Peru: The Trek pt. 2
We arrived at a small town, which sat on some higher ground in the valley we’d traverse later that day.
I don’t remember the town’s name—and probably never will, since I nearly got lost on the return leg and actually could have used that bit of information. And now, just like when you learn someone’s name incorrectly and forever have doubts whether it is actually “Mike” or “Matt,” despite seeing the poor nameless bastard seven or 20 times, now the small town’s moniker will be forever lost on me, recalled easily enough by my friends, but refusing to stick to my own gray matter.
Anyway, I’m ahead of myself. We pulled in to the town. Quiet. Not another gringo in sight. We were in a genuine Peruvian town. Larger than a village, there was a town center, complete with a church and huge tree that draped the center grass squares and benches in shade.
Several paved roads stretched in a small grid system. On several of the town’s central buildings, a relatively fresh coat of paint shone through the day-to-day accumulated grime. The buildings looked in pretty good shape. It was a town on the cusp of becoming a tourist spot.
We talked with Felix. “How long until XXXXXXX becomes large and built up.”
“Eeeeh,” Felix said, thinking and scratching his head. “Probably a couple years. Then it will be big.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“Mmmmm. Both, maybe.”
He went on to talk about the jobs that would come, the money that would come, and left it at that. We could fill in the blanks on the rest: the trash, the peddlers, the cameras, the gawking white people, the removal of the genuine soul of the place.
But that was years away. For the moment, the four of us hung out in the bare-bones home and adjoining office/room/storage area/dining room of the indigenous workers of the trekking company we’d hired for our trip.
We walked around the town for a bit, taking some pictures. No one was on the streets, save for an occasional person with an animal. A few dogs slept along the streets. A kid sat in a nearby doorway, watching. There were a couple chickens too.
I prepared my pack. Got my bag ready for donkey travel. We’d really be pampered this trip. Our cook with his assistant would lead three donkeys with the supplies to the night’s camp site. We’d just have to carry our cameras, water and rain gear—a pretty light load, considering. We kept all of our clothes and extra stuff in the donkey bags. I had a small school book bag for my rain gear, my camelback water backpack, which rode on top piggyback style, and my camera bag at my side.
I also sported a wide-brimmed hat. As a veteran of a few harsh sun burns in my life, I was well averse to that damned fusion explosion in the sky, pouring all manner of life-ending radiation and hurt on the surface of the world.
After a light lunch, we piled our donkey bags onto a tarp and got ready to leave.
I was a strong supporter of walking sticks and Felix had brought two from his personal stash. They were nice—that kind that compressed a bit when you leaned on them. No one else wanted one, initially. Fine by me. I’d keep mine. Eventually, as we started off, Felix handed the remaining one to Adrian, who agreed to take it along. It would be an extra $2 a day to rent it—not a huge amount. Adrian, Sarah and Sean all agreed to shoulder the debt.
The trek started simply enough. We just started walking down the street. I guess I was expecting some sort of starting gun or banner. It seemed sort of anti-climactic to just start walking. But I suppose that’s how all journeys of a 1,000 steps start, blah blah blah. I looked back after a minute, then another, and watched my first reference point—our starting room, blend into the town, then the town itself to begin to shrink.
The paved road stopped, and we were among corn fields, which washed through the valley like a green, leafy river, following the contours of the surrounding mountains and lapping onto the stepper parts.
These Peruvians farmed seemingly impossible slopes, as I’d see much more dramatic examples of later. This stems from the relatively minute percentage of Peruvian land that’s “suitable” for farming, if you can call a 30 percent grade at 4,000 feet still “suitable.” Still, these crazy guys farm and farm.
Passing a gang of tillers, Felix stopped and said hello. There was a car parked on the dirt road with water, it’s hatch back was open and several gas cans sat around the back. Some men hung around the car, but most had their backs to us and they bent to their work, hand tilling the soil, working their way from the road across the large corn field to the mountain a few hundred yards away.
The work slowed as Felix chatted up the…well, I guess foreman, from the looks of things. We were a bit of an oddity—four gringos, especially Sarah, the blond, which even Fodor’s travel guide said was a rare attractive treat for Peru.
One of the men picked up one of the gas cans and poured a yellow thick liquid into a cup for Felix, then beamed as he offered another cupful for the rest of us to try.
“Mmmm,” Felix said, drinking. “It is okay to have only a little. It makes your stomach go…” and he gestured a swirling motion around his abdomen. Felix spoke English well, but he missed out on a larger vocabulary. The swirling gesture was enough to get the point across. “…makes you go to the bathroom,” he eventually completed.
We each took a turn trying it out. Again, I’ve misplaced the name. It wasn’t bad—sort of a corn chowder with vinegar. It was a fermented corn alcohol drink. The bitter metal taste of the cup added a bit of character. Definitely not palpable from a plastic bottle or in large quantities. It’s the sort of drink you need with 20 coworkers in the sweat of the day.
After a few more minutes of talking, we kept on and left the farmers to their chores.