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Short Stories

Peru - The 2nd Time Around
by Fred Bachhuber

To most tourists, Peru brings to mind the lost Inca city of Machu Piccu and the city of Cusco. Both cities, the past and present of Peru, are breathtaking, Machu Piccu for its mystery and architectural magnificence and Cusco for its 2-mile-high, oxygen-sucking elevation and its pisco sours. A number of years ago my wife and I visited Peru and without question Machu Piccu, in particular, was a near-mystical experience for us. As we said goodbye to the wonders of the Inca world, I wondered if Peru had more to offer the causal tourist.

This past May Phyllis traveled to Tuscany with Drifter Sister. I can’t remember ever being invited to go along but as planning progressed for the conquest of Tuscany and not willing to sit at home watching the houseplants wilt, I seized upon the opportunity to return to Peru, for the “second time around.” I put together a “tour” with the help of another retired geologist who operates a small company that specializes in backcountry South American trips. Although not advertised as such, my friend’s tours can be somewhat uncivilized, not totally sanitary, and often not edible.

As Phyllis flew off for the relative safety of Tuscany, I packed my bag for the unknowns of Peru. Never wanting to be late, I was dropped off in Lima 4 days ahead of my official trip. Not particularly fond of Lima, I jumped on a bus and headed to the little town of Nasca, home of the world famous Nasca Lines, huge geoglyphs of animals (and alien landing strips) constructed on the surrounding desert pavement. While the Nasca Lines are still popular with foreign tourists, I quickly discovered that the farther one travels from Lima and the Machu Piccu circuit, the usage of English decreases exponentially. Not a worry for me however because I had just graduated from a Conversational Spanish Course for Dummies. The course was 6 sessions long but unfortunately I missed two meetings which where probably the most important. Nonetheless, my survival Spanish proved adequate, and I never once lacked for a bed, beer, food, or a banos. I spent my time exploring the area by taxis, trying to translate the restaurant menus that run to 10 to 12 pages, and drinking excellent local beer (I learned that real men don’t drink pisco sours).

Upon my return to Lima, I met my 3 traveling companions and the guide for our official trip to northern Peru. For the next 18 days we would travel along the very arid sand dune covered coast of Peru into the high Andes, back to the coast, once again across the Andes into the Amazon Basin mountain systems and then back to the coast. We visited dozens of archeological sites, some as spectacular as Machu Piccu but more than 3000 years older, and bounced up and down the Andes, at times climbing on switchback roads to elevations of over 15,000 feet. On one such switchback along the sides of Huascaran, the second highest mountain in South America, we came across 28 crosses marking the site where a bus plunged off the road killing all passengers. This put us on notice for what to expect. During our explor-ations we were stopped a half dozen times by landslides, mudflows and a bridge washout. We soon learned that in backcountry Peru, one absolutely must be resilient and flexible, not only to travel but to every phase of life. Can you eat cuy (guinea pig) and llama (both quite tasty)? Will you pass up the wonderful home grown vegetables and fruits when you know they were probably washed with unpurified water? Are you willing to look for a decent bed in a village where the horses outnumber cars by 20 to one? And are you willing to spend 15 hours a day driving over dusty, bumpy, dangerous roads getting to your next destination? At the time I might have answered no, but in retrospect I give a resounding YES. The scenery and geology were beautiful beyond words whether in the mountains or along the coast. The larger cities and tiny villages were safe, sane, and wonderful to walk through. The food varied from the best that I ever had (e.g. ceviche, marinated raw fish) to shoe-leather steaks that made my teeth ache, but always in quantities sufficient for two people. My most lasting memory, however, is of the people – warm, friendly, and colorful. Peru, the second time around, was exhilarating. Now I anxiously look forward to Peru, the third time around.

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