started off around dawn on our way towards San Juan del Oro. We were immediately faced with the task of climbing up the other side of the valley. However, being eager to reach civilization and food, nothing could have stopped us. By the time we reached the top, that old jungle sun was ready to start doing its stuff, and that it did. We stumbled on all day without much event, being driven by dreams of food. At 7:00 that night we reached civilization. After a very long day it felt good to take off my backpack. It dawned on me that we had been living and traveling for the last two weeks without ever seeing a road or running water. In the last week I had gone from atop an 18,000-foot glacier down into the jungle.
We stuffed down as much food as our shrunken stomachs could handle and slept.
Tuesday we finished our jungle trip by walking down into San Juan del Oro. San Juan del Oro is one of the larger towns in the jungle region. It is very warm and humid.
The next two days were spent walking around, soaking up the sun and just doing whatever we wanted. As the remaining days are few, we all are beginning to get ready to head home.
Friday, April 28:
Heading ourselves toward Juliaca, we got a truck that left us in Sandia, where we waited until 8:00 that night for one that had room for us. Finally a truck full of coffee beans and people decided they had room for us. Actually, I was a little hesitant about getting aboard, for the road to Juliaca first must go over a mountain pass. One month earlier a truck went off the same road, and all twenty-seven people were killed. As usual, the ride became very cold and uncomfortable, but I kept telling myself that this would be almost our last one.
Upon arriving in Juliaca, we found a room to stay in that belonged to some people from Sina. We again made use of the benefits of cities and ate well. We decided we would spend our last couple of days going around Lake Titicaca and go into La Paz, the capital of Bolivia.
Monday, May 1:
This morning we left Juliaca on our way to La Paz. We said good-bye to Pastor, for he was now going back to Sina. It made me feel that I had made some real friends down here that I could always return to. We hopped aboard a bus to Puno in hopes of finding room on a ship to go across the lake. However, due to the fact that it was a holiday and the next boat would not be leaving for two days, we were forced to get a truck that got us as far as the border. In Desaguadero we tried to find some place to sleep, but because we were tourists, they wanted to charge us much more than normal. So we made ourselves quite comfortable in the fountain in the town plaza. As the trip is nearing its end, it is hard to put it all together. For, as much as I'm looking forward to returning home, I also feel that I'm leaving so much behind. Such experiences as sitting among the ruins at Macchu Picchu or on top of Ananea or riding in the back of a truck all night or even taking part in a hair-cutting ceremony in Sina cannot leave one untouched. These have all been part of the last few months.
Tuesday, May 2:
After a bus ride around the remainder of Lake Titicaca, where the villagers constructed Thor Heyerdahl's raft for his RA expedition, we came into La Paz. Situated in a pocket in the mountains at 12,000 feet, La Paz is a beautiful city of probablv close to one million people.
So there I was walking down the sidewalk minding my own business when a man who was watching us all go by stopped me and said, "I bet you're from Minneapolis, Minnesota." From that moment on, I knew that this was not going to be just any normal day. As it turned out, he had come to America years ago to study English and lived in Minneapolis. After I told him that, “yes, I was from Minneapolis” and we were looking for a place to stay, he offered us a vacant room in an office building to stay in. We then accepted his innocent invitation to come have a beer with him. Well, after several bottles of beer, he changed his mind and insisted we come and have dinner and sleep in his house. So, off we went to his home for a taste of how the upper class lives. His house was very nice, and he reminded us several times that he built it. As the day would have it, there was a Rotary student from the U. S. staying at his brother's house who was from Wayzata.
Our biggest mistake of that day was sitting down for dinner. We very quickly learned how the upper class Bolivian thinks, or how he doesn't think. Needless to say, he turned out to be a very prejudiced and proud man. The conversation, which was hard enough to follow anyway, went from Mexicans, to Communism, to cups and glasses. At one point when we couldn't answer how far the moon was from the earth, we made the terrible mistake of asking what difference it makes. He exploded into a detailed theory on the meaning of the difference between a cup and a glass. The real highlight of the show was when he wanted us to tell him honestly if we were communists.
The next morning we devoured the breakfast table. For the first time in almost two months, we had some real butter. We then packed up and said good-bye and thank-you to good old Pedro and his family. He was a very generous man.
After walking around La Paz, I was very sad that we didn't have more time here. We were in such a hurry to grab some seats that we grabbed the wrong bus, and that night we found ourselves taking up our sleeping positions in the Plaza at Desaguadero again. What a day that had been in La Paz.
The few remaining days of the week were spent travelling with no event back to Lima. From Jullica we took a bus to Arequipa. We spent an enjoyable evening in Arequipa, eating and laughing about the last two months. From Arequipa we took a bus up the coast to Lima. Once in Lima we found our home away from home, the grand old Manco Capac.
I not surprisingly found myself in quite a different state of mind in contrast to our initial arrival in Lima six weeks earlier. No longer did I deel like an alienated foreigner in a place I didn't belong. This had to come from my newborn knowledge, awareness and acceptance on my part of what was happening around me--a change that I feel came about to this degree through my disposal of the artificial barrier that I was wrapped in. This protective shield which I used to find security in by applying to everything that was happening around me my past knowledge and references, no longer existed. Only when I stopped looking through the tinted eyes of a foreigner and instead through my own eyes as a human being relating and living with other human beings, did I learn how to feel and understand.
A major part of this understanding had to come from the catalyst of living with the people on their level and on their terms. For to really understand a country, you must know and understand the people.
Of course, I'm still recognizable as the same person who landed in Lima six weeks ago. There haven't been any permanent dynamic changes in my character. It's simply that I have had an opportunity to learn. An opportunity to stop, look back and question. It could just be a matter of time before my head forgets all it has learned and is geared back into the rat race. But I doubt it, for I now feel a little older and wiser.
As much as I look forward to being home, I sincerely feel a little sad about leaving Peru. There have been many hard times, many good times and many good friends, not soon to be forgotten.
I leave: a part of myself
I take: part of something new