Sunday, March 29, 2009

Taking the back roads.

Well, I usually have nothing to say that is blog-worthy, but I wanted to share my adventure from this weekend with you.  It all started when we were going to take the University of Georgia team back to Lima from Huancayo.  The morning before we were to leave I heard that there were three rock slides that had blocked the main highway between these two towns.  After researching further, we found that this was true and we may not get through the next day on the bus.  Genaro, our Peruvian friend and fellow worker, found 2 vans that could carry all 17 of us and our luggage on a different route over the mountains.

We started our journey at 6am on paved road but even before we left Huancayo we were on a rock and dirt road leading out of the city, eating egg and bacon sandwiches that were prepared for us by Liz and Edith.  It became increasingly narrower and rougher, leading us higher into the mountains.

The scenery was incredible!  Small villages, rivers, water falls, canyons, tunnels, llamas and alpacas grazing in the fields and, eventually, the snow capped pass at the top of the mountains.  We stopped along the way for breaks and photo ops, as well as taking a break at the top of the Andes at a lake for photos and a snowball fight.  Here the scenery was open mountain meadows and lakes. 

After this, we had our first encounter with the very narrow roads.  Three trucks were in competition for who would get to pass first.  Finally, one of them conceded and we were able to continue our journey.  After 10 hours on this twisting turning road with many blind curves, we ended up in Cañete in the desert on the pacific coast.  Our van drivers informed us that we would have to take other transportation from here to Lima (an estimated 2 hours away).  There is a law here that requires transportation companies to have certain permits before they can enter Lima with passengers and our drivers did not get the necessary permission from the police to do this and risked losing their vans and going to jail if they continued on their journey with us as passengers.  Genaro searched and found 2 different vans capable of taking us the rest of the way to Lima and our hotel.  The rest of the drive was along the coastline through a desolate but beautiful desert.  The team leader wanted to let the students experience the Pacific ocean, so we stopped at a beach along the way to let them get their feet (and some bodies!) wet.  Two extremes in one day – snowball fights in the Andes, and sunset on a Pacific beach.  We watched the sunset and then continued our journey into Lima.  We got to our hotel about 8:00 and decided to meet up at 8:30 to go and eat dinner, since none of us had eaten another meal since 6 that morning.  Fortunately, some of us had chips and snacks that we shared in the vans.  We got to bed at midnight and were awakened at 3am to travel to the airport for a 5:30 flight. 

Before leaving for the airport, Genaro and I had checked road conditions and it appeared that they may be clear, but upon arriving at the airport we found out that there were a total of 6 rockslides blocking the road now for a total of over 20 kilometers being impassable.  After dropping our team off, we canceled our bus tickets and went searching for alternative transportation.  In one of the most dangerous parts of Lima we found a driver that was willing to drive us and another passenger to Huancayo in his Toyota corolla!  He “knew” of another route through the mountains.  Well, we started this journey at 8am from Lima.  Just outside of town our driver turned onto a rock and dirt road to begin our off-road journey.  It wasn’t long until, to my surprise, he stopped to ask directions from some people in front of their house.  The 2 men there had no clue how to get through but the lady of the house seemed to know what she was talking about, so we followed her direction. 

Eventually we hit our first low water crossing and our driver, being unaccustomed to off-road driving in a Corolla, got stuck.  We tried to help and direct him but we were informed that he knew what he was doing, it was his car, and we should keep our opinions to ourselves.  He kind of reminded me of a Peruvian Archie Bunker.   We had many of these crossings to make and in fact one of them was under a pretty incredible water fall.  We did eventually meet up with the driver’s friend who actually had made the trip before.  But “Archie” knew best and decided to pass his buddy, since he was going too slow for his liking, and he continued to ask directions of people who were walking along the road carrying sticks on their backs, or riding their donkey’s, or other daily tasks.  The road we were on was both rougher and narrower than the one we had been on the day before.  It reminded me of the ranch roads I have been on in the Big Bend area of Texas.

We eventually reached a point where there were many vehicles stopped in the road.  There was a large rock slide blocking our path.  We were on the side of a cliff that dropped down over 200 feet to a roaring river below, and there was no way to turn around.  It was already noon and to try and go back would have been really rough.  So all the men (or almost all - it is typical for some men to just watch and not participate) and some of the women from the stopped busses and cars began the task of removing the rocks and dirt from our path.  “Archie” was not quite satisfied with these men just watching so he occasionally yelled for them to come and help out.  Rocks the size of bathtubs were dug around, shoved and rolled down the cliff, much to the delight of us men who watched them crash into the river, laughing and cheering like little boys.  Of course there were too many bosses and not enough workers, so some tasks took longer than they should.  One man, thinking that I could not understand Spanish, just pointed at me and made hand motions to tell me what he thought I should be doing.  I just took it in stride and kept moving dirt and rocks. 

After moving many of these rocks out of the way, the task of moving the largest rock was at hand.  This rock was about 8 feet in length, 5-6 feet wide and about 3-4 feet deep.  Needless to say, it was very large.  A portion of it lay under the cliff from which it had fallen and there were other rocks hanging precariously above a portion the work area.  We had partially lifted the rock using pry bars, picks, shovels, other rocks and hydraulic jacks when a guy appears with 3-4 sticks of dynamite.  Apparently it is common to carry around a few sticks with you “just in case”.  Well the group voted him down and we kept working to move the boulder.  After a while, we successfully flipped it over once, but it still blocked passage.  It was decided to go ahead use the dynamite to break the rock apart.  I am not accustomed to this, so I moved faaarrrrr away and watched from a distance.  A handful of men prepared the dynamite.  A few minutes later, some of them came running up the road asking “Does anyone have any matches?”  I couldn’t help but laugh… you carry dynamite in your car, but no matches???  Eventually they found some and ignited the fuse.  It was pretty unspectacular.  There was a rather large boom, the rock moved up and then back down and there was grey smoke.  When we got back to the rock, it looked the same except that it was now in 4 large pieces - much easier to handle.  In no time the road was cleared and we continued on our route with only and hour and a half delay. 

Again, we went to the top of the world and back down only to climb again to about 16,000 feet in Ticlio on the main highway.  We had spent 9 hours on the back road.  By this time we were very hungry, since our last meal was in the airport (3 donuts) at 4:00 am.  We stopped in the next restaurant.  We asked the waitress what there was to eat for dinner.  Her list started with sheep head and feet soup followed by mariposa soup.  To this we asked what is mariposa soup?  She said it is a surprise!  Well, after hearing that she actually listed head and foot soup, we were not going for the surprise!  Genaro asked her if she possibly had lomo saltado (a mixture of beef, potatoes, onions and peppers) to which she said yes, so we ordered that. 

After all of that we ended up in Huancayo at 9pm, 13 hours later.  Such is the adventurous life of a missionary.